Food

This new specialty coffee shop takes beans and brunch seriously

Exchange Alley Coffee House (or EACH, as the regulars fondly call it) is the neighborhood coffee shop that laid-back Alabang needs.
IMAGE Jericho San Miguel
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It’s been about four years since specialty coffee took Manila by storm, with a handful of notable third-wave cafes steadily sprouting up all over the Metro. Don't get it confused: "Specialty" doesn't refer to “gourmet” or “premium.” It denotes a coffee-making process that is handled with the best possible care—from growing the beans; to how they’re picked and roasted; to how it’s ground and brewed. Specialty coffee is usually grown sustainably and in ideal climates where its flavors truly emerge as a result of the soil it has been grown in. This is what makes it so unique and different. 

Back in 2012, you’d be hard-pressed to find coffee at this level in most cities in Metro Manila, but fast-forward to today and the momentum that specialty coffee shops has built is undeniable, proving that specialty coffee isn’t just another craze—it’s here to stay—and we have several Filipino coffee lovers to thank for it.

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Mocha

One of the pioneers of the specialty coffee shop scene was Magnum Opus, a tiny café tucked away in BF Homes, Paran?aque. This spot churns out freshly roasted, ground, and brewed beans every day. Proprietor and “head bean” Jonathan Choi—who left his IT job to pursue his passion for coffee after a life-changing coffee encounter in China—was adamant in sharing his extensive coffee knowledge to anyone who was interested. The café garnered a loyal following, with customers who eventually became friends. And these friends eventually became business partners for new and different ventures like the newly opened Exchange Alley Coffee House in Molito, Alabang. 

EACH’s story seems somewhat like a fairytale; a fortunate stroke of serendipity. Jonathan and his longtime customer-turned-friend, Lester Tongson, were sharing gin tonics one evening while fantasizing about opening a specialty coffee shop in Alabang. “We looked everywhere,” Jonathan explains. “We went through every building we could think of and came to the conclusion that we should open in Molito, but we couldn’t afford a huge space.” The next morning Jonathan received a call from Molito’s leasing manager who was interested in bringing in Magnum Opus, and was also offering them a space that was the perfect size. Jonathan didn’t waste a moment and seized the opportunity, but with a request to do a different concept. It would still be specialty coffee, but not Magnum Opus, which the figured was meant to stay in BF Homes.

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Jonathan, Lester, and their third partner, Kix Ongsiyping auditioned for the spot in Molito with a rough concept of EACH already in mind. They successfully formed their plans, menu, and did their pop-up café in a week (which was tweaked afterwards, of course). EACH was officially born. 

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While EACH is first and foremost a specialty coffee shop, you shouldn't compare it to Magnum Opus. It isn’t one and the same. “Magnum Opus was always a passion project,” says Jonathan. “Three years ago, all I wanted was to stand out from commercial coffee shops. We got our loyal customers and people who appreciated better coffee, but we also got people who thought that what we were doing was just a fad.” And while Jonathan did an incredible job of introducing specialty coffee to curious Filipinos, he also realized that in order to move the industry as a whole, one can’t have multiple passion projects only for all of them to die. It isn’t practical. And that’s where EACH—with its focus on making specialty coffee more approachable—comes in. 

Jonathan also intends to maximize what EACH is as a coffee brand, and that means investing in two things: the food and a roaster.

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When it comes to food, Jonathan cooks like he makes coffee—very meticulously. “I was an engineer, so I love when things are precise and accurate,” says Jonathan. “I cook with science, because you can’t mess it up.” Following the lead of his food hero, Serious Eats’ Kenji Alt-Lopez, Jonathan does things like cook sous vide eggs in a coffee kettle that has a PID (Proportional Integral Derivative), which allows you to set a temperature for precise brewing. This ultimately results in the most perfect sous vide egg that is gently perched atop their best-selling Avo Toast. Jonathan’s love for brunch is evident all over the menu, with items like the EACH Breakfast (a traditional English breakfast) and their various toast options (using sourdough bread baked by Aldwin Aspillera of Crust & Crumb Bakery).


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Egg and Avocado Toast


Big Breakfast


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Pork and Beans

As for the roaster, you’ll see it on the second floor and this is the same roaster Jonathan used when he would roast beans in his own bedroom. The beans are being packaged and sold, essentially making the coffee shop a commissary and retail space, too.

Everything comes full circle for Jonathan with the opening of his newest concept, EACH. He still stands by quality, but now goes forward with the notion that you can enjoy specialty coffee in any form. “People should never be forced to drink coffee a certain way, they should be free to drink whatever they want,” insists Jonathan. “A lot of people actually come over and ask for creamer and sugar—which we don’t have—but we give them steamed milk and sweetened syrup instead. And they come back for more.” Being elitist is the furthest thing from Jonathan’s mind, and to him, it’s all about community: sourcing their ingredients from small players; chatting up their regulars; offering information to newbie coffee drinkers.

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Dumerso


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Nitro


If you pay EACH a visit and not only enjoy their coffee and food, but your entire experience, that is fulfillment enough for Jonathan and his passionate, hands-on crew.

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Regine Rafael
This student of life loves eggs (runny yolks necessary) and long walks to the fridge.
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