Tsoko’s tale, a resistance in good taste

The joy of discovering something new has always been unmatched. Discoveries bring a different kind of excitement and ecstasy, whether it is a new species or a new puzzle piece from history. A new element in everyday life is always a welcome surprise.

When people make a self-discovery of a small brand hidden in the heart of the bustling Metro Cebu, it makes them skip on their toes.

This is the experience that awaits those traversing the highly populated Sugbo Mercado in Cebu IT park, while coming across this can that seemed to contain the entire world: This a story of Tsoko Specialty Drinks.

The brainchild of Ejay Christian Co and Jeremiah Valero Jr., Tsoko Specialty Drinks is a brand that offers a special type of handcrafted artisan dessert drinks; a hybrid—one of the very firsts-of-its-kind in Cebu City.

The hybrid dessert drink was inspired by a fateful encounter they had with “iced chocolate” during their visit in Thailand. The composition of “iced chocolate” or more popularly known as “Thai iced cocoa” was integrated into the blueprint in perfecting their own version of a specialized drink which later became known as the “Tsoko Specialty Drinks.”

Today, Tsoko Specialty Drink has branches all around Metro Cebu.

“We want to make sure that the quality of our product remains consistent,” Ejay shared.

Its creations come in Cheesy Mango-Pie, Banana Cue, Chunky Strawberry, Silky Matcha flavors, and current bestsellers, Signature Tsoko and Ube Lava. Each drink contains a world of flavors brought forth by the natural ingredients sourced from fruit sellers in Carbon.

“The flavors we curated were all inspired from already existing Filipino flavors. We tried to really check what these flavors were, like which ones were already popular with people, especially in Cebu,” Ejay shared.

However, the brand did not come without its own challenges. During its first few months, the brand was caught in the middle of controversy when another brand originating from Cebu allegedly copied Tsoko Specialty Drinks and brought it to Manila under a different name. The issue then drew mixed reactions from fans and critics alike.

“What’s surprising with that particular incident was that it made me realize how flawed our perspective is when it comes to businesses,” Ejay shared.

“While we received a huge chunk of comments in support of our brand, there were those who defended the idea of ‘piracy’ as something of a normal occurrence in the business world. It’s sad that people think that way, because it’s true that no one can claim ownership to a particular concept unless it’s registered, claimed and trademarked. But I think when you’re in a business, you should have practiced a certain degree of dignity,” said Ejay.

“When putting up a business, it’s hard to separate yourself because you’re pouring your heart and soul into the business that you do. A component of it has to come from you and it’s not something you can just get off the internet or from other businesses because the way I see it, you’re never really going to succeed that way.”

“The success of Tsoko cannot be pinpointed in one single thing, it’s not just about the packaging, or about the product, it’s about the entirety of the experience people enjoy, and it’s hard to replicate that if you’re not putting something you genuinely love out there. That is why here at Tsoko Specialty Drinks, we’re very confident to take it slow while constantly growing.”

Ultimately, the story of Tsoko Specialty Drink is not just about selling an idea and making it work, it’s a story about resistance; of how a small business can take a stand against bullying from bigger more established businesses.

“For other entrepreneurs who want to start their own small business, do not be scared.” Ejay advised.

“Do not rely on trends, you have to do a very lengthy process of self-assessment, you have to list down the things that matter to you, and use that to guide you to identify a product that you want to introduce in the market. It’s so much easier starting a business when you’re selling something you really love.”