Coffee break, anyone?

Sep 10, 2016

Most Asians are tea drinkers. However, Pinoys are decidedly a coffee-drinking nation, not taking after our neighbors. Hence, we see a lot of coffee farms scattered around the country, but no tea farms that I have heard of, unlike in China or India where they have plantations devoted to different variants of tea.

In the Philippines, we have excellent variants of coffee, the most popular being the Robusta and Arabica grown in the Cordilleras all the way down to parts of Mindanao. The Philippine Arabica coffee, for instance, is referred to as "the best kept (coffee) secret here".

It was good news for genuine coffee aficionados (not the lovers of 3-in-1) then that our own Philippine Coffee Board Inc. (PCBI) led by its president, the indefatigable Chit Juan, forged an agreement with the world's authority on specialty coffee, the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) to improve the quality of our local blends to meet discriminating global standards. With our small coffee farms in the country, we cannot meet the economy of scale provided by other countries like Colombia and Africa, so the Philippine Coffee Board has deemed it wise to cultivate our own niche in the specialty coffee market.

With the Memorandum of Agreement signed between the Philippine Coffee Board and CQI, the Philippines becomes the In-Country Partner (ICP) of the respected coffee authority. Members of the ICP came to conduct education courses on Coffee Quality and Standards, Cupping, Grading and Roasting. Unlike many of us, there are people who take their cup of coffee seriously, serious enough to learn everything about the brew. They talk about "the language of coffee", which is universally known as the Q System and which was formulated by the CQI.

What is interesting is the fact that no less than the United States Dept. of Agriculture has chosen to support CQI's coffee advocacy. In-Country Partners like the Philippines now will be empowered to spread the coffee language down the line, from farmers/producers to the processors, roasters, even coffee shop owners and eventually to the consumers. The USDA gives funding support for this program.

All these may be Greek to us casual coffee drinkers. I cannot start my day without a hot cup of coffee, but my cups throughout the day may be a mix of instant decaf or freshly brewed coffee. And though I may be able to distinguish between instant coffee from a jar and a fresh brew, I cannot tell which blend is regular or decaf or which is Arabica or Robusta. That is because I do not speak the coffee language.

As I have learned, the Q System language refers to Coffee Quality, Standards and Protocols that are needed to achieve the highest quality graded Specialty Coffees, which the Philippine Coffee Board is aiming for. There are different grades for different variants, hence there is Fine Robusta or Specialty Arabica for instance, and even green coffee beans have their own grade. The coffee beans are roasted, then the roasted beans are tasted by certified cuppers or what they call Q and R graders, after which a final grade is given. The top grade is 100, but according to a CQI consultant, a grade of 80 is a good grade to aim for because this qualifies as a high quality grade Specialty Coffee. This grade is now accepted as the world minimum benchmark for specialty coffees, which we need if we are to comman a premium price for our Philippine coffee.

Our local coffee farmers have thus been introduced to the coffee language as the CQI held Introduction to Cupping courses and Introduction to Roasting and Quality Coffee courses. The CQI introduced another course special to the Philippines in recognition of the fact that 90% of Philippine coffee production is Robusta, thus enabling the farmers to discover the process of identifying specialty Robusta coffees in a special category called Fine Robustas.

The process involved in coffee is far from simple. The beans have to be picked at its peak of ripeness, otherwise it will not achieve a good score and a whole year of waiting for the beans to be harvested would have been wasted, as pointed out by Ms. Chit Juan. The beans also have to be sorted well so that defective beans or those with insect perforations are discarded. Apparently, the world coffee leaders like Guatemala, Colombia and Ethiopia are meticulous about all the aspects of coffee growing and processing.

Here in the Philippines, certifying cupping laboratories will be set up so that farmers who want their coffee scored may avail of the facility. Hopefully, our coffee farmers will attain competitiveness in their beans that can stand up to world scrutiny. At present these farmers sell their ungraded green beans for P70 - 80.00 per kilo. When we achieve the Fine Robusta grade, these beans can fetch as much as P320.00/kilo or at least three times what they are getting today.

For Philippine specialty coffee, we have pinned our hopes on the Fine Robustas, which when blended with our own Specialty Arabicas now enjoy great demand in the global market. Perhaps we will still see a resurgence of Philippine coffee in the global stage with these two blends.

