Taste test: Five-star hotel coffee

We asked a highly trained barista to do the rounds of five-star hotels, secretly rating coffee served at lobby lounges. We pay our way in search of the perfect brew

by Archipelago's lounge lizard and Amanda Lago

Filipinos love coffee and are becoming more discerning about the perfect cup. Testament to this is the growing number of third wave coffee shops in Metro Manila in the past decade, offering specialty blends from across the globe, raising the bar in the coffee industry. 

We thought we'd do a taste test on coffee served by Makati's five-star hotels, and find out if they've kept up with the demands of an increasingly choosy market. Archipelago's lounge lizard, a highly trained barista, gamely joined us for an afternoon of hotel lounge hopping. We ordered the Filipino's choice of cuppa— brewed coffee and a cappucino—and asked our barista to rate according to aroma, presentation, serving temprature, body, and flavor, giving each a score from one to five, with five being perfect.

Our taste test results showed Makati Shangri-La and Peninsula Hotel beat their rivals with a score of 3.5 out of five for brewed coffee, sharing first place. However, this was a middling score, with the hotels' brewed coffee faring only slightly better than their cappuccino. Shangri-La scored 3 out of 5 in the cappuccino taste test, while The Peninsula scored 2.9 out of five. 

Dusit Thani Hotel ranked second with a score of 2.5/ 5 for brewed coffee and 2.3/ 5 for cappuccino, Raffles Hotel third with 2.4/ 5 for brewed coffee and 2.8/ 5 for cappuccino, and Hotel InterContinental Manila, fourth, scoring 1.8/ 5 for its brewed coffee and 1.6/ 5 for its cappuccino. InterContinental also charged the most for its coffee.

Overall, our barista's verdict is that five-star hotels in our taste test have not quite mastered the art of coffee. (But don't despair. Read on for tips on where to find the perfect brew).

Makati Shangri-La Manila, brewed coffee, P180; cappuccino, P200

Makati Shang's coffee gets mixed reactions

Makati Shangri-la's lobby lounge was a pleasant place to spend the afternoon, with a live orchestra playing classical music. No air of snobbishness about it, just music lifting the air. We get down to business. The waitress tells us that they use Lavazza coffee, but was not sure about the machine they use. 

Our lounge lizard's verdict 

Brewed coffee “It has a nice taste. The flavor is strong, a nice coffee kick. But has a slight astringency." Serving temperature scored 4/ 5; Flavor, presentation, and aroma scored 3.5/ 5 while the body scored 3/ 5.

Cappuccino “You don’t taste the flavor at all, you just get milk. The espresso shot that went in here is not strong enough to cut through.” Aroma and serving temperature both scored 4/ 5; presentation, 3/ 5; and flavor and body, 2/ 5.

The score
Brewed coffee – 3.5/ 5; Cappucino, 3/ 5

The Peninsula Manila, brewed coffee, P200; cappuccino, P240

Manila Pen's coffee looks nice but leaves a sour taste in your mouth

The Peninsula lobby lounge uses Lavazza coffee and a La Cimbali machine. Our orders arrived quickly enough, served with a pistachio biscuit.

The Verdict

Brewed coffee “It’s a tad overextracted, so there’s a slight bitter after taste, a dryness in the mouth. There’s a hint of dark caramel, but it's masked by the darkness of the roast.  You have something that’s sour.”  The brewed coffee scored 3/ 5 each for aroma and flavor. Body and temperature scored high, 4/ 5. Presentation was 3.5/ 5 and aroma and flavor, each 3/ 5. 

Cappucino "The aroma is that of tablea (or chocolate tablet). There’s a distinct smell of pinipig or pounded, toasted rice flake. It’s very Filipino.  Serving temperature is a little too hot, and that affects the body of the milk. It’s not creamy at all, it’s watered down. It doesn’t have that creamy quality a cappuccino should have." Presentation scored 3.5/ 5; aroma, serving temperature and flavor each scored 3/ 5; and body, 2/ 5.

The score
Brewed coffee – 3.5/ 5; Cappucino — 2.9/ 5

Hotel Intercontinental Manila, brewed coffee, P220; cappuccino, P290

Intercon coffee's only saving grace was the plate of cookies that came with it

Hotel Intercontinental Manila's Gambrinus bar and lounge, just off the hotel's main reception area, has a view of the hotel poolside and garden, a cheerful enough place to have afternoon coffee. The sharp squeal of the MachiaValley machine raised a red flag. “It’s supposed to be a soft hissing sound,” our barista said.

