A coffeehouse is Manila’s K-Pop havenBy Maureen Manuel
Philippine Daily Inquirer
If you are into Korean pop culture and follow every K-Pop boy and girl band, you need to see this quirky, artsy, hole-in-the-wall coffee place in one of the known business districts.
In the Ortigas area, you will find the quintessential home of the Korean café culture: Subspace Coffee House. Inspired by the Hongdae area of Seoul, Subspace Coffee House offers you not just their infamous Purple Potato Latte, but the indie-slash-K-Pop lifestyle that young Pinoys aspire to experience.
Only a year old, it has been known to K-Pop followers, and serves as their nest and, for others, is one of the Instagram-worthy places in Manila. I had a chance to learn more about this brand, made popular through social media.
Starting from love
Like in every dream, it starts from love. Thor Bulanon’s love for Korean pop music enticed him and his business partner, Wilmer Lopez, to start this coffee shop with a uniquely Seoul Art District feel, and bring its charm here for Manila’s coffee connoisseurs and fellow K-Pop fans to experience.
They also have a furniture business, Space Encounters. The store draws a lot of attention from the streets, and was always mistaken for a coffee shop. “From that, we already have an idea for putting up a café,” Bulanon described how the idea started.
“During that time also in Space Encounters, I was bringing in K-Pop items. I was very much into that. We thought of moving all the K-Pop items to this café.” That proved to be a big hit, as Subspace now sells albums and memorabilia of beloved K-Pop idols such as Super Junior and 2NE1. It’s like a wish granted by a genie, because it’s hard for the fans to look for the albums.
In the beginning, Subspace was a venue for events like K-Pop Fan Girl Days that happened on weekends to keep the youthful vibe alive. The coffeehouse began operations in June 2011. Lopez is in charge of the interior design and Bulanon handles the operations of the shop.
Upon entering the store, I was transported to another place, and it didn’t feel like I was in one of the busiest areas in Manila. I was welcomed by this cozy, fun yet underground sort of ambience.
The place is magical and makes you want to sit in one of their pastel-colored sofas and stay for as long as you want. “It was also around this time that we went to Seoul, South Korea,” Bulanon said. “We saw the coffeehouse culture and we loved it. We love the design point of view and quirkiness with which they designed the coffeehouses, and we thought, let’s do that here.”
It is such a visual feast for the people that come here, as every nook and cranny is an Instagram-worthy snapshot. Thanks to social media, Subspace Coffee is becoming one of the “it” coffee shops to visit. Boasting 751 Instagram followers, it helped the shop raise awareness for their brand. Its followers are producing content that attracts other people to the place.
Lopez and Bulanon also use Subspace Coffee Shop as their platform to showcase their design ideas. “Let’s also introduce our pieces, because we have commercial clients who wonder how they can use mid-century modern furniture in a commercial space, and Subspace is the best example of it,” Lopez said. Aside from the food, if you do like one of the furniture pieces in Subspace, they can replicate the design for your home.
A Purple Potato Latte was something I’d never heard of before nor ever imagined tasting. This coffee beverage made me even more curious. In our Philippine food culture, this purple potato is known in layman’s term as kamote. Who would have thought to mix it with coffee?
The concoction is interesting enough to generate customer trials, as we put it in my marketing class. Give yourself a treat, because this is a new way to enjoy coffee. It’s sweet but not in the overbearing, one-sip-too-sweet way. It doesn’t taste like the generic coffee from the mainstream coffee shops. “It’s sweet and unique. Sweet Purple Potato Latte is our distinct offering. We were, like, ‘We’re not going to open until we have the sweet purple potato,’ because that drink is the famous one in Seoul,” said Bulanon. They also have a Peanut Butter Latte that is a must-try, as well.
Another thing they experimented on was Café Latte Art. “We’re also becoming known for it. That aspect I’m very proud of, as we are the only coffeehouse that customizes our latte art,” said Bulanon. They graciously showed us how it’s done, and it was fun to see them creating drawings on our coffee. The usual requests are to have K-Pop logos and animé characters drawn into their café latte.
If you are looking for a study place or a place to hang out or just to veer away from the mainstream coffee shops, I recommend this place for its fun food experience and design inspiration.
PHOTOS BY ADRIAN GONZALES