Coffee is something that I started drinking only in my mid 20’s ”“ late starter, I know. Sure, I had sips here and there but I was always rewarded with palpitations and the feeling that I was walking on a tightrope. Not fun. Turns out that it runs in the family: my dad only started drinking coffee in his mid 50’s. Now that my heart no longer does the jitterbug, I drink coffee about three times a week, and only 4-ounces at a time. I certainly don’t need it to get up and go in the morning since I’m naturally a morning person, although I admit to listening with some kind of morbid fascination to tales of people who drink four or more cups of coffee a day!
Coffee is more of a treat for me than anything else, as opposed to something that I have to have everyday. When I’m at home ready to make coffee, I really think about which cup I’m going to use ”“ I have about 30 to choose from, since I love, love, love cups. I shamelessly admit that almost every kind of coffee tastes good to me, especially the instant, probably because I grew up watching the adults around me sipping their Nescafe and Taster’s Choice. Far from being a black coffee drinker, friends tease me that I’m more of a “Would you like some coffee with your milk” person. Milky coffee, yup, that’s me. But I prefer creamer thanks, if you’ve got some.
As I get older, the more I want to know where my food comes from, especially the foods that I like very much. When it comes to coffee, I ask myself: “What is it that I like about coffee?”
I have a chance to answer that question in depth when I join the Figaro Heritage Tour 2007 organized by Figaro Coffee, a Filipino coffee shop that works diligently to promote Philippine coffee awareness locally and globally.Held annually, the tour is held during coffee harvest time, between January to March. The tour takes coffee aficionados to farms in Batangas, Cavite and Tagaytay, helping participants understand their cup of coffee from bean to brew, and more importantly, makes them aware of the plight of the Philippine Barako bean.
Real Barako refers to Philippine Liberica, although Barako has become a generic name for all coffee from Batangas. Known for its compelling bouquet and exceptionally powerful flavor, Barako is sadly, on its way to extinction because of modernization problems such as infrastructure, lack of profit, and technology.
Our tour today is focused on Lipa, Batangas. As our coaster makes its way there, Chit Juan, Figaro Coffee’s President and CEO keeps us awake at that early hour with coffee facts and trivia: the US is the largest consumer of coffee; Brazil is the leading coffee producer; the Philippines has 22 coffee-growing provinces. Chit is very lively, no doubt driven by massive amounts of caffeine in her veins, but more importantly, a genuine passion for coffee. As I listen to her talk, I realize that the more I know about coffee, the more I’m reminded of what I don’t know. It’s quite heartening to know that really, instead of being discouraged by it.
Of the four identified species of coffee (Robusta, Excelsa, Arabica and Liberica), Liberica (which is what Barako is) has the largest cherries and therefore, bigger beans. While it’s now predominantly grown in Cavite, Figaro has an Organic Coffee Pilot Farm on the grounds of the Mount Malarayat Golf and Country Club in Lipa. An effort by Figaro to revive the country’s coffee heritage, there are now 150 organically grown trees bearing Liberica beans.
The first order of the day has us picking coffee cherries, an activity that has me supremely excited. Because the trees have only a moderate amount of cherries, our group of about 40 is advised to only pick from one tree so that everyone will have a chance to experience the coffee harvest.
The photos show the coffee cherries in various stages of ripeness. Coffee trees have moderately sized leaves and are decidedly on the spindly, shrubby side. To be so close to the source of coffee is exhilarating to say the least, not to mention a certain sense of reverence felt for something most of us take for granted.
Quite large in size but not as large as real cherries, they fall easily into my hand with the slightest of tugs. Impulsively, I bite into one. There’s a blush of sourness and then sweet. It doesn’t taste anything like coffee, rather it tastes like a yellow cherry, which is what it is at this stage. The photo above shows the “pit” of the coffee cherry after it’s been eaten, as well as the whole cherry of course.
While it would have been nice to taste some of the Barako coffee made from these beans, our tour group had a schedule to stick to. The rest of the tour involves a stop at the Siete Baracos farm owned and run by Dr. Amading Silva. He had us try something he calls his Black Gold Blend, a melding of Arabica and Barako. The beans have been roasted for a longer amount of time, giving it a piquancy and bitterness that makes me throw my head back at first sip. Whoa!
So, to answer the question: “What is it that I like about coffee?” I feel that I’m only just beginning to find out.
Many thanks to Rosario Juan for making this article possible.
For more information on the Figaro Heritage Farm Tours, call Mayleen Aguilar of the Figaro Coffee Club at 637-5969, ext. 109 or email firstname.lastname@example.org