Note: All photos are from the book reviewed.
I couldn’t wait to get a copy of Kapihan: A Celebration of Coffee in the Philippines (ArtPostAsia Publishing, 2007), authored by Paris-based food writer Noel Sy-Quia and photographed by Neal Oshima. My recent and ever-burgeoning love for coffee propels me to know all I can about the subject and a book about our local coffee is doubly exciting.
Published by the creative minds-on-fire at ArtPostAsia Pte Ltd. who are also responsible for Foodlore and Flavors ”“ Inside the Southeast Asian Kitchen, I know that Kapihan will be another visual treat.
I must say that my excitement sours somewhat when I discover that the book is sponsored by Nescafé in celebration of its 70th anniversary in the Philippines (a page-long introduction by Nestle Philippines’ Chairman and CEO greets me right off the bat). I have nothing against the country’s largest coffee producer and marketer – after all, Nescafe was the only coffee I knew for a long time but I feared that the book would be just one extended promotional campaign for the brand with the words Nescafe and its mother company Nestle injected in between every other paragraph. Though there’s no dearth of the Nescafe brand being featured prominently both in photos and text, I’m relieved to find that it’s not off-putting.
Beginning with the introduction of Nescafe through the backdrop of World War II, Kapihan makes short work of detailing the intricacies of coffee: the plant, its varieties, how it grows, and how it’s roasted. Photos complete what the text glosses over, and at only 160 pages, this book is for anyone who wants to know more about coffee without having to trudge through overly romantic and technical musings that are evident in most books about coffee.
Despite my initial misgivings about Nescafe and this book, I’m surprised to read about what the brand has done to train coffee farmers and to implement direct selling, an approach chosen by Nescafe to ensure correct payment to the laborers. It makes sense to me after I see Nescafe’s ongoing series of newspaper ads paying tribute to the company’s 30,000 coffee farmers.
Though it seems almost gratuitous, the chapter, Why We Love Coffee, is a testament to how the dark brew really can be good for you. Backed up with recent studies and photos of different generations enjoying their java, this chapter is best summed up with the sentence, “Generations may differ in their experiences and tastes, but coffee manages to remain relevant to all.” I’ll say.
My favorite part of Kapihan is Coffee Recollections, a chapter that captures coffee’s role in daily life whether that be as social lubricator (Binondo Haven), as reason for a first date (Saving First Impressions), haute coffee (Durian and Coffee), as well as the noted coffees from the Mountain Provinces (Coffee in High Places). After seeing the photos of coffee brewed in siphon pots at Panciteria Lido in Binondo, I’m eager to make my way there. There’s nothing like those old coffee places imbued with that old fashioned spirit.
An added feature is the section on recipes created exclusively for Kapihan by Chefs Gene Cordova and Jam Mendoza. The former was my chef-instructor in culinary school so I’m familiar with his work, which includes here everything from savories to sweets: Coffee Adobo, Coffee-Crusted Ribeye, Coffee Ravioli (above), Coffee Banana Tart, Coffee Truffles (above) etc. Though coffee is never really a main ingredient in the recipes, it’s more of a supporting player, the dishes featured are quite doable for the average home cook/baker. The section leaves me wondering however, why there isn’t a recipe for a coffee drink? Perhaps something like a pastillas de leche barako latte crowned with carabao’s milk foam? (A fantasy I’d like to see at my local coffee place).
Martha Stewart/Michelle Simone-types will enjoy the recipes on homemade coffee products, among them coffee scrubs and lotions.
Kapihan: A Celebration of Coffee in the Philippines
Available at Fully Booked.