RANIELE Cedrik De Vera was a nurse in a private hospital in General Santos City when he began to explore the world of coffee. His wife, who was an avid coffee lover, introduced him to the art of coffee-making. Through this journey, he learned that coffee was more than just a beverage. It was a way to transform lives.
They became passionate about coffee after visiting a local café, where the barista invited them to a “coffee talk”. The barista explained the different types of beans and the coffee vessels that could enhance their flavor and aroma. From that experience, they started to collect various coffee vessels, fascinated by their different uses and designs.
“Back then, we loved to collect coffee vessels, but they ended up just piling up and gathering dust,” he remembered.
The couple has decent jobs, but their salary was barely enough to cover their daily expenses, especially during the peak of the pandemic. De Vera tried to start different businesses, but none of them succeeded. Driven by his love for coffee, he decided to open a pop-up coffee shop.
“I decided to open a pop-up café. I used up all my credit card limit to order coffee-related items online. I was working as a nurse when I came up with the idea for the business. Every night shift, I did my research and explored other possibilities,” he said.
De Vera dreamed of having a coffee shop that connects with its customers. He was inspired by the concept of “coffee talks” that he learned from a local barista. He thought it would be an advantage if he could offer this concept in his café.
“When I decided to pursue a coffee shop business, my family was doubtful of my idea. Your family will always be the first to criticize you if you want to venture into something new,” De
Despite the opposition and setbacks he faced, De Vera was determined to pursue his dream and opened his pop-up coffee shop in the Oval Plaza.
The pop-up café in Oval Plaza
On March 7, 2021, De Vera launched his pop-up shop. His initial plan was to sell coffee only in the morning. He started at 5 a.m. and closed at 7 a.m. His main target market was the joggers in the area. At that time, Oval Plaza was a suitable place for outdoor selling since there were Covid-19 restrictions. His cousin helped him as an assistant in his start-up business.
It was a disappointing morning for De Vera and his cousin. They had set up their pop-up café with high hopes, but no one stopped by to buy their coffee. They packed up their stand and went home, feeling discouraged.
However, De Vera was not ready to give up. He convinced himself to give it another try in the afternoon. They came up with a new offer: discounted coffee to attract the public and promote their business. Their strategy worked like a charm. They soon welcomed their first customers, who were delighted by their coffee and told their friends.
After a month of doing business, they were able to buy a cart. But they reached the point where they were asked to leave the Oval Plaza because of overcrowding. They had no income. They went to different locations to place their pop-up café just to survive.
Their pop-up coffee shop soon caught the attention of some well-known personalities in GenSan, who became their loyal customers and helped spread the word about their business. One of them was Arnel Cadeliña, a Q Robusta Grader and a coffee roaster with years of experience.
“We had some delightful pour-over coffee sessions together. I explained to Arnel how I brewed his coffee and what kind of beans I used. That time, I used dark roasted beans, which is not ideal for a pour-over brewing method. He told me that he was a coffee bean seller and promised to return the following day to give a sample to try,” he recalled.
Cadeliña brought back some sample coffee beans the next day. De Vera’s whole coffee experience transformed as he brewed, savored, and enjoyed the aromatic drink.
“I was amazed by the sample coffee beans that Cadeliña gave me the next day. When I brewed it, I smelled caramel and tasted floral notes. I also detected flavors of jackfruit and banana in every sip. I felt like I was climbing Sanchez Peak in the morning, feeling the fresh breeze,” De Vera said.
“It pivoted my perception towards coffee,” he added.
De Vera’s coffee journey took a new turn after that experience. He became good friends with Cadeliña, who shared his passion for coffee. They would spend hours in his pop-up café, chatting over different brews, roasts, and beans. He was eager to learn more about the art and science of coffee.
De Vera decided to quit his nursing job and pursue his passion for coffee. He named his café SideNotes, a clever wordplay that refers to both the medical note that doctors and nurses write and the sensory impressions that coffee lovers experience.
The name of their café was also inspired by their pop-up concept. The word “side” refers to the sidewalk where they set up their cart, and the word “note” reflects the flavor notes of their coffee.
De Vera searched for a location where he could establish his permanent coffee shop. He realized that his pop-up concept and the Oval Plaza were not viable options in the long run.
He saw the potential of SideNotes and wanted to focus on making it grow.
They had a great start, as they attracted many customers who wanted to taste their coffee. However, they faced the challenge of the “three-month cycle” that local businesses in GenSan often experience. De Vera and his wife accepted this reality and re-strategized to adapt to the inevitable changes.
