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Food, Health & Fitness

COFFEE 101: BRIEF HISTORY OF COFFEE IN THE PHILIPPINES

Coffee in the Philippines has been a staple part of the early morning Pinoy scene. It is the literal image of “but first, coffee,” which means no transaction, talks, or anything else before coffee. Today, it is more than just a cup of Joe we sip while reading dailies. Every brew and sip has become a source of memories through shared stories behind the cup. 

It was not long ago when milk tea took Filipinos by storm. But if you are in the sugar-conscious block, you are not counted. Nonetheless, many would still say yes to a really good milk tea. In fact, in 2019, the Philippines ranked second highest among bubble tea drinkers in Southeast Asia. But despite the obsession, coffee remains the go-to drink of Filipinos. Unlike milk tea, coffee can fuel our day and give us the energy to kick it off. It gets the job done when we need to stay alert and awake.

coffee

In the 1740s, a Spanish Franciscan monk introduced coffee in Lipa, Batangas. If you have yet to learn, Lipa is the Coffee Capital of the Philippines. It started exporting coffee to the United States through San Francisco in the 1860s. By the time the Suez Canal opened in 1880, the country’s coffee export industry had reached the European market. Batangas became the fourth-largest exporter of coffee beans before eventually becoming the only source of coffee beans worldwide when major market competitors like Brazil, Africa, and Java were hit by coffee rust. 

End of an era and the survival belt

coffee rust
Photo from New York Times

It did not take long until coffee rust reached the Philippines. Coffee rust is caused by a rust fungus, Hemileia Vastatrix, which reduces the production of coffee between 30% to 50%. The country lost its glory days, but luckily, the Philippines is within the equatorial zone called the “Bean Belt.” Our geographic location made it possible for us to plant still and produce coffee beans. 

coffee

Even though it was less than how we produced them before the coffee rust, the Philippines still managed to become one of the few countries that produce commercially viable coffee like Robusta, Arabica, Excelsa, and Liberica. By the 1980s, the country became a member of a global group of countries importing and exporting coffee, the International Coffee Organization.

Today, the four variants of commercially viable coffee have multiplied into various qualities and blends. These are just some of the locally-made ground coffee brands available in the market: Aguinaldo Blend, Altura Coffee, Café Amadeo, Café de Lipa, Café Chico, Coffee Alamid (civet coffee), Davao coffee (variants Robusta, Arabica, and Excelsa), Gourmet Café, Kalinga blend, Kalinga Robusta premium coffee, Kalinga brew, Kalinga Musang coffee, Kape Isa, Magallaya brew premium coffee (Excelsa), Monk’s Blend, Mt. Apo Civet Coffee, Inc., Musang coffee roasted bean, Negros Rainforest, Rocky Mountain (variants of Mountain Blend and Classic Blend), and Sagada coffee.

Roadblocks and coffee roadmaps in the Philippines 

Despite the demand and popularity of coffee in the country, our coffee production is still considered low and steadily decreasing, that we can barely support our local consumption demands. In 2021, the Philippines ranked 32nd in the world in terms of export. 

With the rising traction for coffee, there is a huge opportunity for farmers to at least meet our local demands. Since the passing of the Philippine Coffee Industry Roadmap 2017-2022, signed by former President Rodrigo Duterte, we can expect to see development in coffee cultivation and production starting this year. 

Photo from Philippine Coffee Board

Whether we’ll see the rise of our country back to the top or not in terms of coffee production, there is no denying that our land is still a favorable place for such. It is well within our generation and the government’s efforts to see it through, make it happen and get the job done—one cup of coffee at a time. 

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