107 Aguirre Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City
By reservation only
(SPOT.ph) In the same way food can be more than fuel, beverages can fulfill a bigger purpose than just quench your thirst. Within a cup or glass of coffee, tea, or alcohol lie varying aromas, tastes, and levels of body that themselves tell a story—be it on the terrain or region its raw materials grew, the way it was processed, the very company peddling the product, or the preparation behind the drink in front of you at the moment.
At Makati's Ito Space, these stories all come to the forefront. The “beverage space” may be small, but in the hour or so your tasting takes place, Beverage Director Niko Tiutan and Creative Director Alex Atienza will have you in for sailing through sip across the world of specialty drinks.
Also read: The SPOT.ph Guide to Coffee
Learn more about specialty coffee, tea + more at this beverage space in Makati:
Drive by Aguirre street in Makati and you’ll find the self-titled 107 Aguirre building, a 14-storey office building that might not necessarily scream for attention. Ito Space is semi-hidden in that there’s no external sign pointing to it—not outside the building, not even by the relatively nondescript door that serves as its entrance. Its very concealedness, however, means those who acquaint themselves with Ito Space do so with intention. They are, after all, a reservation-only venture.
Heavy (and possibly intimidating) as the door might appear, pull it open and you’re led inside a space designed by Keiji Ashizawa—the very first Philippine project of the esteemed architect known for his work with Blue Bottle Coffee (among others), in fact. Atienza—who admits she has no formal training in the field, but has a keen eye in the visuals department (and preferences for certain styles), herself—also played a significant role in the branding and design side of things.
Their look embodies the Japanese less-is-more philosophy, with uneven grey walls, dark grey stools (only seven of them, which makes for a most intimate feel), and a curved terrazzo counter where Tiutan and Atienza work their way through whatever tasting you go for. Relatively tight as it is at around 24 square meters, Ashizawa takes advantage of the space’s height and emphasizes this longitudinal aspect with vertical brick walls behind the counter and hanging lamps. They’re not afraid to show their quirky side, either: on the brick wall are shelves holding assorted bottles, glasses, mugs, and knicknacks, among them a maneki-neko raising its middle finger.
Tiutan and Atienza were previously behind pandemic-born, delivery-only bottled cocktail brand 35cl Cocktail Co., though they’ve since stopped operations to concentrate on Ito Space specifically—the idea for which sprung up as they came across this space in Legazpi Village. “We always wanted a physical space… [and] when we first saw this space we fell in love with it,” Tiutan shares. Its curved shape and floor-to-ceiling windows, in particular, caught Atienza’s eye (and heart). “It’s such a small space that it could be so intimate, even with the windows being so high and so open,” she explains. “I love how the building looks… a bit reflective… even when it’s not so obvious.”
Ito Space combines their dream of opening a cocktail-forward venture (Tiutan admits what they initially had in mind was more of a bar) with their love for hosting people. But it’s drinks that are the star of the show here. “We call ourselves a beverage space because our focus is really on [experiences] through beverages,” says Tiutan. The two hold tasting flights in the arenas of coffee and tea (during the day) and cocktails (at night), featuring different beans, leaves, spirits, and the like from varying origins prepared a multitude of ways. While they make it a point to highlight local where possible, the two also source from different origins—Japan for their teas, Scandinavian roasters for some of their beans, and so on.
The specific menus change every two weeks (“I get bored much faster than Alex,” Tiutan jokes), but you can more or less expect a similar format for whichever program you decide to go for. And whereas beverages often take the backseat to food, at Ito Space, it’s the reverse: the drinks are the “courses” and food—light bites created with the help of their friends from Toyo Eatery—are intended to compliment the drinks, not the other way around. Still, hospitality and comfort are the name of the game here, as Tiutan explains they serve these bites in the same way that they’d serve friends merienda when they’re hosting them over at home. Also going by that mentality, there’s no snootiness or pretense to be felt here. It's just the team and their knowledge and expertise for the field, their passion for which is evident in their enthusiasm as they share notes and stories over the course of the tasting.
The Espresso Series Tanzania AA lineup from last March begins with a cup of Soba Cha Mizudashi—essentially cold-brew buckwheat tea that’s allowed to steep for 14 to 16 hours. Nutty in taste yet refreshing given its ice-cold character, it’s just the thing to welcome us into (and help us feel completely at home during) the virtual flight.
Tiutan prepares whatever espresso they’re highlighting in a flight two ways, so as to showcase the different expressions it can take. In this case, we’re acquainted with a washed coffee with beans from Handege, Kenya (“a nice everyday coffee [for us],” he says) care of Cebu-based micro roaster Current Roaster—which they serve as a straight-up espresso shot, allowing its tamarind- and cacao nib-evoking, fruity character to shine; and as a creamy cortado, which lets us in on its more mellow side and brings out the nuttier, more buttery notes from the coffee (the author is specifically reminded of muscovado-coated pili nuts). Though some coffee snobs can be quick to dismiss coffee with milk as inferior to its black counterpart, Tiutan emphasizes that it’s all about preference—aside from the fact that adding milk can actually bring out other flavor profiles in a cup of joe.
To go with this drink course is its partner-in-crime of Silvanas from Panaderya Toyo. With crisp meringue, a smooth buttercream filling, and a generous coating of crushed cashew nuts, it brings richness and crunch to the mix—and engages the taste buds just enough so as to draw you into taking more sips of the coffee.
Local ingredients are given their opportunity to shine bright where possible—evident as Tiutan whips up an espresso mocktail using the same Current Roaster beans, brightened with pomelo juice and a syrup of local taogtog berries. The latter, he says, look similar to blueberries but have a more “herbal” taste—which he takes advantage of to match a similar herbal note (“that I couldn’t pinpoint,” Tiutan admits) in the espresso.
Next comes a pourover of Santa Ana, El Salvador beans from Danish coffee company La Cabra Coffee. “We chose this one based on the story—so it’s actually an all-women [company],” Tiutan explains—a happy feat considering it’s still not so common to have women in the coffee farming side of things. The aroma of almonds and caramel, along with a tinge of berry-like fruitiness (for this amateur author, anyway) waffs through the room as he continues: this, Tiutan explains, is natural coffee—also called unwashed coffee, or coffee where the beans are kept in contact with the full coffee cherry through the whole drying process, usually resulting in a more more fruit-forward, fermented flavor profile. These particular beans aren’t as funky as others, Tiutan points out, but it still delivers a just-right amount of brightness along with ample body to keep it grounded.
The duo also have us give their teas a whirl, with Atienza (who’s been into the world of teas for many years now) taking the lead this time around. She takes a small spoonful of Hoshinotsuyu matcha from Fukuoka into a chawan along with water; takes out her matcha whisk; and goes back and forth in a zigzag motion. A couple of seconds later she hands over the finished cup of tea, its bright green body hidden underneath a thin layer of froth. And oh, this stuff is vigorous—think earthy, a touch savory, and even umami with just a touch of brightness. It’s the kind that intrigues as you go on and unveils a new side of itself with every sip before finishing with a hint of natural sweetness toward the end.
It’s amazing what you can learn right from your seat, even within this intimate room. Beginners and enthusiasts alike are more than welcome to step inside and take part of the expedition. There’s always something new to uncover for those wiling to hop on—just sip and enjoy the ride while you're at it.
Photos by Majoy Siason
UPDATE (April 30, 12:24 p.m.): A previous version of the article incorrectly called the cortado served in the Espresso Series a latte. The article has been updated to reflect that development.