For most artists, drinking coffee is less of a habit and more of a ritual. Along with lifelessly scrolling on Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration followed by doubting whether you could actually make a living with your godforsaken art, fueling your creative juices through a good cuppa is a huge part of our lives. Lucky for us, it isn’t that hard to find a satisfying caffeine kick in this day and age, whether it’s a skinny iced caramel macchiato poured by an English-speaking barista from one of those conventional coffee shop chains that put the same effort in selling planners as they do with their drinks and dishes or a dusty 3-in-1 instant coffee mix sachet carefully stirred by your friendly neighborhood tindera. And if you’re a coffee
snob purist like many others, it’s also not an impossible feat to get a hold of decent cup of joe. More and more small coffee businesses have been brewing in the city by the minute, and these homegrown cafés don’t only offer high quality beans that would make you further appreciate coffee, they also happen to look good on your IG feed. But you know sometimes, having a cup or two aren’t enough to awaken your creativity. A coffee break might be what you want, but a quick period of relief from your mostly unpleasant life is what your body and mind needs–and Merriam Webster suggests that this kind of break is called a respite.
Respite comes into light where you least expect it: hidden in between a sketchy restobar and a laundromat along Sct. Fernandez in Quezon City. Run by barista and baker sister duo Sylvette and Jessica along with their secret weapon Marlon, the little coffee shop and bakery is a safe space for all kinds of people–coffee nerds, sweet tooths, social media freaks, awkward loners, loud extroverts, starving artists, corporate slaves, and every other Twitter bio one could think of. While they do serve what most artisanal cafés offer, boasting meticulously sourced beans from Mt. Apo and sinful desserts and pastries that could make you forget your name with a single bite, their menu isn’t their top priority. What makes this coffee shop a little more grounded than others is their pure intention to seclude you from this busy and wretched world the very moment you set foot inside their territory.
Doon kasi paulit-ulit lang, parang wala kang nami-meet na tao na magiging better ka. Feeling mo ‘di ka at your best. Mas gusto namin mag-risk sa isang bagay na gusto namin kaysa mag-stay sa isang bagay na back-up lang naman
Upon entering the Respite, you’ll be greeted by coffee-connoisseur-slash-pescetarian-convert Sylvette, who’s most likely sporting a racerback tank top with a pair of speedo shorts. Now, your gut might suggest being a little cautious when it comes to getting too friendly with her–and your gut is completely correct. You know how you need check whether your coffee’s piping hot or not with a careful and anxious sip before fully immersing yourself in the chemical juggernaut that affects your entire body from brain power and eyesight to digestion and bowel function? That’s exactly how it’s like to meet Sylvette for the first time. Just like the coffee she grinds, she comes off a bit strong and has a very dark humor, but she pours a sense of warmth once you get to chat with her, and those conversations spike from extensive discussions about theology to jokes about her mother’s death–which makes you question where your moral compass lies most of the time. On the contrary, her sister Jessica is the sugar to that spice. Baking goods that’s as sweet as her persona, her sunny disposition is a refreshing treat. From her charming smile to her delicate demeanor, it’s as if a cloud of optimism follows her everywhere she goes. These opposing personalities bring a perfect balance to the haven that is Respite, but it took a while before the two found an even path to stand on.
It wasn’t passion that led the two sisters to Respite–it was fate. Coming from a family of seven brothers and sisters with two different mothers, Sylvette and Jessica grew up in the province to a work-driven father who built the foundation of their household through the hardware store they owned. Given their Chinese heritage, following his footsteps was the shortcut towards the stereotypical success story, but the two sisters were steering towards an alternate route. They might’ve not known what it was they wanted to do back then, but they knew setting up a hardware store of their own wasn’t the direction they were going for. “Doon kasi paulit-ulit lang, parang wala kang nami-meet na tao na magiging better ka. Feeling mo ‘di ka at your best. Mas gusto namin mag-risk sa isang bagay na gusto namin kaysa mag-stay sa isang bagay na back-up lang naman,” Jessica relates. “Kasi kung may privilege ka, why not do something worthwhile,” adds Sylvette.
Naisip ko, ‘Uy maganda ‘to’ kasi magiging place siya para sa mga taong nahihirapan sa life in general, para kapag pumunta sila dito, kakalimutan nila ang lahat
For a brief period, they did try to find their footing in different career paths before realizing that they were walking the wrong way. Finishing Medical Technology at University of Santo Tomas with the aspirations of becoming a doctor, Sylvette managed to land a job as a med tech for six months. And for Jessica, it was actually much shorter. Holding a degree in Fashion Design and Merchandising at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, she was employed as a merchandiser at the country’s largest chain of shopping malls, which only lasted for two weeks. Despite having the power to carve their own path, the two sisters felt like lost souls. But just as Sylvette shifted her focus to studying theology–where she befriended a professor who introduced to her the concept of coffee–and found solace in spontaneous trips to the beach–where she immersed herself in the science of brewing the perfect cup, Jessica raised a sudden interest in enrolling to a baking program, perhaps due to an endless binge of cooking shows. Cruising along with what the world was insisting on, it wasn’t long before they took the hint. After gaining momentum from selling baked goods online, Jessica proposed opening an actual shop to her sister. The final piece of the puzzle came along as Sylvette chanced upon the word “respite” in a book she was reading. “Naisip ko, ‘Uy maganda ‘to’ kasi magiging place siya para sa mga taong nahihirapan sa life in general, para kapag pumunta sila dito, kakalimutan nila ang lahat,” she recalls. “Kasi aminin man nila o hind, mahirap talaga.”
Respite came into their lives when they needed it most, including their trusty comrade Marlon. Although he always wears this playful grin, he has these cold, dead eyes that’s waiting to suck the life out of you, which makes you wonder what this man has been through. As a high school dropout, Marlon was accustomed to jumping from one job to another–from bagging groceries to occasional compensated hookups that his wife was fully aware of–just to provide for his family. However, his fate was cemented as Sylvette and Jessica hired him after seeing his positive glow during the construction of their first location across St. Mary’s College in 2015. Admittedly, it still hasn’t been a smooth path for Marlon with his family resting on his shoulders, but at least now, he has a sense of peace every time he goes in to work. Fortunately, Sylvette and Jessica has something better in mind for him. The idea of Respite might’ve rooted from the need for a temporary bliss, but the two sisters are now aiming for a more permanent solution. Part of their long-term plan includes opening a separate bake shop, where they could entrust franchises to those passionate people who continue to inspire them, and Marlon is clearly on the long list of candidates they aim to act on soon.
Offering a de-stress from distress, Respite is a home for all kinds of emotions–anger, emptiness, joy, anxiety, hunger, disgust, and even thirst. Whether you choose to seek comfort from good coffee and tasty pastries or their cozy company, the humans of Respite are here to cater to your cravings. And if you prefer to keep your thoughts, rants, tales of heartbreak, childhood trauma, and other repressed emotions to yourself, you’re still welcome to step inside their little bubble. They do know when to respect your personal space. But if you’re only there for the free Internet, better make sure to check out their menu before asking for the Wi-Fi password. No amount of bandwidth could compare to the warm hug that comes with their choco chunk cookies, milky coffee, tapa buns, or matcha latte. So if you feel like temporarily bidding the big ol’ world goodbye, all you need to do is look for the little sign that says hello.