Street barista opens coffee shop months after losing job to COVID pandemic.

Champion barista John Rey O. Plaza, the brain behind Kapeweñoz Specialty Coffee Davao, opens his own coffee shop months after losing his job to the COVID-19 pandemic. MindaNews photo

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 23 July) – After eight months of brewing coffee on his motorcycle on the streets of downtown Davao City, champion barista John Rey O. Plaza felt elated that he is now back to brewing coffee in a shop that he himself owns.

Plaza was employed as a senior barista for over two years at a homegrown third wave coffee shop that closed down in October 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic happened, leaving most businesses in Davao City at a standstill.

Looking back, the 35-year-old Dabawenyo said losing his job amid the pandemic was a blessing after all because it gave him an opportunity to start Kapeweñoz Specialty Coffee Davao and provide for his family.

Last July 8, his own third wave coffee bar on V. Mapa Street, Poblacion District opened. It banners the local specialty beans from different regions of Mindanao and even from different parts of the country as he sources green Arabica beans from as far as Sagada, Mountain Province and soon Liberica beans or “Barako Coffee” from Batangas.

Being employed as a barista, cupper and roaster at different cafes in the city for 12 years, Plaza said opening his own shop fulfills one of his dreams and, at the same time, contributes to the growth of the country’s coffee future.

His coffee shop is equipped with the same tools as the ones he has for brewing coffee at his makeshift street bar but with the addition of electric grinder and espresso machine.

“I could not have done this if the pandemic did not happen or the coffee shop that I worked for did not close. I was very busy at that time, managing the coffee shop to some extent, and brewed and roasted coffee beans all at the same time,” he said.

Plaza still comes to his pop-up spot across Carmelite Monastery along JP Laurel Avenue from 6 to 9 am. daily with his makeshift coffee bar using his motorcycle with an old ironing board placed on top, while he trains two junior baristas for his new shop that opens from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

When his mobile coffee shop opened, Kapeweñoz immediately earned a loyal following among locals.

Plaza, winner of the Davao leg of Baristas’ Quest in its coffee triangulation competition in July 2019, said he is grateful for opening his own coffee shop where his customers can get their stash of fresh roasted beans and their caffeine fix even beyond his morning pop-up schedule.

Champion barista John Rey Plaza brews with a Hario V60 dripper. After losing his job because of the economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he brought his expertise on the streets of Davao City. Photographed Tuesday morning (5 January 2021) by MANMAN DEJETO / MindaNews

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.

At his shop, Plaza plans to do actual training for those interested to learn about seed-to-cup specialty coffee, from cultivation, to processing, to proper storing, to roasting, and to brewing, either for business or for home brewing.

“There is more time for me to promote Mindanao coffee beans and educate more people about our specialty beans because I have the entire day for that,” he added.

He said he had mentored a few baristas on roasting and brewing, some of them now owners of mobile coffee shops both here and in Panabo City.

He also received offers from businessmen for franchise but declined them as he feared it might no longer live up to the purpose why he put up Kapaweñoz – that is, to educate people about specialty coffee.

“It’s difficult to educate consumers about specialty coffee because your barista should have proper knowledge. You don’t just brew and you don’t just serve coffee, but you educate,” he said.

Otherwise, he said it will be no different from “commercial” coffee shops.

Plaza plans to collaborate with other mobile coffee shops, including Kanto Coffee, Grind Coffee Mobile Bar, and Artisan Brew, to open a “community kapehan,” a one-stop shop where locals can get to learn all about specialty coffee and arts.

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, 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.

No bee honey is involved in the process, but it is so called because the coffee cherry is depulped and allowed to dry without removing the honey-like sticky substance of the cherry. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)