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March 16, 2017


It was wonderful to be in the company of women in coffee who came to judge our very first KAPE PILIPINO (KP) Green Coffee Quality Competition. After the grueling five-day cupping activity, Mbula Musau and La Lida found time to have coffee with the Philippine IWCA members: Princess Kumalah Sug-Elardo, Ros Juan of Commune, and myself.

Mbula Musau comes from Kenya and is a Q and R grader and a Q instructor. She often stays in Uganda as it is the headquarters of the African Fine Coffees Association or AFCA. She also has her own private enterprise called UTAKE Coffee.

Her comments on Philippine coffee make our hearts big and happy. “The notes are complex. Even with Asia having a reputation for bold flavors, Philippine coffee has different notes,” she declares. When asked what it reminded her of, she replied, “Ethiopian Sidamo”.  Now that is something our farmers can be proud of. Ethiopia is, after all, the birthplace of Arabica and to be quoted as tasting like the original makes us look at heirloom varieties which we can still cultivate.

The other coffee I asked them to give their opinion of is Liberica or Barako as we know it. “Whiskey notes” says Mbula. “It reminds me of the aftertaste of drinking whiskey,” she says. Well, maybe this is why the Middle East market loves Barako. When one cannot have alcohol, Barako seems to be a good choice of coffee with whiskey notes. And this is also why Filipinos of yore preferred Barako to Robusta.

La Lida, the other lady judge, comes from Chiangmai, Thailand and she has her own OMNIA Café in the northern Thai city. Her eight-hectare farm in Chiang Rai (also in the north) has various coffee cultivars—Typica, Catimor and some Geisha, too. She is a farmer, processor, and teacher. She teaches in ChiangMai and looks forward to comparing our Arabica coffees with those from her farm.

These two ladies found time for some relaxation after the KP event and visited some cafes while Mbula waited for her flight to Davao to teach and hold the Q Training and Exam. We are blessed to have met Mbula who is also from the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) Kenya, Africa chapter while La Lida will soon form her own IWCA Chapter in Thailand.

Besides being women in coffee, these ladies of course hail from coffee-producing countries and were only too happy to know that Philippines also has coffee we can be proud of. Mbula relates her experience in making African women more empowered by teaching them how to taste and grade coffee. Now, they have the group to help women in coffee—the IWCA chapter in Kenya, in Uganda and other East African  coffee producing areas like Rwanda, Congo and Burundi. Now they even have an African Fine Coffees Association.

La Lida (left) is excited and wrote me that she has started forming her chapter in Chiang Mai as soon as she touched base upon her return from Manila.

Later this month, I will be travelling to Shanghai to help Chinese women in coffee form their chapter, too. China now produces coffee in Yunnan province but the industry is still male-dominated.  Upon their invitation and IWCA’s support off I go to gather them into a group to sell under the WeConnect program or the International Trade Center’s She Trades program. There is such a program—Global Platform for Action on Sourcing from Women Vendors formed by the ITC and UN Women. That’s how I got involved with IWCA since 2011.

Three years ago, Kat Mulingtapang (a Filipina licensed Q grader based in the USA) and I travelled to Indonesia to try forming an IWCA chapter in Sumatra. For some places, it could take a few months, some a few years to gather and have a meeting of minds. Luckily, another coffee farmer Francisca Indarsiani took over the mission and continued our initial foray into Indonesia.

Kat Mulingtapang

And now that I am in charge of the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN) until 2018, I have included coffee in my plans to unite the women in the regions. They can be coffee drinkers or producers. I have so far gone to Pakse, Laos, and Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar but we will need to visit Cambodia, too. It is so interesting to see the culture and diversity in these coffee places.

So, meeting these women during Women’s month must be a sign from above—that there is more work to do across Asia and Africa—in empowering our women in the business of coffee.  For those interested to join, there is an IWCA convention in Puebla, Mexico in August, 2017. Check it out at



Photos from PCBI/ Select photos from Robert Francisco


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