This Filipino food ingredient is transforming the way some consumers drink coffee.
BY EMILY MENESES
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo courtesy of Miguel Lorenzo from Unsplash
Long before it made its way into the Western coffee scene, a purple yam called ube found a place in my heart. Its subtle blend of sweet and savory, its unmistakable color—in my childhood household, every special occasion was blessed by ube’s gorgeously purple presence. On several birthdays, I even chose to forego a cake entirely, opting instead to blow out candles placed atop a thick, sticky layer of ube halaya: a traditional Filipino dessert that I’d gleefully spoon straight from the pan.
Though I grew up in a predominantly Asian community, I didn’t often see Filipino food outside of family parties and the mom-and-pop restaurants my parents would inhabit religiously on the weekends. Throughout most of my life, Filipino ingredients like ube, pandan, and calamansi felt like well-kept secrets—an intimate language spoken between a select few. Recently, however, that’s all begun to change.
Over the past few years, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see Filipino flavors making their way into the mainstream, especially within the coffee industry. If you aren’t Filipino, you’re most likely wondering … what is ube? Known for its unique violet color and versatile flavor profile, ube is a species of yam native to Southeast Asia. Similar in flavor to taro or sweet potato, the picturesque vegetable is mainly grown on farms in Baguio City, a mountain town on the Philippines’ Luzon Island nicknamed the “City of Pines.”
In Filipino cuisine, ube is prepared a vast number of ways, but it’s most commonly used in cake, bread, ice cream, and jam. Over time, cafés in Los Angeles have begun adding ube to coffee, introducing a whole new world of flavor and color to the American palate. While it’s absolutely amazing to see people from all walks of life enjoying ingredients from my family’s homeland, I wanted to learn more about the local Filipino-owned businesses uplifting ube as an emblem of their personal history and culture.
New to L.A.’s Thai Town, Obet & Del’s is a family-owned, Black-owned, and Filipino-owned café that offers one of my favorite local takes on the ube/coffee trend. Subtly sweet and deliciously creamy, their Filipino iced coffee is a refreshing blend of robust coffee and ube oat milk—an absolute must-try for anyone looking to change up their daily coffee game.
“The Filipino iced coffee is our statement piece, thanks to our community,” stated Heather Knox, co-founder of Obet & Del’s. “We’re a mom-and-pop business, for the neighborhood. It’s so important that we represent and share with them every bit of who we are.”
More lust-worthy ube coffee drinks can be found at FrankieLucy Bakeshop and B Sweet, both of which are Filipino-owned and offer ube baked treats in addition to their beverages. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can even search for Filipino markets near you to get everything you’ll need to enjoy ube at home. (Pro tip: Get a jar of ube jam!)
As a Filipina-American, I never expected my love of coffee to collide with my passion for my family’s culture, but I must say, it has been an amazing thing to watch happen. The uniting of ube and coffee is a small yet powerful reminder of the immigrant families who make our everyday lives that much more flavorful. So if you ever start to feel a bit tired of the daily routine, remember that there’s a whole world of ingredients ready for you to explore.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Based in Los Angeles, Emily Joy Meneses is a writer and musician passionate about culture and collective care. You can regularly find her at Echo Park Lake, drinking a cortado and journaling about astrology, art, Animal Crossing, and her dreams. Explore her poetry, short stories, and soundscapes on her website.