July 12, 2019
Twenty years ago, I started promoting Liberica or Barako, not only for its taste but because it was endangered. The species was dying because trees were being grafted to the more commercial variety called Robusta. Other trees were being cut and land was used to plant the smaller bean, the more “in demand” Robusta—which was bought by coffee companies making instant coffee.
We wanted to save the species and went on a “Save the Barako” campaign which successfully increased its buying price. We got new farmers to invest in it like Mitto Licauco and Evelyn Lao Yap, business people who did it for leisure and to help the campaign. It got noticed in different areas of the globe and now has a Facebook page for its fans.
Fast forward to 2019. I now have another favorite and it’s Arabica. It’s the gentler bean, the milder one. As we get older we do need some gentleness in our daily cup. What I did is to discover different origins—Benguet, Bukidnon, Matutum—and brewed it in my home every morning. This way I could study the notes as they call it in today’s Third wave terminology: was it nutty, caramelly, chocolatey or plain “sako” smelling aroma? And since I brew it the same way each day, there is some kind of “control” for my experiments.
Another variant is the Peaberry. It is an aberration, a mutant, a rounded bean of the same species that did not split into two beans. It was promoted first by Tanzania many years ago and I even thought it just came from that place. Now, I can have women farmers sort the special beans, sometimes called “pea beans” and I can enjoy a cup of Peaberry once in a while.
Today, I drink Arabica to also check where our coffee can compete internationally as many still just want to drink Arabica. Though the more robust and stronger Robusta is being promoted by Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) and we have specialty Robusta, too, I am still on my cup of Arabica and hopefully can write something after tasting different origins for the past 3 years. That’s over 1,100 days of different origins of Arabica. I also taste what my friends give me as gifts: Toraja from Sulawesi, Ciwidey from Java, Pyin Oo Lwin from Myanmar and many other Arabica origins in ASEAN from Myanmar to Thailand.
I know the specialty roasters now promote Panama Geisha and have put Ethiopian Yergacheffe and Sidamo in the back burner. But I still enjoy our own Philippine Arabica, simply because I can get it from farm to cup—fresher, freshly-roasted, and freshly ground, too. It’s just like vegetables. There are only three things customers look for: FRESHNESS, FRESHNESS, FRESHNESS (thanks to Toto Barcelona for that quote). Coffee is a fruit, so freshness is key.
In Benguet, we also are promoting the Typica variety as endangered because farmers are getting older, their children are not following in their footsteps, and soon we might be just getting Vietnamese Arabica at the city market. We have to patronize local origins like Atok, Tuba, La Trinidad, Itogon for Benguet coffee.
It is not an assurance that a sign says “Benguet Barako” because there is no Barako in Benguet. It is just Arabica in elevations of 1300-1600 meters above sea level. Barako grows at 300-500 meters. Go figure. Why call it Benguet Barako? Please, let us not confuse one with the other. It’s like calling a dalandan a Sunkist Valencia orange. It is NOT.
So, consumers be wise. If it’s Arabica ask who grew it. Our farmers are being helped by DA and DTI and they have names. Ask who the farmer is or what coop it came from—not Vietnam but Benguet.
I like tasting Arabica and determining which origin I prefer. They are all good, mind you. The taste profiles just are different. Some more chocolate, some more caramel, some citrusy (not my preference) which the younger set prefer. It could also be the roasting level. So many variations for one type of bean. So many possibilities. And that’s just Arabica. There are three more varieties to learn to cup and taste.
Let’s start with the mildest. Ask for Arabica next time.
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