There are coffee drinkers. Then, there are coffee lovers. Then are those who elite few who fanatically live, drink, and breathe coffee.
If you are a coffee lover and find yourself in the City of Golden Friendship after COVID-19, you owe it to yourself to pay a pilgrimage to H Proper Coffee Roasters which has been built by one such fanatic. The H in H Proper is Harley Keith Yu, and his shrine to coffee rivals any coffee shop you’d find anywhere in the Philippines, including Metro Manila.
Harley wasn’t always a coffee fanatic. As a matter of fact, he didn’t like coffee because it caused palpitations and an increase in stomach acidity. All that changed when his family stepped inside a Blue Bottle coffee shop on a hot summer day in Beverly Hills. And he took the chance on ordering a cup of coffee.
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“This was different.,” he thought. It wasn’t bitter. It had flavors he had never tasted in a cup of coffee.
He waited for the palpitations, and increased acidity. But they never came.
He immediately asked the baristas what they served him. “This is third-wave specialty coffee, sir.” And so, Harley Keith Yu’s love of coffee, particularly specialty coffee was ignited.
Thus, every trip out of the country became a hunt for the best the best third wave coffee shops in the world. He rattles off names like Monmouth Coffee in London, Koffee Mameya in Shibuya, The Cupping Room in Hong Kong—names, places, and brews that any coffee fanatic would put in his or her own personal bucket list.
But Harley still went back to that life-changing cup of specialty coffee for inspiration.
He is an ardent disciple of Blue Bottle Coffee, one of the most premiere brands of specialty coffee in the world known for sourcing the best coffee beans from all over the world and giving them proper respect. From equipment, to processes, Harley absorbed information with the intent to set up his own passion project in the Philippines.
“If you want to get Harley to do something, tell him that Blue Bottle does the same thing.” Jokes Wendy, Harley’s wife.
Warm and comforting
If you do find yourself in H Proper, take some time to look around the space because it really says a lot about the husband and wife. Amid the cool concrete walls is a warm space. Cups, coffee equipment, and bags of coffee from the couple’s travels decorate the café.
Wendy manages the food made up of high-end breakfast entrees while the husband gets to play with the toys for the coffeeholic big boys.
On the counter is the chromed crown jewel of the café, a La Marzocco Leva X. The Ferrari of espresso machines where baristas pull espressos. On one side is a wall of test tubes containing beans from all over the world.
Ordering an americano, or a latte, or a cappuccino is one thing. But in my opinion, the pour overs are the star in H Proper. Harley is obsessed with coffee, and his obsession has been passed on to his baristas. Thus, the baristas are able to get the best out of the beans with proper temperatures, proper brew ratios, and proper pouring methods.
Thanks to his collaboration with Birdie Yu of Hong Kong Based Hazel and Hershey, Harley gained access to amazing beans from the most exotic specialty coffee growing regions all over the world.
Looking over the pour over menu, there’s a feeling of sticker shock as one goes from the not-so-expensive where prices are at par with your favorite coffee shop to prices as high as PHP 700 for 250 ml of coffee! For the uninitiated, this is way too much for a cup of coffee. But for discerning coffee drinkers, coffee meticulously brewed from Gesha Village competition lots, Yigracheffee, Hara Suke, and Harley’s other special beans are sips to die for. Harley even boasts that he has some of Manila’s affluent coffee drinkers who fly in, have coffee, then fly back on the same day!
It’s interesting that the more expensive beans have flavors that may not appeal to everybody. Harley is aware that Filipinos in particular don’t like brightness, that certain citrusy-sour acidic note that specialty coffee seem to have. Most coffee drinkers get their introduction to coffee through body. Thus, H Proper often has sessions at the cupping room at the back for those who’d want to expand their coffee horizons. Not only are new flavors introduced through new beans, but Harley and his crew teach new afficionados how to properly brew their coffee so they can enjoy the beans at home.
The café is just one part of H Proper. Adjoining the cupping room is a Probatt coffee roaster where the roasts are monitored from Hong Kong. Based on the profiles, Birdie gets to do quality control over the internet. All of the beans that are used in H Proper are roasted here.
Besides the beans that are flown over from abroad, Harley is also very active in promoting local coffee, particularly beans from nearby Bukidnon. He has helped out the local coffee industry by bringing experts like the aforementioned Birdie Chiu, and Stanley Chien, Taiwanese champion for Syphon and a subject matter expert on coffee color sorting, up to the mountains to share best practices for growing and processing. Naturally, he serves local specialty coffee at H Proper too. Of note is the Mount Kalatungan Arabica which he serves in H Proper which is the fruit of his collaboration between him and the farmers.
There are plans in place to bring the H Proper experience to more people beginning with downtown Cagayan De Oro. Harley also has plans to set up a roastery and café in Manila, but that will have to wait until the ECQ is lifted.
For now, Harley and his team are still fulfilling orders for their roasted beans though their website for delivery by LBC. Please visit HProperCoffeeRoasters for details.
Photographs by Jeeves de Veyra