Going back to the magic of coffee

Going back to the magic of coffee

- in Feature
@Jon Joaquin

Did you know that Mindanao accounts for 65% (some sources say 70%) of the coffee production in the Philippines? Much of it, however, is robusta, and it’s already contracted to multinationals that churn out those 3-in-1 coffee sachets by the millions. So while the island produces a lot of coffee, it is not exactly the kind that sends the hearts of coffee lovers aflutter. Instant coffee, after all, isn’t called “No Es Cafe” by the Mexicans for no reason.

This is what the Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. (PCBI) is trying to change. Its director, Jorge Mendoza Judan, said the group is working towards pushing the production of high-grade robustas and specialty arabicas so that the Philippines could reclaim its stature as one of the best sources of high-grade coffee. And Mindanao will play a big role in this given the number of areas that are ideal for coffee plantations.

Unknown to many of us, the Philippines was once the fourth largest coffee-producing country in the world. In fact, from 1887 to 1889, our country was the only source of coffee in the world after coffee rust destroyed the production in South America, Africa, and Indonesia. In 1889, however, the Philippines itself was hit by the rust, and production was cut by 85%. Our production never really recovered after that.

Judan said the first step in regaining our stature in the coffee world is to establish where we are in the industry. While some Philippine coffees have high quality, these were graded independently and the results have not been made public.

“Our coffee has not been actually cupped and graded,” he said in a press recent conference. “There is a universal language for cupping and grading established by the Coffee Quality Institute where 80 is classified as specialty coffees. There are Philippine coffees that are grading at the vicinity of 84, 85, and 86, but these are done by informal graders. Some are done in Canada, some are done privately and they will not share the results.”

What we intend to do is make it public knowledge that we have good coffees particularly in Mindanao. Mindanao is a special case because 65% of the coffees come from here. Filipinos consume 100,000 metric tons of coffee a year but we produce only 25,000 metric tons. There is room to plant more specialty coffees and Mindanao has the potential to do it,” he added.

But Judan emphasized that it is not the volume of coffee production that is important but the quality. “Once Philippine coffees reach grades of 80 and higher, the prices will become different. This is where Philippine coffee should be. We don’t need the volume, and in fact we don’t have the volume of other countries. But our quality can be at those high levels.”

He said the Philippine coffee industry needs to “go back to the magic” of the green bean. “We have to try to identify and discover the fine robustas. We have to identify and mark them so the world we know that we have fine robustas.”

“Maybe we already have them but we don’t grade them,” he added.

The PCBI is holding the 9th National Coffee Summit on October 12 and 13, 2016 at the SMX Davao. For more information, visit the website at www.nationalcoffeesumit.com.

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