Back in Australia the hipsters and coffee snobs turned their nose up at Starbucks. It was cool to hate Starbucks and go for the independent café and get a deconstructed flat white. The massive store roll out that has covered countries the world over retreated to just a handful of stores across the country. About as many as you will find within the city limits of Makati.
It was almost cliché when I first arrived here how many Starbucks there were. Until recently when one closed, there were five Starbucks within a 100m walk from my office.
When you add Coffee Bean into the mix any caffeine addict can feel comfortable that a fix is never far away, but I’m not here to talk about coffee.
If you are new to the country, and even if you are not, it can be comforting to see some familiar smiling faces regularly. I can guarantee you that if you visit a Starbucks or Coffee Bean more than three times everyone will know your name, and your order of choice.
While I know that it is their job to do these things, it takes a certain kind of person to keep it up hour after hour, day after day. Always with that a happy greeting and trademark smile.
Over the years I have developed what I consider genuine friendships with many of these baristas. Some I continue to stay in touch years after our coffee conversations ended – I move house a lot, and there is always somewhere closer!
Many of the things that I have learned about the Philippines and Filipinos have come from these relationships. Their stories are interesting and their backgrounds varied. You get to know them better than some of your work colleagues. It is a simpler relationship, and you still see them every day.
My daily visits to Starbucks will be amongst the things I miss the most when the day comes to return back home. Staring at a hipster, with a beard and a man bun, making my coffee will make me sad for the rest of my life. I will forever be reminded of those smiling faces who were so welcoming and friendly to me every day. When in a foreign country for a long time these small gestures can make all the difference.