Food

Why This Filipino Corner Coffee Shop Is Serving Pandesal and Kapeng Barako in London

Kapihan introduces the flavors of the Philippines to London and beyond. 
IMAGE Kapihan
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The long-ago dinner conversations of the Motley kids—David, Nigel, Rosemary—buzzed around Filipino food. When they were growing up, their mom regaled them with tales of kapeng barako and pandesal, and the hero of these stories was their Lolo Ruperto. 

Remembering tales of pandesal and kapeng barako

David, who was born and raised in London, remembers the Filipino food tales vividly: how Lolo Ruperto would wake up early to pray and then make his way to the panaderya to pick up two dozen pandesals (“even more if his apos were visiting”); how lolo would make a cup of coffee with a French press; and how the distinct smell or those “plumes of kapeng barako would waft throughout the kitchen,” spilling into the street. 

And then Lolo Ruperto would enjoy his barako coffee (black with muscovado sugar) with “ripped apart” pandesal as he read an American newspaper. The delicious memories stayed with David and his brother, making them more and more curious about the tastes, smells, and textures of the mythical Filipino breakfast combination. “It almost made us jealous that we hadn't experienced this side of coffee culture yet,” says David.

Turning a memory into a café in South West London

And so the brothers decided to do something about their craving, co-founding Kapihan, the Filipino corner coffee shop, crowned with a jasmine-bordered door, in Battersea, South West London. The very abbreviated journey from memory to café is this:  

After a sojourn in the Philippines, during which they visited panaderyas and coffee and cacao producers, the brothers slowly transitioned into the world of bread and coffee. Nigel quit his job as an immigration lawyer, became a barista at one of the busiest coffee chains in the city, and taught his brother everything he learned. “After several years, pop-ups, and market events, we decided to roll the dice and see if we could add something different to the London cafe scene,” says David.

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In 2019, the pair opened the corner coffee shop with an ambitious goal in mind: to “mash the antipodean specialty coffee shop model that has spread in London with a Filipino twist using Philippine coffee and tinapay.”  

Tweaking panaderya staples and serving Filipino brews

That just means tweaked versions of panaderya staples, all lovingly made by hand by their sister and head baker Rosemary. In Kapihan, the pandesal is “a slightly sweet bake with a fluffy crispy exterior,” the chocolate Spanish bread is filled with 75-percent South Cotabato chocolate and hazelnut raw cream, and the pan de coco is a “pandan-infused brioche with macapuno sweet cream filling.” Also on offer, among other treats, is a spicy mushroom three-cheese de sal made with shitake chili mix. 

To go with bread, there is, of course, coffee. Using blends sourced from independent farms in the Philippines, Kapihan serves a mean Barako (read: high caffeine content) with notes of jackfruit and cacao nibs, as well as a house blend (toffee and malt), a Bukidnon blend (peach tea and molasses), and a Sitio Bells blend (apricot and biscuit). 

But, really, David recommends keeping things classic. To rev up the day, he pairs a warm cup of barako with a freshly baked chocolate Spanish bread, whose center he describes as gooey and molten. “Super, super indulgent—who needs pain au chocolat?” he asks. 

As for pandesal: While he knows it’s best to eat it by itself or with butter, Kapihan also plays with the versatile bread, using it for sandwiches, turning it into French toast, or offering it toasted with jam. “My favorite pandesal, at the moment, is our seasonal wholemeal version made with spelt flour,” he shares. “It's healthier and has a wholesome nuttiness in flavor—perfect with our papaya calamansi jam from Kablon Farms, South Cotabato.” 

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Finding solace and happiness in Filipino flavors 

David reports how Kapihan’s Filipino delights have attracted more non-Filipinos. The “wonderfully diverse community” of Battersea has supported the independent business with open arms—something that is very much appreciated, especially in the precarious times of the pandemic. 

It is also, for David, a complete surprise. “In a way, we are happy that staples like pan de coco and barako coffee have become part of their routine,” he reflects. “Something that was completely foreign and traditionally Filipino has been adopted and enjoyed by other nationalities. I think this is a good step for, not only us, but Filipino food—to be enjoyed in the mainstream.”  

And here’s something interesting: The less warm feedback is from older Filipinos, who find Kapihan’s style of baking too westernized or European. David points out that the family-run panaderya isn’t designed as a traditional Filipino bakery. Kapihan champions natural rise or sourdough in its bread and uses the European ingredients and flavors that the Motleys grew up with. “That can make some of the traditionalists disappointed as maybe they were expecting an exact replica more reminiscent of home,” he admits.  

Nevertheless, even in these strange times, business has been good for Kapihan. With safety in mind, the bakery has made its coffee blends available online and also implemented a pre-order and pickup system (via a hatch) on the weekends. On Saturdays and Sundays, the locals of Battersea find solace and happiness in the pan de cocos, pandesals, and kapeng barako of the small Filipino corner coffee shop.

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Clifford Olanday
Editor in Chief, Esquire Philippines
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