When you order a cup of coffee at your favourite cafe or buy instant coffee at the grocery store, do you know what coffee you are getting? You may already have a favourite from the coffee menu in your favourite cafe but the Philippines actually grows four (4) varieties of coffee that are grown in other parts of the world, plus one (1) special variety that is uniquely produced.
Coffee in The Philippines
The Philippines became a member of the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) in 1980. However, the history of coffee in the country begun in 1740, when a Spanish Franciscan monk planted the first coffee tree in Lipa, Batangas. Coffee growing then spread into other parts of Batangas and eventually made Batangas the coffee capital of the Philippines. It was exporting coffee to America by the 1860’s and even to Europe when the Suez Canal was opened.
Following Batangas, Cavite grew its first seedlings in 1876 in Amadeo. Batangas still remained the country’s coffee capital and its “barako” coffee was even priced five (5) times higher than other Asian varieties. The Philippines became the 4th largest exporter of coffee beans in 1880. When the coffee rust disease hit Brazil, Africa and Java, the country became the only source of coffee beans worldwide.
In 1889, the coffee rust disease hit the country as well as an insect infestation. This destroyed almost all the coffee trees in Batangas and greatly affected the national coffee production, reducing it to a sixth of its original production. At that time, Brazil regained its positions as the world’s leading coffee producer. Surviving coffee beans were then transferred to Cavite where they thrived. However, farmers allocated less areas to growing coffee because many had already shifted their focus to other crops at this time.
In the 1950’s, the Americans brought in a more resistant variety of coffee and it was at this time that instant coffee was produced commercially leading to high demand for coffee beans. In the 1960’s, favourable market conditions attracted many farmers to go back to growing coffee. But the sudden shift created a surplus of coffee beans around the world. Importation was banned to protect local coffee production but when Brazil was hit by a frost in the 1970’s, the price of coffee in the world market soared.
The Philippines continues to grow coffee in different areas around the country. Aside from importing coffee, more coffee shops are also looking to local sources for their coffee beans.
5 Varieties of Coffee in the Philippines
Arabica (Coffee Arabica)
This is the most cultivated variety of coffee in the world. In the Philippines, it is popularly known as “Kapeng Tagalog”. It is characterised as a mild coffee with a bittersweet taste and a distinctive aroma. It has the least caffeine content among the four (4) varieties. The plant produces coffee beans two (2) years after transplanting. It is mostly grown in the mountains such as in Mt. Apo in Davao, Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon, Mt. Matutum in South Cotabato, Kalamansig in Sultan Kudarat and the Cordillera region. Most coffee farms in the Cordillera can be found in the Benguet area, Ifugao and Sagada. They are also abundantly grown in Batangas and Laguna.
Liberica (Coffee Liberica)
Liberica produces the largest berries with thick and firm pulp. The variety is also tolerant to drought and can grow in different soil types. In the Philippines, it is known as “Kapeng Barako” and is a popular item on the To Do list of traveler’s going to Batangas. It is also grown in Cavite and Quezon and is an essential breakfast item in these localities. It is characterised by a distinct aroma and a strong, woody taste with high natural acidity.
Robusta (Coffee Canephora)
Robusta has the smallest berry size among the four (4) varieties but it has the highest caffeine content giving it a robust flavour. It has a sharper flavour and a burnt, woody aftertaste. This is mainly produced for instant coffee and is grown by 70% of coffee farmers. It can grow in lowlands and is abundant in Cavite, Mindoro, Bulacan and Sultan Kudarat. A notable variety in the Philippines is the “Sulu Coffee” produced in Sulu since the 1860’s.
Excelsa (Coffee Excelsa)
Excelsa has a larger berry size than Arabica but smaller than that of Liberica. It has a deeper root system which makes it resistant to drought and its berries usually mature much later than that of Arabia and Robusta. It has a tempting aroma and a very distinct taste that is almost comparable to the sweetness of jackfruit. Excelsa farms can be found in Quezon, Batangas, Bicol and Sorsogon.
Civet coffee is an exotic coffee variety that comes from the Philippines Palm Civet and is popularly known as “Kapeng Alamid” or “Kapeng Musang”. The civet lives in trees and feeds on coffee berries and the civet coffee comes from their poo. The droppings are collected, washed and cleaned and results in a distinctive coffee flavor that has a dark-chocolate like aroma. This coffee variety can be found in Davao and Cavite.
Next time you order your coffee, you might be able to distinguish which coffee variety is used. If you want something exotic, then the civet coffee is definitely a must-try. Which coffee variety have you tried already? If you have tried all of them, which one is your favourite?