Most travellers would roam around their travel destination looking for the next tourist hot spots or hidden gems to fill in their “no itinerary days.” But, it’s a little different for Prio Opelanio: a 28-year-old Filipino traveller currently based in NYC, who prefers to spice up his curious roaming by exploring the coffee scene in the area, one cup at a time.
The coffee aficionado moved to NYC with his family in 2017 and has since made it a point to see more of the world through his travels. “Two things that my travels have revolved around are places of nature and coffee places. Both have always been a staple wherever I am in the world.” Read on to learn more about his take on coffee and top coffee travel destinations you might not have known yet.
How he got into coffee
Prio has always been into coffee ever since he was young. Back in the day, coffee was just something to keep him going. However, his love for coffee started brewing more seriously when the pandemic hit. The gentleman started preparing his own cold brew concentrates to replace his regular fix from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. (Yup, no more travelling downtown just for coffee.)
Luckily, his buddy Jonathan was there to recommend him his first handheld grinder and canister from Hario and beans from Trade Coffee. Not just that, the bigger coffee lover at heart also introduced Prio to various speciality beans. That, while patiently answering his questions regarding the proper technique of brewing coffee.
From then on, Prio started exploring speciality coffee on his own — trying different roasters from abroad and within the United States. He cheekily mentioned, “What started as a means for me to save money on a chore that I start my day with is now one of the things I indulge myself with.” Well, life surely takes us by surprise!
His favourite coffee destinations
Talk about how he likes his coffee, Prio shares that his current go-to would be pour-over coffee, hot, with no milk or sweeteners. The patron, however, clearly states that he enjoys expanding his palate. Plus, he doesn’t veer away from being adventurous or experimenting at times. And as interesting as knowing that his current coffee bean obsession is Gesha, learning his fondest coffee destination is even more fascinating!
Japan had always been on his travel bucket list and a recent two-week trip to the Land of Rising Sun in mid-November this year brought him to the very roaster that made him fall in love with speciality coffee: the Kurasu in Kyoto. But that’s not the only reason why the country stays on top of his favourite coffee destinations.
“In Japan, you probably could never go wrong with any coffee shop in sight,” the half-Japanese aficionado explains. “From the most obscure shops in back alleys to those with extreme notoriety among both local and foreign coffee enthusiasts.” A worthy travel for coffee indeed!
His top 5 recommended coffee shops around the world
Prio believes that there are two factors that make a good coffee shop: the people who work there and the quality of beans/roasts they serve. And these top-notch roasteries easily tick all the boxes that call for the perfect coffee travel experience:
5. Almanegra Cafe – Mexico City, Mexico
Almanegra Cafe, with different branches all around Ciudad de Mexico (CDMX), is one of those roasters that take the art of coffee seriously. FYI, the name Almanegra literally translates to “black soul.” So, those who love their coffee black will most probably find something that’ll suit their taste here. Whether you prefer your brew caliente (hot) or frio (cold), expect the baristas to prepare them expertly.
Prio happened to visit the Roma Norte branch of this cafe, and a barista named Angel served him a sampler flight of three different brews of coffee meant to be tasted in sequence. “It started with an espresso shot and a cortado of medium-roasted Gitwe beans from Rwanda; notes from what I remember are brown sugar and honey, with a bit of spice like cardamom,” he shared. “It finishes off with a pour-over of light-roasted Oaxacan beans from Mexico, with floral notes like hibiscus-almost tea-like.”
4. Boon Boona Coffee – Washington, United States
Prio has Boon Boona Coffee on his list, mainly due to the nice customer service and the fact that he was blown away by a cup of coffee from this place. He had his first sip of their coffee when he stayed over at a friend’s house. The next thing he knew, he was already buying himself a few bags of coffee beans from the shop the day after.
“What I remember the most is the good beans from the shop, most of which are darker roasts. These pair well with your cream of choice, if you like cortado and lattes,” he noted. The beans that he got were mostly of Brazilian origin with notes of cacao and caramel finishes.
If you plan on coming, you may visit either of Boon Boona Coffee’s branches in Renton or Seattle for a much-needed daily pause with a good cuppa. Definitely something worth adding to your list of coffee travel destinations!
3. Cardinal Casa de Cafe – Mexico City, Mexico
Unlike the previous coffee shops that Prio spontaneously visited, Cardinal Casa de Cafe was a place he looked forward to dropping by in CDMX. He’s been following Shak Zapata, the winner of the Mexican Barista Championship in 2022, for a while now. He wished to get a cup of joe from the champ’s cafe in Roma Norte. So, he went to the Cardinal.
“The cortado and pour-over I ordered used Oaxacan single-origin beans, medium roast. These mostly had a sweet caramel finish and nutty almond notes,” he explained. What he loved most about the place was that they served sparkling water on the side, acting as a good palate cleanser.
