If you see an orange 1973 Volkswagen Type 2 Kombi parked in a food park, that’s Kombi Brew (sometimes spelled KombiBrew), a mobile coffee shop whose unique creations has been steadily gathering a loyal fanbase that began with the biking community, but now includes everyone else.
Though owner Budz Badua started selling coffee during private events out of the Volkswagen Kombi she inherited from her grandfather in 2017, it wasn’t until the pandemic that she became a coffee shop owner full time. Before that, Badua worked in Dubai before returning to the Philippines to work as a professional wedding and commercial photographer under The Panda Studio. “I started with cold brew because that’s what I like to drink,” the self-taught barista says in Tagalog. “I make sure that I know what the products I sell taste like.”
Badua acquired her taste for coffee and all its different forms during her stint abroad. “That’s where I got to taste good coffee,” she says, adding that it was Turkish coffee that not only made her realize that coffee is delicious, but that also good coffee can be easy to make.
“But I never thought about starting a coffee business,” she says. When she decided to sell food out of her Kombi (named Kahel for its color), she originally wanted to sell comfort food like lugaw, tapa, and pares. The idea to sell coffee gelled after coming across a Kombi coffee shop in Thailand. “I started in 2017 in a Volkswagen event, selling black and with milk cold brew.”
The menu has since expanded, with every drink a unique creation.
First, there is Kahel Brew, a tangerine orange cold brew, the signature drink and bestseller. “That was an accident,” Badua says. Somebody had gifted her with an orange juice mix. She decided to add it to her coffee during an event. The resulting drink was delicious. “It’s kind of like iced tea, kind of like juice, but with coffee,” she says. She immediately added the mix to her roster of drinks and it immediately sold out. “It was my bestseller that day,” she says. “People always look for it. When they think of Kombi Brew, it’s always followed by the Kahel Brew.”
The other drinks also have names that revolve around the Kombi. There is T2, which is a coconut milk salted caramel cold brew drink inspired by Vietnamese coconut coffee; Dark Kahel Brew, which is the Kahel Brew made with dark chocolate grain milk inspired by the tsokolate drink served in Filipino households during Christmastime; Pa-change Oil, a dirty horchata made with grain milk; and the Kombi Blue, a rich, non caffeinated drink made with blue ternate tea, grain milk, and lychees, topped with a cream cheese foam inspired by the ocean.
“Every drink I make is unique,” Badua says. “All our drinks have recall so people say, ‘I had that at Kombi Brew!’”
Badua credits Kombi Brew, which began operating full time in 2020, as the reason she got through the pandemic. Because the cafe operated from out of a van, Kombi Brew could set up shop almost anywhere. It was, and still is, a staple among the food trucks parked in the Mayflower Parking Lot in Greenfield, Mandaluyong, and in various weekend events in Intramuros. Customers find out where it’s going to be next through its social media pages. “Instagram was a big help because everyone was on it,” Badua says. “If they want to find out what’s going on (with us),” they can look there, or sometimes, on TikTok.
Badua hopes to take Kahel (and Kombi Brew) to Siargao one day. “Siargoals,” she says. “You know how you can sometimes picture your future? That’s what I think of. Not a city but near the sea.”
The pandemic may have forced Badua to run Kombi Brew full-time, but the journey has given her many unexpected blessings. “Nobody believed I could sell coffee out of my Kombi,” she says. “You have to give 190 percent and you really have to enjoy what you do. I’m happier about people liking our beverages more than I am about my income because what they feel is what I feel when I drink them.”
Photos courtesy of Budz Badua