Friday, October 8, 2010

# Alejandro Mojica # coffee

Coffee Farm Tour: From Plantation to Roasting




I have been living in a condominium for years until early last year when my family has moved to a place with a garden. I was so excited that I tried planting vegetables like tomatoes, string beans and okras. Unfortunately, my tomato plants died after bearing one small tomato which was eaten by our neighbor’s chicken. My string beans showed no signs of growth. On the other hand, my okra plants grew for months and provided my family free okras until it grew higher, started to dry up despite being watered everyday and eventually died. Somehow, this little experiment made me realize how our country is really blessed with fertile soil and a tropical weather that makes all these wonderful plants grow easily.

During the Coffee Origins Press Farm Tour, I felt like it is an extension of my planting experience. The first stop of the tour was at Echofarms in Indang, Cavite. We were given a basket each to put the vegetables that we’re picking. Before we raid the field, we were given house rules and tips to follow before we harvest the vegetables. The first rule was to read the signs if they’re “ready for harvest.” The second rule is to use pruning shear when necessary which is to avoid hurting the plant. It will help the plant grow again.



Echofarms in Indang, Cavite


In the farm, I felt like I was back in kindergarden again running around the field with my basket. Each row of plants is labeled and noted if they are ready for harvest. It was quite weird that the vegetables are cleared of insects when I was looking at them. It’s either they’re clean or the insects are hiding in it. I picked up my favorite vegetables, lettuce, pakchoy (Chinese pechay) and arugula which were “ready for harvest.” Before putting them in my basket, I shake the vegetable a bit to make sure I don’t take the soil in the basket and also to drive away insects if there is an insect living in the vegetable. I also went to the trellis to harvest gourd (patola) although I didn’t know which one to pick so I asked Neil who was in charge of the farm to help me choose which to pick. He took his pruning shear out and cut a medium-size gourd for me.


Managing Director of CommTrends Majivel Marbibi-Maullon and Kendrick Go


Aside from the grown vegetables, there were also seedlings of different plants on the side that were on sale. I also noticed that there’s a row of Caffea Liberica (barako) seedlings. Interested with the Caffea Liberica (barako) seedlings, I asked if I can grow a plant in my garden. Sadly, it grows in 400 meters high land so if I bought it and bring it to Manila, chances are it will just die.

Our next stop, the Cavite State University Coffee Farm where Dr. Alejandro Mojica, Head of the National Research Center on Coffee and author of the book “Barako: The Big Bean,” gave us a lecture about the current state of the coffee industry in the Philippines. He said that over the years, there’s a drop of coffee production in the country because of the low price of coffee in 2001. A lot of the farmers shifted to planting other crops or to other industries to sustain a living. The coffee trees in the country are already 40 to 60 years old which also causes the production drop. This year, there’s a 40% drop of coffee production in the Philippines caused by the El Nino. To help out the remaining coffee farmers in the country, The Philippine Coffee Board encourages them to plant other crops suitable to be together with coffee plants like pepper, banana and yam so that these can sustain their livelihood despite a low harvest in coffee. The government of Cavite is also helpful in providing funds for a coffee tissue culture laboratory that helps Dr. Mojica to create new seedlings. At present, they’re evaluating the plants on the field if they’re pest resistant. According to Dr. Mojica, this has helped them grow coffee plants faster since it takes 3 to 5 years before a coffee tree bears the coffee cherry.



Coffee plants nursery in Cavite State University


A closer look at coffee cherries. The red ones are riped cherries good for harvest.


To encourage kids of coffee farmers to go back to farm, they offer short courses in Cavite State University with the help of the Philippine Coffee Board and the government. They also give loans with very low interest to those who would like to start up on a coffee farm business. The present average age of coffee farmers is 56 years old which is quite old. The Philippine Coffee Board also held a competition on the most number of yields per tree during harvest season to encourage the farmers to do their best.


Freshly grinded coffee beans from coffee cherries. They're small because they're organicly grown.


The third stop was at the Beneficio Amadeo Coffee Fill where Nicholas Matti, Chair of Philippine Coffee Board explained how the mill works. The usual time of milling is on December to January and April to May. According to Matti, “Farmers harvest (coffee) cherries on November to December. It is better when it is raining to induce flowering (of the plants).” He also said that the farmers only mill the parchment when there’s a buyer to protect the freshness of the beans. He gave a milling process show for us to understand more on what happens when the parchments are milled. A lot of us noticed that the beans are quite small. Matti said that organic beans are smaller. He added that the reason why they can’t ask all the farmers to go organic because their yield will go lower and the farmers need money.




Chair of Philippine Coffee Board Nicholas Matti



This measures the moisture of coffee beans.


For the last stop, we were brought to Gourmet Farms Roasting Facility in Tagaytay. Lennard Reyes, VP for Operations of Escaler & Company, toured us around the farm and showed the roasting facilities. He said that they roast the beans as fresh as possible in their restaurant since they have their own roaster. He explained that the Arabica coffee in Benguet is at par with the world’s quality however, post-harvest processing of coffee has always been a problem in this country since the farmers are not well-educated about it. Reyes narrated the history of the coffee industry in the Philippines, “In the mid-1970s, Gourmet Farms was exporting coffee then we shifted to roasting coffee when Vietnam decided coffee was its gold crop.” He added, “The Philippines grow 40,000 million tons of coffee beans a year and the drinkers take 60,000 million tons (of coffee beans).” Based on economics, coffee beans from the Philippines should be more expensive than abroad since there’s more demand than supply. This is true for Arabica but it is not for Robusta. The price of Robusta in our country is being dictated by companies who are buying it since they can get it from the world market. It is quite sad to hear from him how our country has become an importer of coffee rather than export it when our country has good soil and the perfect weather to grow excellent world class coffee trees. However, our country still has hope and I’m glad that the Philippine Coffee Board is there to help improve the coffee industry rather than waste the potential that is already there.


At Gourmet Farms Roasting Facility in Tagaytay


In 1997, President Fidel V. Ramos declared October as Coffee Month. To create awareness to the public that our country can produce good coffee, the Philippine Coffee Board continued this celebration and created Coffee Origins in 2009. This year, Coffee Origins 2010 will be held at the Gallery, Greenbelt 5 until October 20 to give away free samples of coffee from Benguet to Sulu so that the public will be able to get a taste and appreciate what our land has to offer. There will also be displays of coffee pods, coffee capsules and coffee machines. Aside from the coffee sampling, there will be other activities like Café Brew (coffee preparing concoction competition), Coffee Henyo (battle of the brains for coffee geeks), Café Art (latte art demonstration), Kape Literatura (poem writing contest for coffee enthusiast), How to Put Up a Coffee Shop Webinar, Coffee Farming Seminar and the 3rd National Coffee Summit.




VP for Operations of Escaler & Company Lennard Reyes


The words of wisdom which I’ve gotten from this tour were said by Lennard Reyes, “Coffee doesn’t expire, it just loses its freshness.” These words made me feel that it’s the same with our country’s rich soil for the coffee industry. The soil doesn’t expire and it’s always there just waiting for us to plant coffee in it.

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    1. Hi Carlo! Please message me on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/joyfullyursblog/ Hope to hear from you soon. :)

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