The Verdict

Brewed coffee “A strong bitter flavor. It leaves a dryness in your mouth. I hate it. This is horrible. Nescafe 3-in-1 coffee tastes a lot better.”  Presentation and serving temperature scored 3/ 5. Flavor, body, and aroma each scored 1/ 5.

Cappucino “The foam is like laundry soap. The milk that they've used was either steamed too much or recycled. The coffee is anemic. It’s just milk and cinnamon.” The aroma, presentation and serving temperature each scored 2/ 5. Flavor and body each scored 1/ 5.

The score
Brewed coffee – 1.8 out of 5; Cappuccino – 1.6 out of 5 

Dusit Thani Manila, brewed coffee, P195; cappuccino, P215

Nothing special about Dusit's coffee - and it took forever to arrive too

Dusit Thani Manila took over half an hour and another call to the staff before we got our orders – one Americano brewed coffee and one cappuccino, both using Illy coffee. 

The Verdict

Brewed coffee “It smells like dark cacao, with a bit of crispy pinipig. The aroma is pretty good, but that’s just it.” Aroma scored 3.5/ 5; serving temperature, 3/ 5; flavor, presentation, and body each scored 2. 

Cappucino “There’s a mild chocolate tone to it, but it’s been diluted too much with milk. The milk is too watery. You don’t get the creaminess of a cappucino.” Serving temperature scored 3.5/ 5; flavor, presentation, body, and aroma each scored 2/ 5.

The score
Brewed coffee – 2.5 out of 5; cappucino—2.3/ 5

Raffles Makati, brewed coffee, P180; cappuccino, P200

Raffles' coffee smelled promising, but was ultimately a letdown

Raffles Makati’s Writer’s Bar, styled like a library, had sunlight coming in through the windows, a cheery place for an afternoon coffee. The staff said they use Vittoria coffee. 

The Verdict

Brewed coffee “It has that coffee taste, but has a too-bright (sour) after taste. It’s too hot, you’ll burn yourself.” Aroma scored 3.5/ 5; body, 3/ 5; presentation and serving temperature each scored 2/ 5; and flavor, 1.5/ 5.

Cappuccino “It’s too hot. The level of foam is okay, but it looks like laundry soap. It has a very sweet aroma. The smell is actually good. Sad to say, the taste is watered down. You don’t get the strength or taste of coffee. The flavor is washed out. It’s a little bit overextracted (took longer than required to brew), so you still have that dryness in the mouth.” Aroma scored a perfect 5/ 5; serving temperature, 3/ 5; presentation, 2.5/ 5; body, 2/ 5; and flavor, 1.5/ 5.

The score
Brewed coffee – 2.4/ 5; cappuccino – 2.8/ 5

So where do you go to get good coffee?

Our expert barista says specialty coffee shops, not cafes, assure you of a good cup. Here are his top 5 favorites.

1. Toby's Estate

Toby's Estate prides itself in sourcing the best coffee beans, buying straight from sustainable farms. The shop which sells coffee beans also serves coffee. Its most popular blend is the Australian Woolloomooloo which makes for a great cup of black coffee. Toby Estate, a franchise from Australia, opened in the Philippines in mid-2014, and now has five branches in Metro Manila, including Makati.  

Toby's Estate, V Corporate Center, 125 L.P. Leviste St., Salcedo Village, Makati City

2. Yardstick

Their manifesto declares that their only focus is coffee - so you can expect a good brew. Changing their offerings every few months, Yardstick sources coffee from as far away as Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Peru. Our expert recommends the Suke Quto drip coffee.

Yardstick Coffee, Universal LMS Bldg., 106 Esteban Street, Legaspi Village, Makati; Tel: +639177236079

3. EDSA Beverage Design Group (BDG)

A group that says they are "in pursuit of the noble beverage", they not only develop coffee, but also cocktails, soda, and beer. Even with other drinks on the menu, coffee still manages to come out on top, thanks to their almost-scientific approach to beverage design. A must-try is their Dark Matter Theory espresso, with milk.

EDSA BDG, 209 EDSA CLMC Bldg., Greenhills, Mandaluyong

4. Afters

"The coffee is not specialty coffee, but the owner Vince Fideles knows how to pull the coffee correctly. It's a commercial coffee blend, but he knows how to pull it perfectly," our expert says. Order Afters' signature espresso blend with Tahitian vanilla gelato, a perfect match.

Afters, 20 Lansbergh Place, Tomas Morato Avenue cor. Scout Castor, Quezon City

5. Coffee Empire 

This shop not only features coffee from other parts of the world such as Brazil and Guatemala, but also puts the spotlight on local beans from Sagada and Benguet. Their Single Origins of the Day is worth a taste.

Coffee Empire, #74 West Avenue, West Triangle, Quezon City

Published August 2015