Every morning would start with coffee,” Elenita Tanga‑an, a kasambahay from Davao Oriental, recalled about life in her farming province. “We would harvest coffee cherries from the plant, dry the seed, roast them and grind them. Then we’ll boil the grinds.”
“You could say,” she mused, “that we start every day with brewed coffee. This is still true for some provinces.”
According to executive director for the Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. (PCBI) Robert Francisco, the Filipino’s relationship with the staple “is ingrained in our bones.” Ever since the first coffee tree was introduced by Spanish priests during the Spanish occupation centuries ago, coffee has been indispensable in the daily lives of Filipinos. Brewed coffee, for some Filipinos in the provinces, means processing their own coffee and boiling it in an old kettle and not taking a trip to the nearest coffee shop and paying around ₱99 to ₱150 for a mug. Coffee production in the Philippines has had its highs and lows, but data from the Philippine Coffee Board shows that the country currently produces around 30,000 metric tons of coffee a year. In comparison, Brazil is still the largest coffee producer in the world, churning out more than 2 million metric tons of coffee per year.
“In fact we were very popular in the ’70s and ’80s for Cavite coffee, which was very popular in the West Coast,” Mr. Francisco told SparkUp after a cupping session in Commune Café last week. “Now we’re not as popular, our own coffee production isn’t enough for our own local consumption but we’re getting there. We’re actually getting recognized worldwide for what we have.”
Yet the time of former coffee producing giants of Cavite and Batangas, known for its strong Barako coffee, may have given way to the high‑grade coffee from the mountainous regions of Cordillera in the North and Davao in the South. And there’s a very good reason for this change. While the delicious flavor of upland coffee is more popularly attributed to elevation, Mr. Francisco said this could also be because of global warming and the industrialization in the lowland provinces.
“Not so high altitude coffee in the ’60s and ’70s had very good quality. Why? Because the weather wasn’t that warm before. Batangas and Cavite coffee were world recognized,” Mr. Francisco said. “There was not much industry in Cavite. The climate was cold, it would even be foggy. Now it’s different. Industrialization creates a lot of warmth. Many things have changed due to global warming.”
So coffee production moved higher into the mountains. “The coffee tree loves cool climate,” he explained. “It needs a lot of water as well as irrigation. Shade growth is also helpful. The maturity of coffee cherry becomes more gentle rather than ripening very fast.” And the slower the coffee cherry matures, the more time it has to cultivate its taste, thus producing a better quality coffee.
But what counts as a good cup of coffee to the coffee expert? While Mr. Francisco admits that some of the qualifications might be subjective, these are the things that he looks for in a quality cup of coffee: arnibal(caramelization), buttery notes, floral notes, and fruitiness.
With all these different facets to the production of coffee, where would one even start if they want to build a business around local coffee?
“There are many cafés right now that want to use local coffee, or promote that coffee comes from this exotic farmer, seven mountains away, we have to cross three rivers… they put a story to the farmer and they promote it,” Mr. Francisco said on the growing local coffee trend. “Then the next story comes along then the next. Then they are very aggressive in creating new beverages using local coffee. It’s amazing.”
“Most coffee shop owners should experience going to coffee workshops first,” he advised. “There are many workshops, even private cafés that are actually recognized suppliers make their own in‑house workshops. Regularly there are workshops done here in Commune. The Coffee Board publishes workshop schedules on their Facebook. There are coffee schools that give their own workshops. And more scientific workshops from coffee appreciation, cupping, business management, advertising, marami. And if you really want to learn about coffee appreciation, cupping is the best thing.”
A testament to the booming interest in setting up coffee shops is the fully booked How to Start a Coffee Shop workshop at Commune tomorrow.