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Blue Wonder: Cartimar’s Hidden Café

I like finding things in unexpected places, especially if they are unassuming spaces in equally humble areas. Hole-in-the-wall cafes, for instance, really pique my interest because I love how, with good coffee and even the most basic of decorative elements in the interiors, you can create a coffee shop that brings the community together.

I chanced upon Blue Wonder in a serendipitous manner as I was rifling through the stores, looking for Korean stoneware. I had just come from my dentist, and I was kind of just stumbling around in delirium. When I think Cartimar, I usually associate it with kitchenware, cycling supplies, pet supplies, leather shoes, counterfeit sneakers, plants, and… wait a second. The variety of things you find in Cartimar is astounding, so it should not come as a surprise that there is a coffee place somewhere in this sprawling shopping complex right?

Still, I thought I was hallucinating from the Novocain when I turned the corner and saw the usual trimmings of a coffee shop: you know, stools, long bar tables and an espresso machine somewhere. Like a mirage in a desert, I thought my eyes were deceiving me because Cartimar market, with its profusion of thrift stores, pet stores, and rows of stores filled with odds and ends, is the last place I would go to find a specialty coffee roastery. What is a roastery and fancy coffee bar doing hidden in the middle of Cartimar palengke?!

It turns out that Blue Wonder is a partner business of Mall of Kitchens, where I also got a bunch of things for the kitchen. MK is a giant when it comes to restaurant supplies, and is basically a one-stop shop for everything you might need if you are opening up your own food & beverage business. I chatted up the baristas on duty and they said their coffee program is headed by a Korean group who is partners with MK. Apparently, they have a barista school and a coffee shop in their two big branches, in Cartimar and their main branch in Pasig, which is along C5.

Aside from slinging coffee drinks, the place also sells beans and brewing equipment. Right outside the coffee shop is their selling area for with a wholesale type situation for all things one might need for home or cafe brewing, from filters to drip assemblies, to grinders and steaming pitchers. This too, is a one-stop shop for all things coffee.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they always say. In this case, the proof of the coffee is in the brewing so i didn’t pass up a chance to try some of their roasted beans. Their coffee program buys green beans and roasts it in their facilities in Cartimar and in Pasig, and they buy from places like Kenya, Ethiopia, Colombia and even locally, in Sagada.

I always love a good light-roast African coffee, which is usually fruity and citrusy. Their Ethiopia Sidamo had a very fruity aroma and I wanted to try it brewed on a Hario V60 and served on ice (the way I always like it when it’s warm out).

Kat, the barista on duty during my visit, was skilled with the drip cone. She wasn’t even using a precision scale but her proportions were awesome. It yielded a flavourful cup of subtly floral and lemony coffee, which I enjoyed on ice. Eyeballing a drip brew takes skill and practice, and this is a good mark in my books, because it’s always nice when the staff know what they’re doing.

I also love that you can hang out here and escape from the bustle outside. The interiors look like they won’t even look out of place in the middle of BGC or Makati. It’s your typical warm wood and industrial fit out but in the case of Blue Wonder, it just works against the backdrop of dusty shops filled with an endless array of miscellany. Totally random, if you’ll ask me.

I respect that the graphic menu makes it easy for people to order from their wide selection of beans, too. I think it is important to get people started on different flavour notes and profiles, as there is very little mainstream education on terroir or how geography and origins affect flavour. To a lot of Filipinos, especially, whose notion of what “good coffee” is is an espresso shot drowned in frothed milk (or worse, 3-in-1 coffee from a packet), this sensory coffee experience is quite new. I love that Blue Wonder democratises that. What’s a more evened-out playing field that putting relatively affordable  coffee in a palengke? I have no pretenses about swanky and shiny coffee shops and their sheer power to intimidate the uninitiated, but here, you can walk in as you are and enter the seemingly complicated and fussy world of specialty coffee. It adds to the appeal that the baristas are definitely knowledgeable and well-trained. They know the vocabulary, they know the techniques, and they know how best to share a good coffee experience to others.

And for kicks, too, I ordered a latte, which is always a good metric to use when gauging the skill of the baristas. The stress test of any coffee shop is how well their baristas can whip up a good latte (or flat white), as steaming a perfect head of foam is not easy. It takes hours upon hours of practice to perfect the art of steaming milk, and it should yield full-bodied and velvety milk that is not scalded, but is in fact, custardy in its sweetness. When mixed with a good shot of espresso in proper proportions, it produces a latte that is balanced between sweetness and that robust espresso flavour.

Give your chain coffee favourites a break and visit this little hole in the wall. I think it is pretty essential to support small coffee shops that try to make a dent in educating the general public in specialty coffee. This is quite good, for starters, and I for sure will be back for more pretty soon.

To get there, you have to go all the way to the back of Cartimar (the Leveriza side, not the Taft Avenue side) and go to the Savemore. There is a Mall of Kitchens store right across it, and you will have to go inside the complex through its small alleys. You can smell the coffee as soon as you walk in. Follow your nose and you won’t have to walk around for very long. Otherwise, you can ask the shopkeepers where Blue Wonder is.

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Blue Wonder Coffee & Roastery

Cartimar Ave., Pasay 

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