As a digital nomad from Manila biking around the island of Panglao, located southwest of the bigger Bohol Island, I easily noticed that there were not a lot of cafés here. So, discovering Common Crew Bohol along a relaxed highway, far from the more popular tourist spots, was a win for me.
Common Crew is a community café, co-working space, creative studio, and makerspace all in one that remains true to its pursuit of the island life. They provide a space to both locals and travelers alike who simply want to relax, or join a commune of creatives, digital nomads, and coffee connoisseurs. Their huge ceiling fans, jalousie windows, house plants, and Camel stand fans complete the whole industrial-yet-homey feel. While the building does not look like a house, in some ways it still feels like your grandparents’ big house in the province: sentimental, quiet, and quaint, with the aroma of coffee wafting in the air.
“For us, ‘island life’ means you get to enjoy the environment and commune with the island, but at the same time it does not dilute your passion for your craft and your productivity at work,” said founder and marketing head Kate Li.
This is why in the several times I visited the café, I was joined by a few other customers who also came with their laptops. Some of them are, just like me, from Manila who decided to temporarily live in Panglao for a month or so to enjoy the island life without leaving their work behind. Common Crew easily became our common go-to spot here.
“The café is the center of what we are, but the co-working space is coming from the insight that there are people who want to stay in a café and be productive,” explained Li. “We did not want it to be a typical co-working space that looks like an office and is air-conditioned, but we also wanted it to look industrial and tropical. We are on an island, after all.”
Common Crew also remains true to its second pursuit: the passion for craftsmanship. As a makerspace, they provide local craftspeople a space to exhibit or sell their works. For instance, the chocolate bars that they sell are made by students of the Bohol Deaf Academy, while the sourdough bread of their sandwiches is made by a local community bakery. The paintings that are displayed and the merchandise that are on sale, meanwhile, are done by Bol-Anon artists.
At the end of the day, though, Common Crew dedicates itself to serving good Philippine coffee. “We thought, why not let our customers explore the Philippines through coffee? Do you want to learn more about Benguet? We can show you how their coffee tastes. Do you want to learn more about Davao’s coffee? Taste this. Did you know that Bohol grows coffee, too? Here, have your first taste of it,” said Li.
“So that is the idea of Common Crew: while we build a café culture here, we also build an advocacy of elevating Philippine coffee and working closely with local farmers,” she added.
During one of my visits, Li and her brother, who also worked as a barista there, introduced Bohol coffee to me – and that was a solid experience in and of itself.
Their Bol-Anon Coffee is made of Robusta coffee beans grown in Carmen, Bohol (where the Chocolate Hills are). As the coffee farms in Carmen are located on a lower topography, the coffee beans are subjected to a higher temperature, resulting in a stronger and more bitter taste, with that suntok or punch often associated with other dark roasted coffee grown in Batangas and Cavite (the Arabica coffee beans that are grown in the highlands like Benguet and Sagada, meanwhile, are more tea-like in taste).
When they first opened in June this year, some locals were skeptical.
“They were like, ‘What is a co-working space? Why do I have to pay just to be able to work here?’ Bohol did not have a lot of cafés yet, let alone co-working spaces and makerspaces, so it has been a process of really introducing to the locals what it is and how it works,” recalled Li, who grew up in Tagbilaran City, just outside Panglao.
“Now, we already get feedback like, ‘Oh, so this is what it is.’ More locals are aware already and, hopefully, they see more opportunities for a potential business,” she added.
My favorite spot at Common Crew was beside the big windows on the second level, which has a view of the growing coconut trees and the quiet highway. Come late afternoon, the rays of the setting sun pass through the jalousie windows, sending the message that it has been another beautiful day, and it is time to go home.
Yes, the island of Panglao may not yet have a popular and well-established café culture, but the emergence of Common Crew might just be a nice prelude to it. – Rappler.com