Can Specialty Coffee Save Our Farmers?
￼To get to Sitio Belis, from say, Makati, one has to take a bus up to Baguio, and then take an hour-long jeepney ride, past the city limits, past the limits of La Trinidad, and out to a place only known by its kilometer marker.
And when one gets to that particular curve in the road, there will be no other landmarks to let you know you’ve arrived, save for a lonely waiting shed (indistinct from the dozens of others you’ve already passed) and another jeepney impossibly filled to every square inch with chayote.
But that isn’t your destination yet. From the highway, there is a half-constructed road that leads all the way up and over a couple of mountains, and you have to go past the church, past the school, past the bend in the roads that will take your breath away literally and figuratively. It is a walk that will take perhaps the better part of two hours, thanks to the knee-damaging inclines; unless you’re from here, in which case it will be a brisk half-hour walk. If you have connections and the foresight, you’ll be able to call ahead and arrange for a ride to valley, on a private jeep, or on the back of a motorcycle.
– Excerpt from Searching for Auntie Asthrine in GRID Issue 14.
As it sometimes happens in world trade, the misfortune of other countries became our gain: When an epidemic of coffee rust hit Brazil, Indonesia, and the other coffee producers of Africa, the Philippines suddenly became the world’s only source of coffee beans. The story—though probably apocryphal—is that Batangas farmers were so wealthy from the coffee trade that they were known for wearing slippers made of gold.
The Philippines remains one of a handful of countries that produces all four varieties of commercial coffee: arabica, excelsa, robusta, and the well-regarded liberica (which is widely known as a coffee bean native to Africa, hence the name, but which we know as the very Filipino barako). But our glory days as the world center for coffee were short-lived. The coffee rust infestation hit our shores in 1889, and the whole industry came to a crashing halt, from which we still have to recover.
As it stands, the Philippines is currently 24th on the list of coffee-producing countries, exporting a paltry 43,680 metric tons of the stuff in 2015, compared to Brazil’s 2.72 million, or runner-up Vietnam’s 1.65 million metric tons.
Carmel Laurino and Lacy Audry, co-founders of Kalsada Coffee, embarked on an epic journey throughout the Philippines to do a general survey of the coffee world here—interviewing farmers, immersing themselves in the local culture, and gathering samples.
They were essentially searching for the answer to one question: Why wasn’t Philippine coffee being exported the same way it was before?
What does this cup of really, really good coffee do really well besides wake you up?
Do it right, and your coffee can alleviate poverty, create strong relationships with immigrant communities, and safeguard the country from hunger. All you need to do is learn the name of your coffee farmer.
Meet the good people behind a great cup of coffee.
The project, christened Kalsada, tries to close the gaps between farmer and consumer, in the hope that both sides will also see the benefit from the value of this closer relationship.
To use coffee, the world’s most traded commodity, to improve the lives of farmers, and act as an agent of change for their communities.
When we first started tasting coffees from around here, we took a sip of Auntie Asthrine’s batch and I immediately said, ‘This one! We have to have this one!’
￼We follow coffee back to its roots—to the farmers who grow it—and to the coffee shops here and abroad.
Read the full story
Searching for Auntie Asthrine
in GRID Issue 14