After losing job due to COVID-19, Davao barista opens café on wheels

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 5 Jan) – Champion barista John Rey O. Plaza lost his job last October when the coffeeshop that employed him was forced to close down after enduring the brunt of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Davao City for seven months.

Champion barista John Rey “Biboy” Plaza brews with a Hario V60 dripper. Photographed Tuesday morning (5 January 2021) by MANMAN DEJETO / MindaNews

But losing his job to the scourge of pandemic did not dampen his spirit. The 35-year-old Dabawenyo, a father of three, turned his passion for coffee into business.

With his experience as barista, cupper, and roaster for 12 years, Plaza finally realized his long-time vision to open a pop-up coffeeshop called “Kapeweñoz,” a play of the words kape (coffee) and Dabawenyos, just across Carmelite Monastery along JP Laurel Avenue, Davao City, starting last November.

Plaza looks forward to serving his customers – many of whom joggers, cyclists, and employees – a cup of either hot or cold coffee from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. to make them radiate with “positive vibes.”

He took inspiration from the thriving coffee culture of European and some Asian countries where pop-up coffeeshops are sprouting.

Plaza won the Davao leg of Baristas’ Quest in its coffee triangulation competition in July last year.

The menu on his coffeeshop-on-wheels: filtered na kape, kape latte, kape mocha, kape caramel, kape citrusy, and even non-coffee beverages such as hot tea lemon and chocolate, with prices ranging from P50 to P70 a cup.

He also sells coffee grounds ready for brewing at home from P1,000 for a kilo of Mt. Apo 100% arabica coffee, P850 for a kilo of special blend of 80% arabica and 20% robusta, P750 for a kilo of his “nocturnal blend” of 50-50 arabica and robusta, and P650 for a kilo of robusta coffee.

Biboy Plaza gets busy as customers wait for their orders. Photographed Tuesday morning (5 January 2021) by ANTONIO L. COLINA III / MindaNews

Plaza uses an old ironing board at home and sets it on top of his motorcycle for his makeshift coffee bar where he demonstrates to curious customers the proper way to prepare specialty coffee using a Hario V60 or Kalita dripper, or the AeroPress, brewers of choice among coffee professionals and enthusiasts. His grinder is a Comandante, German-made and every hobbyist’s dream manual grinder that only a few can afford.

Plaza brews not just any coffee. As a roaster and cupper, which is similar to a wine taster, he wants nothing less for the Dabawenyos. So he sources his “honey-processed” beans from Balutakay Coffee Farmers Association (BACOFA), the producers of the award-winning arabica coffee grown on the foothills of Mt. Apo in Bansalan, Davao del Sur, and from Bukidnon for his stash of excelsa. (By the way, no bee honey is involved in the process, but is so called because the coffee cherry is depulped and allowed to dry without removing the honey-like sticky substance of the cherry.)

He said he was delighted to contribute to the growth of Mindanao’s coffee future and support the Mindanawon farmers by promoting quality specialty beans to the Dabawenyos through his pop-up coffeeshop.

“We have good quality coffee beans. Why don’t we use them?” he said.

Plaza is thankful that his start-up business provides his family the means to get by during the pandemic.

He said he was surprised to see many locals becoming more interested in his coffee-on-wheels, although some passersby mistook him for a vendor of “taho,” a snack made of fresh silken tofu in sugar syrup, and “puto” or rice cake.

Plaza encouraged the people to try specialty coffee, as against commercial coffee, but told them to be more particular about the supplier who must be transparent about the coffee’s origin, cultivation, farming, storage, and roasting.

He said transparency matters to ensure that customers get good quality beans.

He said one can say that coffee beans are of best quality when only the red ripe cherries are handpicked during harvest. And roasting the beans right brings out the coffee’s acidity, sweetness, and strength, along with its floral and fruity flavors, which include, among others, the subtleties of strawberry, melon, cherries, and cacao nibs.

Plaza takes pride in using 100% arabica, the coffee of choice in the world’s best cafés, and manual equipment so he can control the brewing process completely. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)