On Oct. 12-13, they will be holding the 9th National Coffee Summit at SMX Lanang in Davao City. Internationally-acclaimed coffee guru Ted Lingle and our own local experts Mario Fernandez and Joel Shuler will be there as resource persons. Not only coffee farmers will be there - would you believe that many coffee shop owners will be there as well because these certified coffee aficionados know there is still a lot to learn about this brown brew. One hears of coffee shop owners' claims of Third Wave Coffee, which I never understood until I heard a coffee expert from CQI talked about it. Apparently, the first wave refers to the early 1900s when a great awareness on coffee was born especially in the US. Then came the Second Wave when coffee in tins and jars came out several decades after. The Third Wave came about ten years ago when there was already a keen interest on sources and the methodical and meticulous growing and processing of coffee beans.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

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About the Author

Ray Butch Gamboa graduated from the College of Arts and Letters of the University of Sto. Tomas. It was a course that should have been preparatory to a law degree, but the call of broadcasting aborted his plans.

At the age of 16, while still a student, Butch tried his hand at disc jockeying, landing a job at Mareco Broadcasting Network's AM stations DZBM and DZLM. From there, Butch moved on with his illustrious career as a popular disc jockey, riding the airwaves of Bob Stewart's middle-of-the-road music at DZXX, and ending his disc jockeying career at ABS-CBN's DZYL and DZQL.

From there, he stayed on with ABS-CBN, covering live the proceedings at the Manila Stock Exchange and eventually entered into the world of television sales as an account manager for the premier channel of ABS-CBN Channel 2.

In the early 70's, at the outbreak of Martial Law, Butch was one of the thousands of professionals who woke up jobless when then President Marcos declared the new status of the nation. With the closure of ABS-CBN, Butch ventured into different fields outside of broadcast. He tried his hand and with ease and success at export (Costume jewelry), real estate (brokerage), and restaurants (fast food).

In 1987, after the revolution, with the broadcast industry back to its free state, and with its irresistible call ringing in his ears, Butch made his inevitable comeback and pioneered in a local motoring show, producing Motoring Today on Channel 4 and co-hosting with local motor sports' living legend Pocholo Ramirez.

After 4 years, he ventured into another pioneering format by producing and hosting Business & Leisure, which was originally aired on ABS-CBN's Channel 2. The format eventually espoused similar ones in other different channels. But the clones in due course faded away leaving the original staying on airing on Channel 4 and eventually on Shop TV on Sky Cable's Channel 13.

The following year, the pioneering spirit in Butch spurred him to produce another TV show, Race Weekend, also on Channel 4, covering circuit racing at the Subic International Raceway after the motor sport's hiatus of 17 years. But when similar shows with duplicated formats sprouted, he decided to give way and ended the program after a year, although still enjoying unparalleled viewership.

In 1998, when the local automotive industry was in a slump, Butch contributed his share to help the ailing industry by producing another popular motoring-related show, this time exclusive to the automobile and its industry—Auto Focus, which became a vehicle for local automotive assemblers and importers to showcase their products and dwell on the industry's latest technological developments.

In 2003, Butch teamed up with his brother, Rey Gamboa who was a former Shell executive and presently one Philippine Star's business columnist to co-produce and co-host the TV show Breaking Barriers on Channel 13. It is a talk show that features guests who are in the news and in the middle of controversies. The program ventures to draw deeper insights into current issues to learn how they impact to our daily lives.

Today, Motoring Today on its 28th year of service to the general motoring public still enjoys its unprecedented loyal vierwership nationwide while Auto Focus, after 16 years has firmly established its niche viewership among automobile enthusiasts and on the other hand Business & Leisure is on its 24th year dishing out current business issues and lifestyle features.

Today, aside from writing weekly columns for the Philippine Star (Motoring Today on Wednesdays and Business & Leisure on Saturdays) and executive producer / host of weekly TV shows (Motoring Today, airs Sundays on Solar Sports Channel 70, Business & Leisure, airs Tuesdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13 and Auto Focus airs Thursdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13, Ray Butch Gamboa is currently the Chairman and CEO of Sunshine Television Production and Marketing Services Corp., President of Gamcor Management and Development Corp., Chairman of Asia-Pacific Realty Corporation, President and Chairman of Socio-Communication Foundation for Asia and Founding Chairman of the Society of Phil. Motoring Journalists (SPMJ)