Yesterday, I was surfing the net and to my surprise, I chanced upon one event being celebrated on October 1: International Coffee Day!
Wow, honestly this is my first time to hear it, learn about it, and immediately I wondered if we can have one distinct for the Filipinos. So, how about a Kape de Barako Day? This will be our chance to promote our own brand of coffee from Batangas and learn why it is unique to Filipinos which started and flourished in the province of Batangas.
Aside from Batanguenos being known for their balisong (Batangas knife,) they are also known for their kape de barako, but not many knew where to find them and where to buy them especially here in the US.
In fact, I haven’t heard of kape de barako for a while here in the US until I met two gentlemen from Batangas in 2017 who were in the coffee business in the Bay Area. While that’s five years ago already, still our Batangas coffee is not spreading too fast based on our planned timetable.
Well, have you ever heard of it? Of course, you do, but do you know where to buy the almost extinct barako (liberica)?
One afternoon, I joined David D. Bacho and Edgar Madarang at Goldilocks Restaurant at Seafood City in Milpitas. Bacho’s barako coffee business had been going on in San Francisco for a while but for Madarang, it just started two years ago in San Jose and Milpitas.
While we were at the restaurant, one matured FilAm lady from Batangas happened to pass by our group and overheard our conversation. She also noticed the 16-ounce pack of coffee lying on the table and said: “Ano yan, kape barako? Alamid?”
Then she started to tell us a story. “You know what, a relative of mine brought some barako when she visited us here in the US but after consuming it, I looked around to buy some, but I found nobody selling them.”
So, based on her story, the demand was there but there were no supplies or they didn’t know where to buy them. I never thought, there were people who were looking for it and didn’t know where to look for it. Even my Batangas friends, when asked, never knew either where to buy some. They have been longing for it here in the US.
Bacho, coffee trader and owner of CJB Coffee Trading residing in Colma, CA was duly assisted by his wife Digna in their coffee business. He said: “Now it is available in San Jose and Milpitas area. I have partnered lately with Edgar Madarang of San Jose and Gene Granadosin of Milpitas to sell our 16-ounce kape de barako and other coffee products in the area. It has been selling in San Francisco for the past five years and now it needs to reach to as many Fil-Ams in the area,” Bacho said. “Coffee is our business and our passion. We hope to expand our reach, first by saturating the Bay Area and then moving towards the south,” he added.
Bacho said his Batangas coffee being distributed here in the US were grown in a 1.2-hectare plantation in Amadeo, Batangas where they planted 1,200 trees. “We bring in the beans from Batangas to the US, process it, and pack them (handcrafted) here in Colma. We bring them in through airfreight in order to preserve consistency and reserve the characteristics of the coffee, unlike ordering them through sea freight on container vans which contaminates the coffee and it takes months to arrive.”
He explained that the seedlings were grown for 4 to 5 months and then planted them on the soil. After 18 months, the plant starts to bear fruits and harvest time comes in late November or early December. The owners harvest once a year and then the cycle starts again. The barako coffee grows up to 6 feet high, Bacho said.
Responding to a question on the side effects of drinking coffee, Bacho said “like everything in life, caffeine has side effects that mostly appear if you have way too much. For example, as a stimulant for the central nervous system, caffeine could produce anxiety, rapid heart rate, and insomnia.”
But, Bacho, a stroke survivor said: “Coffee rejuvenates dead cells in the body. I drink barako in the evening and I don’t have any problem sleeping after drinking it. The three qualities of barako are, according to Bacho, “matapang” (strong); walang sabit/suwabe (smooth); and malasa (tasty).
Barako coffee or liberica is a rare and exotic coffee found only in the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Borneo, and Liberia. Bacho said that “today, there are only handful of barako growers in the Philippines and is in the brink of extinction due to farmers switching to planting pineapples and other fruits.”
While there is wine tasting in the Napa Valley, we should also develop barako tasting here in the Bay Area. This is one way of spreading the almost extinct coffee from Batangas known to as many people in the Bay Area and beyond.
Part of the marketing strategy was to have barako tasting, just like wine tasting. During the barako tasting session sponsored by couple Ed and Precy Madarang in their San Jose residence, it was free and they even served steak and other goodies for dinner after the tasting session. Unlike in wine tasting where they usually charge an average of $15.00, although sometimes the tasting fee was waived by some wineries with a wine purchase, the barako tasting sponsored by the Madarang couple was free.
Cost of wine tasting varies a lot, depending on the state. In California, lesser known wine areas like Lodi and Mendocino County had $5.00 per person! In contrast to Napa Valley- the most expensive area – most tasting was $20 – $25 per person and some were even $50 or more. However, there were some ways to get around those steep tasting fees, including lesser known wineries and regions, by purchasing wine or when they were offering complimentary tastings.
David Bacho, his wife Digna and daughter Thiana, alternately brewed their coffee products for the guests to taste. They were assisted by Edgar Madarang, the one who opened barako outlets in San Jose and Milpitas. They had four established products and are still developing others. They first made 100% barako coffee cooked with the traditional pot with batirol (old style coffee stirrer); kape de barako blended with Arabica; barako decaf; and the hazel nut coffee. The guests also tasted the 4-layered barako coffee; kape mocha; vanilla kape barako; and latte.
For me, I tasted the pure barako coffee batirol and I loved it! It’s strong but smooth and tasty. Gene, who also tasted it, said, “Walang sabit.” Tasters attest that kape barako is a quality coffee and can compete with Peet’s Coffee and Starbucks.
Some of those who attended were Augusto “Tito” Uychengco; Vince Thayer; Delia Ventura-Estioko; Flora Canio; Jose & Dimples Palacios; and Gene Granadosin… and myself, of course!
Coffee has been part of Human Civilizations since ancient times, so it’s the perfect day to get to know more about coffee culture, the barako way! Did you know there are tons of traditions and rituals that ancient civilizations used to do with coffee? You can use it as a beauty treatment, as an insect repeller, as compost or fertilize, to spice your steaks and flavor your food, and much more. Batangas entrepreneur Bacho said his group is developing those traditions and rituals in order to contribute to the coffee culture in the country.
No matter how you take it, coffee can energize you, warm you up, refresh you, keep you awake, and even catch you up with your loved ones.
According to a “Harvard’s Health Publishing” study, coffee drinkers tend to live longer, plus they have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Historians reported that even Beethoven was a coffee lover! It is well known that he used to count his beans before making the brew, mostly 60 per cup. I also remember the late Filipino journalist/columnist and coffee-lover Teodoro (Doroy) Valencia naming his column “Over a Cup of Coffee.”
One of the main objects of the international coffee day is to create awareness about the process that implicates coffee’s production and to promote healthy and safe methods and procedures for human consumption.
(ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comment, email the author at email@example.com.)