Philippine Mountain Coffee
Note: When I first wrote this article, I was using the byline, “Mona Gonzalez”. With the computer age I realized there were many people with the same name. To set myself apart, I now include my middle name, Mona Sabalones Gonzalez.
Twenty or so years ago, when our country faced its first huge economic crisis (after the death of Ninoy Aquino), businessman Tony Sevilla had an idea. “I tend to come up with new ideas when our economy is down, he explains, laughing. “Maybe because it’s only then when I have found the time.”
We are seated in the garden of his plush and cozy home in upscale Valle Verde. The wind wafts comfortably as I drink the most delicious cappuccino blend I’ve had in years. It is smooth, soothing to the throat, and its taste lingers with every sip – down to the last drop on the bottom of my cup.
From Roasted Chicken Honey to Philippine Mountain Coffee
The idea Tony came up with two decades back was roasted chicken honey. He sits back and sighs good-naturedly, saying, “I never got to see it through, though I still have the roaster and the method. And look where it is now.” Several companies began to serve roasted chicken honey (earlier than he did) and it was a big hit.
This time around, he’s not about to let his next economic crunch-inspired idea slip by. After dealing in oil exploration and several other investments, Tony decided: What about a world class Philippine coffee, locally produced, and equal (if not superior), to Jamaica’s very expensive Blue Mountain blend?
“It’s my new baby, but I feel more like I’m its Lolo,” he says, laughing. “You know, the Lolos are usually more excited over the baby than the parents are.” On his own, Tony has always loved to cook, and he admits that he feels special pleasure when friends indicate that they like his food. It is the same with a cup of coffee – his blend, naturally.
He hastens to add that earnings from this coffee project will go to Gabay at Buhay Foundation Inc. (which his family and friends set up) which deals in scholarships for poor but deserving students, medical assistance for families, drug rehabilitation and livelihood products. Recently, Gabay helped to set up living quarters for orphans in Ozamis in collaboration with a Columban Father from the area
An Igorot Named Camising
“Like anyone else, I love having a cup of coffee in the morning, after lunch and even after dinner. But I was more intrigued when I got to know about the history of Filipino coffee,” Sevilla said.
Take, for example their Kalinga Gold Coffee which prospered in the Cordilleras, under an Igorot (A group of Austronesian tribes, some based in the Cordilleras), chieftain named Camising during the Spanish colonial period. Camising was a wealthy, powerful and brave tribal leader who defended his people from the Busoles (a headhunting tribe) of the North.
The Spanish first introduced coffee to the Cordilleras, a mountain range with the right altitude for coffee growing, in 1873. Many tribes opposed it. Some pulled the plants out and destroyed them by pouring boiling water on them. But Camising observed, researched and studied the product. He decided that coffee would be very valuable to them and introduced it to his community, named Kabayan.
Camising took charge of planting, harvesting and selling the crop. For years the coffee was shipped to Spain where it was sold at fabulous prices. None of it reached Manila. The prosperity of Kabayan encouraged other Igorots to reconsider the coffee bean.
The local coffee industry faltered however in 1916 when a blight all but wiped out the industry. The constant attacks by insects, persistent pests and rust destroyed the coffee trees.
A World Class Philippine Coffee Line
What a surprise, Tony thought, that we had world class coffee that was little appreciated on domestic shores. He decided to come up with a coffee line featuring the best of brews grown from various mountains throughout the Philippines.
Thus was born the Philippine Mountain Coffee Collection, an initial set of three coffee blends that included Kalinga Gold, Malaybalay blend (which were grown by the Lumads, meaning “people of the earth”) of Bukidnon, and Tagaytay Barako, a brew that improved on the coffee, making Batangas one of the world’s coffee capitals in the early 20th century.
All three coffee products are high grown where the cool, rich air, volcanic earth and an organic, natural planting method guaranteed a favorable harvest. The Philippine Mountain Coffee Collection line became a joint project of Tony’s Gabay at Buhay Foundation and Deck Coffee Inc., the coffee shop cum restaurant Tony, his brother Ed and wife Malen incorporated with a few friends.
Deck Coffee gained recognition with its famous durian coffee latte along with its specialty espresso coffee line derived from Benguet and Mindanao’s locally grown Arabica beans. Deck Coffee gained, through years of experience, expertise in the development of small batch blending and roasting of its own in their outlets in Magallanes Commercial Center, SM City, North EDSA and SM Supercenter in Sucat, Paranaque.
(Update: Today, Sevilla has a Deck Coffee Shop in the Telemart Bldg., Magallanes Shopping Center, Ayala Ave. The coffee is also sold in Hacienda restaurant at Transcom Bldg. across Tiendesitas, and in the Delicacies Village of Tiendesitas’ food court.)
As for Kalinga Gold, Tony says the Germans and Europeans love the brew. And then, there is Tagaytay Barako made in Tagaytay, the coffee capital of the country. There is the belief that the volcano’s pent up violence may have seeped into the soul for the coffee bean. Barako means “all male.”
Tony will be the first to tell you that in many ways, a bean is a bean is a bean. The difference is in the roast. He won’t tell you how he does it – that’s his trade secret. But today he will say they use the charcoal roasted method in making his coffee, which is essentially a dark roast with a shiny surface, similar to the French Roast.
(Update: Coffee blends include the Kalinga Gold (from Luzon), Tagaytay Baraco, Kanlaon Blend (Visayas) and the Malaybalay Blend (from Mindanao and Bukidnon). The taste is earthy and lingers with subtle power. Brews are mild, medium and strong. The drip method is offered for those who seek special coffee.)