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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