The pandemic’s effects have been far, wide, and deep—permanently changing the way we behave and view the world. Yet for the creatives behind Takao Studios (derived from the Tagalog word “matakaw,” loosely meaning “always hungry”), the global shift beyond their control was a catalyst to collaborate. And one result of this joint effort sits on the roof deck of Cabins by Eco Hotel in Tagaytay called Takao Studios Coffee.
Takao Studios Coffee co-founder and COO Patrick Ortega recalls, “One thing that we felt during the pandemic was our vulnerability in this line of business. Since we only dealt with F&B and dine-in services, we felt very powerless.”
Chef and founder Mikel Zaguirre echoes this. “During the pandemic, we noticed that working with others was a big strength. That’s the reason why we added the word ‘studios’ in our name because we wanted to highlight the work of other artists as well.”
This collaboration and amplification of various artistic works is best exemplified by their off-kilter menu’s Takao Toast, a fried soaked pandesal (reminiscent of a beignet) and sweet plantains inside a ceramic Chinese takeaway box with syrup and a shot of espresso, which serve as dips.
“Collaborating is always a source of inspiration. When you see artists do their thing, you always get inspired,” says Mikel Zaguirre.
The dish itself is a collaboration between the co-founders—Zaguirre, Ortega, Chadwick Garcia (in charge of the Japanese menu and coffee), and Nikki Macaraig (in charge of the non-Japanese menu and merchandise design). Meanwhile, the ceramic Chinese takeaway box—with that signature Takao Studio lightning bolt branding—and the pretty stoneware is a collaboration with sculptor Risa Barcelona.
And finally, the espresso was concocted using beans specially blended and roasted by Takao Studios Coffee coffee director and master roaster Raoul De Peralta. It’s an exhaustive list of names for one dish and it’s how Zaguirre intends it: “We want to celebrate arts, culture, and the lifestyle of the F&B industry.”
It also tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the kind of experience Takao Studios Coffee wants to espouse at their first Tagaytay outpost. The coffee here takes center stage, thanks largely to their ethos of roasting their own beans.
De Peralta (a finalist at the World Aromasters Roasting Championship in 2019) was enlisted to make sure the coffee experience on the rooftop was one people would remember and keep coming back for.
“I’ve put together a blend [of coffee beans] that is accessible to the Filipino palate with a nice milk chocolate and hazelnut notes. And we elevated it by putting something fruity to give some acidity so it’s like a Cadbury Fruit and Nut chocolate bar,” he explains about their signature blend called The Lightning Blend.
“I’ve put together a blend [of coffee beans] that is accessible to the Filipino palate with a nice milk chocolate and hazelnut notes. And we elevated it by putting something fruity to give some acidity so it’s like a Cadbury Fruit and Nut chocolate bar,” Takao Studios Coffee coffee director Raoul De Peralta explains about their signature The Lightning Blend.
The Lighting Blend is a mix of beans from Brazil, Ethiopia, and Peru to introduce a distinct taste. To further this distinction, the beans are roasted on-site. “This means we have total control of whatever bean we want to showcase,” says De Peralta.
“We want people to taste the coffee, not the burnt taste you’re accustomed to,” Ortega chimes in. “Not too much of the acidity but something that will blend well with just water for an Americano or milk for a cappuccino. We time the maturity of our coffee beans carefully to ensure there is consistency.”
Their shortlist of coffee drinks does demonstrate what Ortega says, with classics like a simple espresso and a latte and sweeter options such as the Burnt Butter Latte and the 2 Tone Takao.
Despite the “burnt” in its name, the Burnt Butter Latte is anything but; instead, it’s a product of resourcefulness when the pandemic caused shortages of caramel and flavored syrups worldwide. “We tried to aim for sustainability. Because of the pandemic, caramel syrups were in and out so we made our own syrups in-house. Instead of caramel, we use burnt butter with salted vanilla. So even if there’s a crisis and syrups can’t be brought in, we will always have this type of drink available,” says De Peralta.
The 2 Tone Takao is a minimalist-looking drink made with flash brew filtered coffee beautifully put together with some botanicals and floral aromatics to match the scenery. The egg foam on top gives that textural feeling. “You have this nice creaminess and the nice refreshing beverage after that,” says De Peralta.
The food however isn’t dimmed by the coffee’s star power, taking inspiration from Zaguirre’s early morning walks in Tsukiji Market in Tokyo to deliver a wide selection of mostly Japanese food.
“Essentially the breakfast there,” he reminisces. “You go out and you find a stall of boiling hotpot of innards—that’s our Horumon Don. And after that, you quickly look for coffee. You stop by the stalls there at the market and you can get some ramen or a sandwich if you’re in a hurry. So I got inspired by that scene and tried to apply it here.”
If you’re familiar with Zaguirre’s food at Locavore, his flavors aren’t shy. “All of the food we serve here in Takao is very robust, with prominent flavors like what chef Kel’s [Zaguirre] restaurants are known for,” says Ortega about the food. “Very flavorful, very prominent. If you come here, it’s a culinary journey.”
“Essentially the breakfast there,” Mikel Zaguirre reminisces. “You go out and you find a stall of boiling hotpot of innards—that’s our Horumon Don. And after that, you quickly look for coffee. You stop by the stalls there at the market and you can get some ramen or a sandwich if you’re in a hurry. So I got inspired by that scene and tried to apply it here.”
It’s deliberate too, the way they built the food and coffee to look seemingly poles apart but able to stand together seamlessly. “We have very nice, savory, spicy, heavy broths. And you have something refreshing to cut through it. Then you have something that’s sweet. And then you have a nice black coffee that complements everything. So it’s very intentional,” explains De Peralta.
Like much of Zaguirre’s work, Takao Studios Coffee is like lightning in a bottle. The food is fun and inspired, the coffee is great, and the view of Taal Lake is breathtaking. To remember that all of this was a result of collaboration upon collaboration and the pursuit of artists helping one another, it deserves a spot in anyone’s itinerary.