SideNotes Coffee Co. is one of the pioneers of specialty coffee shop in GenSan. It serves high-quality coffee sourced from local farmers and promotes consumer education as a way of supporting the industry and raising awareness of the coffee culture.
SideNotes has a competitive advantage in the coffee market because they are committed to serving specialty coffee, supporting local farmers, and educating consumers. They source their beans from credible sources that follow Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and promote local quality beans.
They ensure consistent café operations by calibrating their equipment and staff, and training them to meet coffee standards. They also foster a culture of coffee exploration and appreciation among their customers and themselves.
De Vera and his wife are discerning and research-based in their coffee business. For instance, they do not follow the “coffee 39ers” craze that contradicts their advocacy for local quality coffee.
De Vera values his engagement with his community. He is always ready to answer any questions that his customers may have about his coffee sources. He believes in sharing information and knowledge with his customers.
“I don’t like it when some businesses withhold information from me. They act as if their trade secrets are more important than customer satisfaction. But I am not your typical entrepreneur. I am happy to share my passion and expertise in coffee,” said De Vera.
Being a Q Professional
When the Q Professional Exam was announced in 2022, he hoped to get a scholarship from the ACDI/VOCA-PhilCAFE project. But his dream of being a licensed Q Grader was not yet granted to him. He patiently waited for his opportunity and continued his coffee activities in the region.
At the Philippine Coffee Expo 2023, ACDI/VOCA Chief of Party TJ Ryan announced that the PhilCAFE project would soon end in the Philippines. De Vera felt discouraged and lost interest in coffee after hearing this announcement. He gave up on his dream of becoming a Q Robusta Grader.
He felt a surge of hope when Emeline Superioridad-Sabado added him, along with other candidates, to the “Q Grader Exam” group chat on Messenger. He sensed that he had a chance to be selected. He was right, and ACDI/VOCA generously covered half of the tuition. He paid for the remaining half with the full support of his wife.
The Coffee Quality Institute offers the Q Robusta Grader Course and Exam, a rigorous six-day program that trains and tests students on the qualities and characteristics of Robusta coffee.
Q Robusta Graders are trained to use standardized methods and criteria to evaluate Robusta coffee, such as aroma, body, acidity, sweetness, balance, and aftertaste. They can also identify and quantify coffee defects and communicate coffee characteristics using common industry terminology. Q Robusta Graders are certified for three years and need to renew their certification by taking an accredited calibration test.
De Vera experienced a mix of joy and sorrow as he faced a lot of challenges. He struggled with financial difficulties and felt out of sync with his fellow students in the Q Robusta Grader class.
De Vera’s relentless pursuit and passion for coffee culminated in his success as he aced the Q Robusta Grader exam.
“Passing the course was essential for me, as I could not afford to repeat it. I had made a vow to myself that I would only return home as a licensed Q Robusta Grader,” he said.
He celebrated his achievement with his wife and SideNotes staff in their cozy café. He has not yet experienced the pressure of being a Q Robusta Grader, but he faces the pressure of meeting expectations when tasting coffee. He has to provide detailed commentary on every coffee he tastes, which is a daunting task for him.
He is eager to share his insights from taking the Q Robusta Course and Exam. He hopes to give back to the community by collaborating with local coffee farmers and other industry stakeholders.
Expanding the coffee advocacy
De Vera serves as the Vice President of the GenSan Coffee Association (GCA), which advocates for the coffee stakeholders in the city. He said that GCA was established in GenSan, but it does not confine itself to GenSan.
He also co-founded The Coffee Academy (TCA) GenSan, which was born out of a challenge to their coffee association. They did not let the mockery affect them and instead turned it into a positive motivation. They already had interested students who inquired about their course when they started.
“At TCA, we aim to provide people with the right coffee education. We welcome interested students and offer scholarships for those who deserve it. We help them to launch their coffee shops or to pursue their careers as baristas abroad,” he said.
De Vera advised coffee enthusiasts to explore more flavors and varieties of coffee. He urged them not to be afraid to try new things and expand their palates and minds. He said that tasting coffee was not just a casual drink, but an experience that they could savor and enjoy.
He also expressed his admiration for passionate coffee entrepreneurs. He told them not to compromise their standards or quality to keep up with the market. He suggested that they market themselves more and showcase their unique value proposition. He assured them that they had the potential to stand out and succeed in the coffee industry.
“We should always continue to champion our Philippine quality coffee. By supporting quality coffee, we are also supporting the Filipino coffee farmers who produce it for us. They will not only raise the standard of Philippine coffee but also improve their standard of living. They will be able to provide food for their families and invest in their farms,” De Vera said. Genory Vanz Alfasain, contributor