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Jun 25th
Home Sections History The True Story Behind that "Cup of Kapeng Barako"
The True Story Behind that "Cup of Kapeng Barako" PDF Print E-mail
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Sections - History
Written by Allan Albert   
Friday, 25 May 2007 06:41

From a botanical viewpoint, there is no such thing as a coffee bean.  What is commonly referred to as a coffee bean is really the roasted seed of the fruit of the coffee plant. But that doesn't stop coffee drinkers all over the world.

Here in California, it is a common sight to see coffee shops in almost every corner, making it just as easy to fill up on coffee as it is to fill up a car with fuel. And prices could also be just as high, if not higher than gasoline, drop for drop.

One would think that this popularity is a boon to the coffee farmer – but actually, in some cases, the contrary is true.

The Blight

Coffee was first introduced to the Philippines in 1740 by the Spaniards. By 1814 it had become the Philippine's leading export commodity and by 1880, the Philippines had become the fourth largest coffee-producing country in the world. It has been said that during the years of 1886-1888, the Philippines had become the world's sole supplier of coffee. More specifically, it was the town of Lipa in Batangas that was supplying the world with coffee.

Lipa had become one of the richest towns in the Philippines and its prosperity led to its being titled "Villa de Lipa" by the Queen Regent, Maria Cristina of Spain on October 21, 1887. The term "Villa" during those times was reserved for the affluent upper class.

Batangas had gained the title "Coffee Capital" of the Philippines and coffee production was going strong. But then in 1889, "Coffee Rust" was detected in the Philippines. "Coffee Rust" is a deadly fungal disease had already decimated the coffee plantations of Europe, South America, and Java. By 1892, only a few years later, this blight had caused the entire coffee production of the Philippines to drop down to practically zero.

The blight, and the ensuing wars that followed afterwards, made it difficult for the Philippines to recover. Almost 80 years and three wars (against the Spaniards, the Americans, and Japanese) passed before the Philippines was able to get coffee production up to the point where it could start exporting again. By that time, the other coffee-producing countries had already overtaken it considerably.

During its peak in 1986, the Philippines was able to export about 150-million dollars worth of coffee.

Nowadays, production is so bad that it can't even fill the local demand. The Philippines now has to import coffee.

The Flood

Control of coffee-bean prices rests between Brazil (it supplies about 30% of the world market) and the United States (the largest market for coffee beans). Entry into the coffee market by other countries along with the lifting of U.S. Quota restrictions has literally caused the market to flood. The price of raw coffee has dropped down so low that farmers in the Philippines could no longer make ends meet by growing coffee alone. They can't afford to spend the money to modernize production techniques so they can be competitive with the other countries. Even if they could make that investment, the volatility in market prices makes it hard to get any return. More often than not, it would be easier for them to sell their lands to developers or to look for more profitable crops to grow. Meanwhile, the few that are still producing coffee are focusing on the more marketable types of coffee such as the Coffea Arabica or Coffea canephora (Robusta).

Arabica accounts for about 75% of the world's coffee trade due to its excellent flavor and market demand. Robusta, on the other hand, grows readily where Arabica could not -- making it a good (and cheaper) alternative to Arabica. Even though it has less flavor, Robusta contains more caffeine and antioxidants and produces more foamy heads than Arabica, making it a popular ingredient in most espresso blends.

The Threat

There is another lesser-known type of coffee called Coffea Liberica. It is much rarer than the other two and is known to be indigenous in only three Asian countries (out of 70 coffee-producing countries). This type of coffee has a strong flavor and a distinct aroma. It also produces larger "beans" and it is very productive. These qualities are the reasons why the Philippine varietal of Liberica is called "Kapeng Barako". The word "Barako" referring to extra ordinary male strength or machismo.

"Barako" was first grown in the 1800s in Barangay Pinagtung-Ulan, Batangas, by the Macasaet family. It gained so much of a reputation that all types of coffee from Batangas are generically called "Barako" even if they are one of the other types. It is, by association, the definition of Batangas Coffee.

It is also, due to limited demand, awareness, and profitability, threatened with extinction.

But there is still hope. Thanks to the increasing popularity of exotic brews and blends of coffee, as well as the efforts of private industry, revival of this rarity seems to be within reach. Companies such are The Figaro Foundation Corporation have launched marketing campaigns aimed at increasing the awareness (hence, marketability) of this source of national pride. And efforts to establish new centers for coffee production are well under way in Cavite and in Mindanao. Even the government and other business sectors are getting involved.

Perhaps, with everyone’s help, we can not only save the Barako, but elevate it to its rightful status up there with the Konas and the Javas of the world. If that happens, that might just be the catalyst that the Philippine Coffee industry needs to propel it back to its old glory.

Below are some links to studies and efforts by different groups:

Related news items:
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Older news items:

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 November 2007 20:48
Comments (2)
1 Sunday, 23 August 2009 16:34
Barako, as it refers to coffee, did not come from the Tagalog slang word that means rough and uncouth. It came from Spanish "baraco" which means small, rough pearls. Indeed, Batangas coffee beans were considered small, rough pearls as far as the economy was concerned. Interestingly, the term was also used to lovingly brand very rough children who were going through that stage in development towards maturity -- they were not considered incorrigible. I personally prefer the "baraco" spelling since that was the original spelling. For those who don't know, /c/ is allowed in Filipino language once again.
2 Sunday, 22 April 2012 04:03
My Father Mr. Francisco Aranda a.k.a Uncle Frank, many times received an award from DTI Sorsogon City, some Local Government agencies like Department of Agriculture and private individual.They given their Appreciation for his contribution to educate local farmer, producing coffee beans and planting"Kapeng Baraco".His siblings is originally from Calingatan Mataas na Kahoy Lipa city, migrated 35years in Sorsogon City.
Because of the very good condition of agricultural land in Sorsogon, he sucessfully impressed some local farmers to buy his coffee seedlings which is originally coming from Calingatan Mataas na kahoy Lipa City.
Let us once again make the philippines "Coffee Capital of the world".

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