Filipinos love coffee, there is no doubt about that. Traditionally though, Filipinos are not really that fancy coffee drinkers. Just a simple cup of coffee bought at the sari-sari store, with perhaps some creamer and sugar would do. There are also the beloved regional blends like the kapeng barako of Batangas or the Philippine Civet Coffee or kapeng alamid which is sourced from the droppings (AKA, uhm…poop) of wild Philippine civets which also happens to be the most rare and expensive variety.
In recent years however, Filipinos have come to appreciate the more “sophisticated” varieties of coffee like the cafe lattes, cappuccinos, frappes, etc. And we can all thank/blame (depending on your perspective) one establishment for this change: Starbucks. Today on the Urban Roamer, we shall be checking out where it all began as we visit the first Starbucks branch in the Philippines.
At this point, I should perhaps first introduce Starbucks, but being a leading global brand and has somewhat become synonymous to coffee, what else can be said about it other than it has risen to become the leading coffeehouse chain in the United States since its establishment in Seattle on March 30, 1971.
By the 1990s, Starbucks was looking for opportunities beyond the US as it began a campaign to expand overseas. Thus, it opened its first branch outside the US with a branch in Tokyo, Japan in 1996. It would not be long for the coffeehouse chain to find its way in the country.
Around the same time, the Rustan group (the folks behind the glitzy Rustan’s Department Store and Supermarket) was looking for brands to introduce to the country at the wake of their success in bringing Marks and Spencer here in the 1990s. This led them to Starbucks and the two groups would eventually form a partnership to bring over the iconic American coffeehouse to Philippine shores.
Thus, on December 4, 1997, the first Starbucks branch in the Philippines officially opened as a two-level branch at 6750 Ayala Avenue, which itself was home to some notable brands as well. Even as the country was being affected by the Asian financial crisis that erupted months prior, the opening was greeted by long queues of people curious at least to try out what Starbucks has to offer. The future of the Starbucks business in the country at least seemed optimistic.
Indeed, Starbucks in the Philippines grew significantly over the years into a well-recognized brand in the country, a phenomenon that has been brought about as well thanks to the growth of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in the country which spurred a demand for late night to early morning coffee fixes of employees working in those hours. For good or for ill, there is no denying Starbucks has changed the landscape, so to speak, as competition in the market became fierce and more and demand grew at the same time.
As Starbucks Philippines enters its 20th anniversary next year, there are now 240+ Starbucks branches in the country and growing. Starbucks transformed the way we Filipinos look at and consume coffee, and there is little doubt it will continue to do so for years to come.