Other side of the cup | Inquirer Opinion
Young Blood

Other side of the cup

I was up a little too early on a Monday morning. I woke at the crack of dawn to drop off some friends at the airport, and it was almost 7 a.m. when I drove back to the city. It was still a bit dark and dreary, the kind of weather that makes you want to just curl up in bed and sleep the whole day. The problem was it was the start of the work week and that simply wasn’t an option.

So I settled for the next best thing—a trip to my favorite coffee shop. I was still feeling a bit groggy and definitely needed to get some caffeine into my system to get me up and going. I checked my watch—7:15 a.m., just perfect! The café opens at 7 a.m., and I thought there would not be a lot of people at this time of the day. But as I was pulling up, I remembered something that stopped me from going in.

It was a scene in my mind—something I had seen in one of those documentaries of a local TV network. It was your typical documentary subject—mother and father working their butts off to feed their many (usually eight or more) children, but all the hard work they were doing never seemed to be good enough to put more than a bowl of instant noodles or a can of sardines on the table. I used to like watching this type of show, but at some point I stopped because it always managed to bring out negative feelings, and I didn’t like getting “bad vibes” anymore. I knew as well as the next person that a lot of our countrymen were suffering, and I didn’t need to see any more of it. It is so heartbreaking, to say the least, to watch someone in that situation, and it feels even worse because there is not much I can do to help.

After the sadness I would feel anger tinged with disappointment at the parents who brought into this world more offspring than they could afford to feed. I would feel the same way toward government officials who sit back and gorge on fancy food while many of their constituents live on tuyo, instant noodles, canned goods, soy sauce and rice—or garbage scraps.


The documentary I remembered was no different from the usual—it featured a family with 13 children. It showed a day in their life, and at one point the parents and children were shown having breakfast together. The father said they would be having coffee, and I had quickly assumed that they would be drinking a cup each. But as it went along, I was horrified to find out that they only had one cup of coffee to share among the 15 of them, with each taking a teaspoonful of the stuff to get him/her through the day.

As I watched, I felt a little sick to my stomach. A wave of guilt washed over me. How could I have possibly consumed P140 macchiatos when there are people who couldn’t even afford more than a cup of instant coffee a day? Why was I so proud that I had managed to collect the required number of stickers for a 2012 planner so quickly (in less than a month to be exact)? Did I even stop to think that if I added up the total amount of all the coffees I had to drink to get that damn planner, it would have probably been enough to feed that family for a month?

Clearly, in those times I wasn’t thinking of anyone else but myself and just relishing the warm fuzzy feeling I get when I am in a cozy, dimly lit café, gossiping with girlfriends about mundane things over chai lattes and caramel macchiatos.

We are a coffee-obsessed generation. Need a little perk before diving into a day of work? Get some coffee. Need to study, relax, unwind, or spend quality time with your friends? Head to the nearest café. Over the years there has been a growing addiction to coffee and there are actually some who claim that they cannot function well without it. Movies, TV shows and celebrities have also glamorized the humble cup of coffee in such a way that aside from its primary purpose of providing that extra dose of energy, it has also become a fashion statement of sorts (hello, Olsen twins).


The mix of good company, perfectly roasted blends, and a nice ambience temporarily gives us a blurred vision of reality, an illusion that we are elsewhere and, like Rachel, Monica, Chandler and Co., sharing laughs at Central Perk. Or Andrea Sachs running in heels to get her Prada-wearing, she-devil boss Miranda Priestly a tall latte with two raw sugars. Or Carrie Bradshaw getting some writing done in Starbucks.

But the moment we step out of the comforts of the café, the ugly truth rears its head. It’s past 10 p.m. but urchins are still roaming the streets, waiting for some merciful stranger to hand them some loose change or a piece of bread. Entire families are sleeping on pieces of cardboard in underpasses. Yes, we’re still in the Philippines, not in New York or anywhere else, and yes, there are people whose last meal was “altanghap” (almusal, tanghalian, and hapunan rolled into one) while you just had your third (overpriced) cup of coffee for the day.


I have nothing against fancy coffee shops, and definitely nothing against the people who cannot seem to live without them and their offerings. I used to love these cafés and I still do, but the realization that somewhere out there is a family of 15 relying on a single cup of instant coffee for breakfast makes me think twice about springing for a venti Americano that costs way more than that family’s daily income.

So on that Monday morning, I ignored my craving for pricey coffee, drove home, boiled some water and poured in a sachet of good old 3-in-1. I was alive and awake for a fraction of what I was willing to pay for, and enjoying the drink in the comforts of home. No guilt trip. And with the money I saved, I could do something more meaningful for those who truly need help.

I know a lot of work has to be done in order to permanently stamp out poverty in this side of the world, and I probably wouldn’t even live to see that glorious day. But I would like to start helping out in my own little way, one unpurchased latte at a time.

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Francine Alessandra “Chin-Chin” Vito, 22, of Iloilo City, is a medical representative by day and blogger by night.

TAGS: Coffee, Documentary, opinion, Poverty, Young Blood

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