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Cocktail Confidential

Kia Opeda is, to use her own words, “into citrus.” But that statement may do her a disservice. Spending her time at Three Squares Cafe + Bar—in Karrivin Plaza’s Design Story, just inside Makati—what’s clear is that she celebrates balance.

It’s Sunday morning and brunch service has just begun. Well-heeled customers dressed in linen cords and soft suede sandals sit in the dining room and the adjoining bar, chatting over beetroot hummus and casting a wide eye over at iconic Flowerpot pendant lights designed by Verner Panton. Three Squares at Design Story, located at Karrivin Plaza, hums with lively conversation. And back behind the terrazzo-clad bar is Kia Opeda: calmly, gracefully fizzing up new drink concepts.

Her cafe + bar cocktails lie as a pleasant contrast to the collection of award-winning furniture pieces displayed around them: each one from distinguished designers, like Viggo Boesen, Nendo, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, and HAY home accessories. They’re arrayed, in sync, with the whole hyyge atmosphere—the Danish concept of finding comfort in simplicity.

Kia once trained with famed mixologist Chanel Adams at Happy Paradise in Hong Kong, a stint that buoyed her career both in the country and here in the Philippines. And while mustering her new creations, she was also featured at Giffard’s Spirit of Art: a book that collects recipes from select Asian Pacific bartenders.

In this Cocktail Confidential, we chat about drinks, memories, and stacking our top shelf this holiday season.

What makes a great cocktail?

A balance of simple flavours that enhance each other, and the precision of proportions. It’s important that every ingredient used in the drink could clearly be tasted—whether it be simple, bold, or subtle. Personally, I follow the proportions of classic cocktails as much as possible—I just switch out the ingredients to anything I think would make sense depending on my concepts.

What’s your fondest cocktail/drinking/mixing memory?

The Durian Painkiller by my mentor Chanel Adams. When I was still working at Happy Paradise in Hong Kong, I think that was one of the first cocktails I tried on the menu. It was absolutely delicious; but when I started bartending there and doing the prep to make the durian cream and durian rum, then having all that durian cream explode on you from an iSi whipper during a busy weekend while you’re trying to quickly replace it, and then also having the said cocktail explode all over you from shaking your tins during said busy weekend—smelling like durian all throughout the rest of your shift is something else. I don’t think I ever had that drink again after all that. Still the fondest memory, though; that and the one time I accidentally pressed too hard on the jet-washer to clean my shaker, and it ended up spraying the neon lights behind the bar two weeks into working there.

What’s one ingredient you’d be lost without?

I’m honestly really torn between herbs and spices—I love using familiar flavours and incorporating them into drinks and turning them into a new experience entirely. It’s always fun surprising someone with syrups and combinations that I’d come up with. Although, if we’re talking about just one ingredient entirely, then it’d be citrus:  it’s usually difficult to do without them, but not impossible.

How did you come up with the Christmas cocktails at Three Squares?

I thought about how Christmas feels, tastes, and smells like for me and my friends. We all have somewhat similar thoughts of Christmas—and I wanted to bring something melancholic but modern to our guests for our holiday special.

The Gingerbread Martini is gin-based, caffeinated, spiced with ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and star anise; for espresso martini lovers—or those who have been curious to try it—with a little Christmas kick.

“Oh, Christmas Tea!” is a drink that is reminiscent of how home would smell like while waiting for Christmas Eve dinner to be ready. It consists of a fragrant black tea blend, torched rosemary syrup, pomegranate syrup, and a touch of lemon juice. It’s non-alcoholic, but like all other non-alcoholic drinks on the menu, you can ask the bartender to have this spiked and it becomes an instant cocktail.

The Nutcracker was inspired by childhood sweets and last minute Christmas shopping on toffee nut lattes at the mall. Hazelnut, caramel, espresso, and a pinch of salt.

What cocktail trend do you think is bound to make it big after the holiday? (Aside from bottled cocktails all over insta.)

I think it’s the canned craft cocktail RTD’s (ready-to-drink), which are honestly gaining more traction now. People have familiarized themselves with RTD brands like Suntory [Horoyoi/Strong Zero], and the local market has been slowly tapping into creating their own canned cocktails like Tipsy Tabs. It’s definitely something I was also personally looking into during the first leg of the pandemic, and I enjoy starting to see more of the local canned RTD’s in the market.

Our home hot chocolate for the holidays is due for an update! Any recos on how to spike it up?

I say add about 30ml bourbon whiskey and 15ml orange liqueur then throw in a torched cinnamon stick to spice up your home hot chocolate. It’s simple, sweet, light on the booze, and warm, all at the same time.