Compassionate Coffee - Shanel Tan's Panco Cafe

May 05, 2023 – Alike Editorial

“Imagine,” Shanel Tan lights up, “Americans and Japanese people cooking adobo, tinapa, kinilaw, or kare-kare” the way people around the world make hamburgers and sushi. “There’s so much more to Filipino food than sweet and savory,” she shares to Alike, “it can be healthy too.” 

As the owner of Panco Cafe, Shanel Tan has been on a mission to promote new notions of Filipino food and introduce Melbourne cafe culture to the Philippines. For Tan, it's about more than just serving delicious food; it's about creating a community and supporting local farmers. 

Tan studied industrial engineering at the University of the Philippines, Diliman (UP), before moving to Melbourne, Australia to work as a waitress, barista, and eventually a cafe manager. And while she loved the cafe culture in Melbourne, she couldn't help but notice the occasional bigotry and misogyny she faced as "a small Asian woman." This, despite witnessing firsthand how baristas were essentially their patrons' confidants and cheerleaders.s 

After returning to the Philippines, Tan opened Panco Cafe in Makati and Mandaluyong City, where she serves up her own unique twist on classic Filipino dishes. The cafe's menu is small, but highlights Tan's ethos of keeping only fresh ingredients. Must-tries include beef brisket for those looking for a hearty brunch and tinapa (smoked fish) for those who want something lighter. Diners can choose to have their eats served either Manila-style or Melbourne-style. 

Tan also believes in supporting local farmers, just as wine growers deserve middle-class lives. She shares that Market Lane, the coffee supplier she worked for in Melbourne, is an ethically-grown coffee supplier. The beans are sourced from Brazil and roasted in Melbourne, where Tan maintains good relationships. Why not just get coffee from closer sources? Apparently environmental factors come into play, as the heat and humidity play a role. One can roast the same beans using the same process in two different climates resulting in entirely different yields. 

As I finish my rice beef brisket (“I still always look for and go back to rice,” Tan confides) and savor the Melbourne light roast coffee, Tan skillfully navigates customer queries and I sense good-natured teasing. She believes that "cafe culture" is the one experienced by both patrons and staff, which is why she pays her staff above minimum wage and strives to create a welcoming environment for everyone. 

Tan's passion for food and cafe culture is infectious, and it's clear that Panco Cafe is more than just a business to her. It's a community where people can come together over delicious food and coffee, and where local farmers are supported and celebrated. 

Recently, Panco Cafe opened its second branch in The Podium, Ortigas Center, and has even attracted the attention of the Australian ambassador and the Trade and Tourism Minister, who paid a surprise visit to present an award. 

Shanel Tan's journey from industrial engineering student to cafe owner and entrepreneur has been a daring voyage over uncharted waters, but her confidence and determination have paid off. Panco Cafe is a testament to her enterprising spirit, and a shining example of how good food and good company can bring people together. 

Have a taste of Panco, visit their stores located along Palanca Street & The Podium Mall.


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