Tech and Taste (coffee and wi-fi at Segafredo)

As wireless infrastructure crawls toward critical mass, m-ph plays critic to the front lines of this revolutionary rollout – the café with hotspot. Dodging biscotti and cappuccino froth may be a thankless assignment, but that’s what we’re prepared to risk to find a patch of wi-fi bliss.

Connectivity is the new caffeine. Having a direct link to a world’s worth of borderline useful information, fairly amusing artwork, and semi-coherent ramblings sounds like the perfect perker-upper partner to the venerable bean brew for us plugged-in pod people. Eyes on the LCD and thumbs on the touchpad has begun to supplant idle chatter and huddled brainstorming as the café pose of the new era. But until that blessed day when those artificially intelligent robots evolve to the point where they finally realize the vast benefits to be reaped from hooking us all up permanently to IV drips and VR feeds, we’ve still got to deal with deciding for ourselves where to go and what to order. Bummer, isn’t it? Nevertheless, even the most reclusive hermit with the brawniest rig and the zippiest connection can be smoked out by waving a wi-fi voucher under his nose, yummy cooking aromas optional.

Background on the Brew

@Segafredo

@Segafredo (Photo credit: jetalone)

Segafredo Zanetti coffee, one of the world’s top espresso brands, was introduced to the Philippines by Liberty Ventures, Inc., a subsidiary of the company behind supermarket staples Gold Medal flour, Maya hotcake and cake mixes, and imported Betty Crocker mixes

Segafredo brings with it the history of an entire family, the Zanettis. Think the Godfather with beans instead of bullets. The Zanetti patriarch and his son got things rolling by first trading in green coffee in Italy, followed by the grandson who started his first coffee roasting company 35 years ago. The Zanettis have now gone on to putting up cafés all over the world.

Segafredo Zanetti is the only coffee company in the world with fully integrated operations. They have plantations in Brazil, roasting plants in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and France, and a state-of-the-art coffeemaker factory in Italy. This allows them to take total control of every element, from the bean to the coffeemaker to the ultimate product – that perfect cup of coffee. In some circles, Segafredo is to espresso as iPods are to digital music players. Segafredo cafes have become an integral part of the nightlife of such hip and diverse hotspots as Miami and Cairo, and command central for coffee-holics looking for that distinct European cafe society flavor.

In a market used to the American way of coffee-making and almost saturated by America-based coffee chains, Segafredo intends to educate the Filipino in Europe’s espresso tradition. The café also serves a variety of authentic Italian and fusion cuisine, from panini, sandwiches, fresh salads, appetizers, soups, pastas, and entrees to desserts. Most of their hot coffee can also be served as iced drinks, which can be either flavored with the syrup of your choice or doubled with two shots of espresso. They’re open Sundays to Thursdays from 11:00 am to 1:30 am, and 11:00 am to 2:30 am on Fridays and Saturdays.

Broadband and the Beast

We at m-ph were taken on the Espresso express by Segafredo Greenbelt’s very personable manager, Signor Joven Paulo Rodriguez. The interiors of grey and Ferrari red, designed by the firm of Lor Calma, could seem a little imposing for just a simple coffee-with-connection break, but you just gotta brush that microchip of your shoulder, slouch down, boot up, and soak in some dolce vita. The wireless broadband may allow you to go ahead and indulge your inner geek, but for Spock’s sake, dress up and disguise your outer slob! Even if you couldn’t care less about the scene, this is indubitably one of Greenbelt’s prime people-watching spots, so mind your mouth breathing. It may not exactly be the place for parking oneself and downloading the latest hot file on bit torrent, but they do get a lot of morning sip-and-surf-ers. In any case, downloading large files is probably not the best thing to do in this setting. The wi-fi connection was easy and quick to set up, and data flowed in and out a decent clip, yet there did seem to be a disturbance every few minutes or so when pages wouldn’t pop up or streams would stutter. Smooth surfing it is not, but it’ll do fine for casual browsing and e-mailing.

Anyway, whatever you’re wearing or waiting for, it helps to hang out with a hot machine at your fingertips. And for the purposes of our test run, the shiny blue Toshiba Satellite M50-P341 was smoking. For a multimedia monster, it’s lighter than it looks. Even its power brick is of a manageable heft. Fire it up and try to stop drooling over its marvelous Clear SuperView 14” wide screen, with its bright, rich colors, and deep contrast. The glossy, glassy surface is a glare and smudge magnet though. Building on the sexy tactile experience, your fingers glide with just the right smidgen of friction over the nicely textured touchpad. Performance-wise this Tosh was snappy and responsive. However, the location of its wi-fi switch may not be too obvious unless you read the manual. We’re admitting that had us stumped for a minute. The paradox of the local wi-fi scene is that there seems to be no middle ground for pricing the service. You go straight from free to expensive, and that there’s the story of the Globe Wiz service in a nutshell. I hope whoever decides on these pricing schemes soon realizes that 100 pesos for an hour of patchy connectivity just doesn’t seem like a good deal anymore.

So far, the Segafredo staff seemed prepared to accommodate our wi-fi hunger. They’re perfectly amenable to refunding your wi-fi voucher following any complaints about sucky or dropped connections. And they have a line to Globe Wiz and aren’t afraid to use it. My previous experience with Globe Wiz was kind of bumpy and this outing was definitely an improvement.

Breakdown of the Basics

For a place that focuses on coffee, they definitely didn’t neglect the food side of the menu. Most of the items have been concocted and tested by the much-admired Maya kitchens (another institution affiliated with Liberty), although they did consult a Japanese chef to help create their fusion dishes. I only wish that they could have been somewhat more adventurous and liberal with their dessert choices. There’s only so much tiramisu and chocolate cake one can take, if you know what I mean. Although their versions certainly don’t disappoint, with a bit more of a kick than most knock-offs. All in all the cuisine was of excellent quality, still fresh and appetizing despite having cooled down a bit after the photo shoot. We started with a salad of mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes. The kitchen showed no scrimping on either the cheese or the pesto. This simple appetizer could actually have been a meal in itself. For pasta we tried their Arrabiatta Penne which was appropriately zesty, rich and filling. Our main course was their Shrimp Dorja, a succulent shrimp dish topping flavorful rice, with just the right sprinkling of spices to keep the tongue interested. Their mushroom pizza stayed crusty and tasty, successfully having fought the brave fight against sogginess while sitting under our photographer’s lights.

The much vaunted Segafredo coffee lived up to their hype and our expectations, richer, with subtler notes, and less bitter than those ubiquitous brews from Washington State. To my palate, the simplest pseudoscientific proof is in the fact that you need only one packet of sugar to sufficiently sweeten a cup. Segafredo’s radical coffee machines rely more on pressure than heat to extract all that potent goodness from the brown bean, thus preserving more flavor. As for price, Segafredo appears closer to the affordable side of Greenbelt’s spectrum.

If the Italians were to design an OS, they’d probably use one of their cafés as a metaphor for the GUI. As long as things run as sleekly and swiftly as one of their sports cars, I could live with that for sure. I hope our future robot masters pick up some pointers from Segafredo. Come to think of it, that high-tech coffeemaker gurgling on their counter would probably make for a pretty benevolent overlord.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in m|ph magazine, 2006

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