Tuesday, July 16, 2024

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Being different by being local: How a PH coffee brand wins the market over int’l giants

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By Dr. Rebekka Volmer

The history of coffee in the Philippines started in Batangas. The first coffee tree was planted in Lipa in 1730, by a Franciscan friar.  Just a few years later coffee was also spread to Batangas, Ibaan, Lemery, San Jose, Taal and Tanauan.

The Philippine islands provide a variety of climate and geographical regions – and we can find the same variety in Philippine coffee. From Arabica, the first and most cultivated coffee, over the fully tasting Kapeng Barako, over the rare Excelsa and the cheap but strong Robusta – the Philippines serves them all.

The Philippines even made it once to become the only Coffee producer worldwide: This was between 1887 and 1889, when the coffee rust was sabotaging in Java, Africa, and Brazil. The Philippines still remained untouched by this pest. In 1889, though, the coffee rust also reached the Philippines and virtually destroyed all coffee trees in Batangas.

For a long time, the municipality of Amadeo in Cavite was the coffee capital of the Philippines. According to PhilMech, an agency under the Department of Agriculture (DA), Mindanao is the leader of the local production of dried coffee beans. This is due to the Muslim culture. Coffee is often served with bangbang or latal both varieties off native merienda snacks.

Today, Kahawa Sug is a single-origin coffee, and part of the traditional Tausug culture. In 1860 the German Herman Leopold Schück introduced Robusta coffee into the Sulu archipelago. The German mariner became friends with the ruler of the Sulu Sultanate and established the plantation of robusta coffee in the village of Lukut Lapas.

The kahawa Sūg is Arabian and means “coffee sea currents” – the native Tausug name of the Sulu archipelago. It became important for the Tausug culture. It is also served with an empty glass, to be poured back and forth to make it possible to cool the coffee down.

However, the export of coffee from Mindanao has not been vibrant because of the conflicts in Muslim Mindanao. In total, the Philippines ranks only 32nd among the global coffee exporters. Most home-grown coffee stays in the country and serves the Filipinos. 

Cebu has no coffee plants at all. However, this Island became a center for coffee in the Philippines in its unique way: Steve Benitez was waiting in a local coffee shop in California, waiting for his flight back to his home to the Philippines. The Cebuano was already looking forward to having the next coffee in this store again when he thought: “Why not bring this experience back home to the Philippines?”

After getting familiar with coffee, Bo’s Coffee started in 1996 at Ayala Center Cebu. He had to give away free samples because the Cebuano market was not familiar with his concept. But Benitez was not simply copying the US-American coffee shop. He created a melange of traditional Filipino culture and functional modernity.

Bo’s Coffee is offering homegrown coffee with a warm and friendly service significant in Philippine culture. This is combined with a functional environment, decorated with traditional garments and images of various Philippine regions. Bo’s Coffee sources coffee beans locally from farmers from Sagada, Benguet, Mount Kitanglad in Bukidnon, Mount Matutum in Tupi, South Cotabato, and Mount Apo.

Today, almost 100 stores are successfully attracting millennials and early jobbers, who you can see studying or working on their laptop. Millennials think twice: instead of getting the next 3-in-one, they want to experience Filipino pride, are conscious about their consumerism and in the same way they are future-oriented. It is the Filipino youth that makes Bo’s Coffee strong and turn the story around: coffee house giants from the US have to fear the competition of a local brand.

While the coffee is tradition, technology is developing. One of the new creations is the Botty designed and introduced by Gary Gee. You can easily skip the line and order your next coffee. All you need is Facebook messenger. Wait until you get the message that your order is ready at the bar, and you can simply pick up a cup of strong Filipino culture.

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