By Yvette Tan

Amadeo, Cavite was proclaimed ‘coffee capital of the Philippines’ in 2002 during the first Pahimis Coffee Festival. Pahimis means ‘thanksgiving,’ and 17 years later, Amadeo continues to give thanks to the tiny bean that put it on the culinary map.

In anticipation of the festivities, the Municipal City of Amadeo, Cavite in cooperation with the Amadeo Tourism Council and in partnership with the Philippine Coffee Board (PCB) organized Coffee Farmers Symposium, a pre-Pahimis Coffee Festival activity with the theme: Pick Red ‘Fine Robusta.’

The robusta variety has long been associated with instant coffee. The coffee farmers of Amadeo hope to change this impression by popularizing ‘fine Robusta’ beans, which, when properly grown and processed, can rival the best beans of any variety. They hope that this endeavor will help in the revival of Amadeo as the coffee capital of the Philippines. 

This year’s Pahimis Festival coincided with a push for coffee farmers to produce Fine Robusta specialty coffee as a way to revitalize the industry and offer consumers a premium product. Part of this is a campaign to encourage farmers to only pick red coffee cherries.

An important part of this making sure that farmers only pick red berries to ensure consistency of quality. “Ang mga farmer before, ang pangunguha nila ng kape ay halimbawa kahit meron green kukuha na nila basta mature. Ganun ang traditional method. Ang sinasabi namin, kuhanan ang pulang-pula ang bunga para masarap. At the same time, ang production ay mabigat. Mabigat ang timbang ng kape,” says Lucninda ‘Ochie’ Amparo, Municipal Agricultural Officer of Amadeo.

Introducing Fine Robusta

Dr. Andy Mojica, PCB Director stated that even though it was Cavite who started the coffee planting movement, it’s now Sultan Kudarat who is the biggest coffee producer in the country. He added that given the current coffee market with its trends towards specialty coffees, a good strategy would be to position Cavite coffee as a premium product. “Halos ang market natin ay ang instant coffee companies lang. Ang aming posisyon ay gawing premium ang robusta–gawing ‘fine roobusta,” he said. “Kung hindi natin pupuntahan ang premium price, lalo tayo maiiwan.”

Pacita ‘Chit’ Juan, PCB President and Co-Chair seconded this. “Ang robusta? Pang-instant yan, diba? Hindi na,” she said. “Kaya ang bagong bansag ay fine robusta. Hinahanap ito sa buong mundo.” 

Usually held during coffee harvest time , the fiesta is held as a thanksgiving offering for a plentiful harvest of coffee.

Knowing that picking only red coffee berries is easier said than done and can be costly in terms of hired labor, she offered a solution: farm tourism. In other words, charge tourists to pick the berries for you. “Buy baskets which look good in photos, ask tourists to pick red berries,” she said, adding that giving them a small bag of coffee after would be a good way to cap off the experience.

“Gawin niyong isang maliit na negosyo kapag harvest season,” she added.

PCB Director Rene Tongson spoke about the importance of pooling resources and how cooperatives can help maximize farmers’ benefits. Amadeo’s only coffee cooperative was established in 2002 as part of Pahimis program to encourage coffee farmers to grow coffee. Starting with Php25,000, the cooperative now has millions, and its members enjoy benefits and dividends. He further encouraged farmers to pick red cherries, saying, “Di na ibibilad, derecho na sa buyer’s station at doon bibilin. Guaranteed buyer.”

Certified Q Grader and Amadeo native Bea Belardo walked the audience through the coffee quality assessment process, emphasizing that good coffee starts in the farm.

PCB Director Princess Kumala Sug-Elardo spoke about her experiences putting up the People’s Alliance for Progress Multi-Purpose Cooperative in Sulu which turned a community where women had zero income in 2008 to one where an individual could earn up to Php170,000 per annum. “Nakita ko potensyal ng mga kababaihan,” she said. “Wala kaming ibang business kung di coffee, ad we did it with our women.”

The Pahimis Coffee Festival will run from Feb 22-24, 2019 in Amadeo, Cavite. Highlights will include street dancing, coffee mural painting, cultural nights program, and a coffee trade fair.