If you didn’t know yet, the third wave coffee shop has been serving original Mexican brews for nine years, and each sip never disappoints! Prio also mentioned how the cafe has a rustic charm and homey feel, which made him want to stay longer.
2. Koffee Mameya – Tokyo, Japan
Nestled among one of Harajuku‘s narrow inclined streets is Koffee Mameya, or what Prio deemed as an interesting take on a coffee bar. The place is truly one-of-a-kind, as it was built as a standing-only cafe that would most probably fit up to six people at once. FYI, this coffee place is regarded as the reincarnation of the now-closed Omotesando Koffee, whose mastermind was Eiichi Kunimoto: the same man who opened Koffee Mameya in 2017.
The place curates beans from partner roasters worldwide, from dark to light roasts. Whether you’re a more experienced speciality coffee drinker or a mere beginner in the third wave coffee world, the baristas will be more than happy to introduce and explain the different coffee beans they have in-store. Hands down a valuable coffee travel experience for all patrons!
During his visit, Prio ordered three different Gesha coffees from Kenya and Panama, all pour-overs. According to him, the most notable was the naturally processed Auromar Panama Gesha from Homeground Coffee Roasters in Singapore. “The batch won an award at the World’s Brewers Cup in 2022 and has distinct floral notes plus berries and oranges,” he added.
1. Kurasu – Kyoto, Japan
Kurasu is the cafe that had Prio fall in love with speciality brews. Hence, he made it a point to visit all of its branches in Kyoto during his recent trip. The three branches he mentioned are: Kurasu Kyoto Stand, the busiest one so far; Kurasu Nishijin Roastery with a traditional facade (temporarily closed); and Kurasu Ebisugawa, the main branch that utilises an Aeropress to prepare its “espresso-like” brews.
The Marciano Tomazini, Light Roast was it for the coffee enthusiast. Prio described the Brazilian single-origin and honey-washed blend to have a very complex yet faint aroma with notes of black currant, orange, and pear. “It was like drinking juice at the start and ending up with a gyokuro (jewel dew/a type of shaded green tea) finish,” he said. Other notable blends to try according to the coffee lover would be the Aki Urara Blend, Medium Roast and the Belarmino Contreras, Light Roast.
Bonus: More coffee shops to visit in the Land of Rising Sun
You can tell Prio’s love for coffee knows no boundaries when he added more recommendations after spilling his top five favourite cafes with so much detail. The coffee shops in Nara, Japan, had his honourable mention — specifically Rokumei Coffee and CHAMI Specialty Coffee Roasters. Both places feature the prettiest aesthetics with equally good coffee. So, don’t forget to add these recommended coffee travel destinations to your bucket list this instant!
The coffee that sticks — his most memorable sip
The most memorable moment is not measured by how fancy a place is. Sometimes, it’s the people and how the place makes you feel. Prio shared about a drink he had at Esperanza’s Cafe del Mar on Vieques Island in Puerto Rico. It was Coconut Coffee — a brewed coffee with coconut cream milk, cinnamon, and salt.
“[It was] nothing too fancy like some of the speciality coffee places I mentioned earlier. At that point, I hadn’t travelled out of America in a while and I was missing my hometown in the Philippines,” he recalled. “The open-air cafe was reminiscent of some of the places back home that I used to go to.” That, plus the warmth services by the baristas, make the cuppa, the place, and the moment somewhat special.
Coffee-related souvenirs: yay or nay?
Yup, getting coffee-related souvenirs is a total yay for Prio. One of his check-in luggage was brimming with coffee beans and merch from coffee shops he visited during his recent trip to Japan. These were the speciality roasts he usually orders online and shipped to NYC.
Prio also acknowledged himself as a freak for good coffee tumblers and cups. He even proudly mentioned having 15 canisters and counting, all to himself. “Do I use all of them, all the time? Not really. Will I keep buying them? More than likely. How much have I spent on these things to date? That’s between me and my bank,” he quipped.
His dream coffee destinations
Of course, we had to ask about his most wish-listed coffee travel destinations, too. Prio shared that he hasn’t been to Europe yet, but will probably go next year. “Nordic countries are known for having great coffee roasters for speciality light roasts,” he noted. “I’m looking to visit the shops themselves if I get the chance, like Tim Wendelboe’s Espresso Bar in Oslo (Norway), La Cabra in Aarhus (Denmark), and Manhattan Coffee Roasters in Rotterdam (the Netherlands).”
His main reason is that he has been following these roasts ever since he started getting into third wave coffee. Plus, he believes it’d be great to take a real sip or two at their main cafes. In addition to that, Prio wishes to visit more of Mexico and other Latin American countries. This is due to them having plenty of local farms where speciality coffee beans are sourced from these areas.
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Images are credited to Prio Opelanio, unless stated otherwise.