Hubert Young: Keeping the age-old coffee culture perfectly brewed

Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star
Hubert Young: Keeping the age-old coffee culture perfectly brewed
Hubert Young

MANILA, Philippines — The young ones especially the Gen Zs are people in a hurry. They can type on their phones even faster than AI, they have reinvented the English language with their shortened codes and abbreviations and they like their lives dizzyingly fast.

They might get bored with degustation because with a thousand and one delivery apps, they like their food in an instant and their eating, mindless.

They also like their coffee to-go, in stark contrast to older generations who can spend hours on end enjoying that perfect cup of coffee – almost like a hypnotic ritual or a meditative exercise.

This is the reason why there are now small coffee kiosks and pop-up coffee shops in nearly every nook and cranny of Metro Manila or beyond.

Hubert Young, the boomer coffee tycoon who brought the famed UCC Coffee in the Philippines all the way from Kobe, Japan, doesn’t see this as a problem.

Instead, he continues his mission of keeping the fine art of coffee drinking in the Philippines alive, rich and beautiful.

Mugen Group’s UCC Ueshima Coffee Phl Inc. recently unveiled its first XPRESSO coffee kiosk at Petron Bel-Air in Makati. In photo are guests and officials of UCC Ueshima, led by its CEO Hubert Young (center), raising their coffee cups during the grand opening ceremony.

A family of entrepreneurs

The coffee tycoon after all knows coffee and the food business like the back of his hand.

He comes from a family of food entrepreneurs, hailing from the Young clan of Cebu who is behind the Philippine feed and flour industry pillar General Milling Corp., one of the biggest integrated food companies in the country today.

The family patriarch George Young – sometimes mistaken for George Yang of McDonald’s Philippines fame –  established General Milling in 1961.

Hubert used to run the group’s coffee manufacturing facility back in the 80s. Their company had the franchise of San Francisco-based Hills Bros. Coffee.

It was in San Francisco where Hubert stayed for several years and learned the ins and outs of the coffee manufacturing business.

During the EDSA Revolution, he went back to the United States and stayed there for a while.

In 1993, with the Philippines in a better situation after the tumultuous 80s, Hubert returned to his home country and went into other businesses before bringing UCC coffee to the Philippines in 2000.

“I’ve been a die-hard fan of UCC coffee since I was a child. And then I worked for Hills Bros. Coffee in San Francisco for many years. So really, coffee is in my blood,” he said.

In 2014, he established a joint venture with Japan’s UCC Ueshima Coffee Co., armed with extensive experience in the food industry spanning over three decades. He brought other Japanese food concepts to the Philippines. The rest, as they say, is history.

UCC Philippines, part of Young-led Mugen Group, has been in the Philippines for 24 years now.

Initially, Hubert said, people thought that he was just bringing a coffee shop brand to the Philippines.

In reality, however, UCC is a coffee manufacturing company and he merely used the coffee shop as a venue to promote the brand when he set up coffee shops in the country 24 years ago.

“The best way to promote the brand is to have people try it,” Hubert said.

The UCC story began in 1933 when a young man named Ueshima Tadao established a Western food store in Kobe, Japan.  “To him, coffee was a rich, aromatic ‘mysterious beverage.’ It became an endeavor so passionate, he dedicated his life to making coffee popular across Japan.” It then crossed borders, finding its way to the Philippines, through Hubert’s vision.

But UCC in the Philippines did not sprout like mushrooms.  It’s a well-established legacy brand with each location carefully planned and studied. There are 34 branches to date.

As a coffee manufacturing company. UCC’s strength in the Philippines is in the B2B or business-to-business space, supplying specific coffee blends for specific customer clients including restaurants, airlines, hotels, casinos and many more.

Xpresso by UCC

But because Filipinos love the UCC brand, the shops kept opening and evolving. They introduced new concept stores such as UCC Clockwork and UCC Mentore Coffee+Bar, etc.

The latest concept store is Xpresso by UCC which was just launched on June 5. It’s a coffee kiosk for Gen Zs who love coffee but want to just take out their drink and enjoy it while they’re off to work, to school or toward the rest of their lives.

Today, the Mugen Group is behind several Japanese food concepts because Hubert, with his experience in the food industry spanning over three decades, is highly reputed among Japanese restaurant industry players.

He has successfully brought popular brands to the Philippines, including UCC, Mitsuyado Sei-Men, Coco Ichibanya, Yamato Bakery Cafe, Tendon Kohaku, Shaburi and Kintan Buffet, and the latest, MOS Burger.

In the future, there could be more. The possibilities are endless. Mugen is in fact a word of Japanese origin, meaning infinite.

A brand builder

Hubert is a brand builder and he has kept the Mugen Group’s brands well-maintained.

“I always remember what my father told me. Money can be made and money can go. But the image, the reputation you partake is something that will stay forever. So, if you build a brand, just like your family name, that’s so important, it can be passed on to the next generation,” he said.

As for coffee, Hubert himself likes his coffee black but always of high quality, as what UCC is known for.

“UCC will continue its life in the Philippines. We will continue promoting it as a brand and keep its image,” he said.

His mission is to ensure that people who love coffee will stay in love with good quality coffee. How does he do that? He creates an environment where people can experience and enjoy premium coffee.

For the younger generations, his new mission is to introduce them to what UCC is known for – “a rich heritage and commitment to excellence in every cup.”

After all, nothing compares to a cup of coffee where the taste of authentic, real beans flows into one’s veins and touches the soul – whether it’s hot or cold, sweet with saccharine or genuinely bitter or just black or white.

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