10 things brewing for Pinoy coffee

WORDSWORTH - Mons Romulo - The Philippine Star
10 things brewing for Pinoy coffee
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When one hears of Escolta Street in old Manila, one hears of a glamorous commercial district with its beautiful architectural heritage and rich history.

In more recent years, Escolta has come to be known for its vibrant creative community that organizes various activities that renew interest in the neighborhood. With this wave of new energy, the district is also beginning to be known for Philippine coffee.

Meet Gab Villegas, one of the notable figures in the movement in Escolta and head roaster of Escolta Coffee Company. “We were all involved with coffee or activating the neighborhood in one capacity or another,” shares Gab of the team that started the business. “I run the neighborhood cafe called The Den and have often crossed paths with Maricar Ricardos, who works with Kalsada Coffee, a company that champions Philippine specialty coffee, and her husband, Ivan Balmadrid, an anesthesiologist by profession. They were then running Layag, a coffee retail company with a social purpose, and were thinking of what’s next for them in coffee. At that time, I was already ready to throw in the towel of working in coffee after the exhaustion brought by the pandemic.”

It was serendipitous. One day in late 2021, these three people, who worked on different floors inside the 95-year-old First United Building, found themselves in conversation about where they were at this juncture in their life. “It was an instant click! We had a heartfelt talk about what we observed about the Philippine coffee industry, our personal values, the creative energy of the neighborhood we have been working in, and how we can bring all of these to coffee, offer a different perspective, and then build on what was important to us: Coffee, Culture, Community, and Creativity,” Gab adds. It was the lightbulb moment that gave birth to the Escolta Coffee Company.

Fast forward a year, and they find themselves happy with how they have thrived and remain excited for the future. Gab says excitedly, “Recently, we came from Japan, where our interpretation of Philippine coffee is distributed. It feels good to grow and contribute to the communities. In this process, we have met many like-minded people who champion the same things as us. Notably, groups like the Bench x Katutubo Pop-up Market use their platform to bring attention to Philippine designers, makers, producers, and creatives. They’re raising the bar not just for local industry and talent, but also for the communities behind the craft that move the local movement forward.”

Roasted coffee beans in their origin: The coffee farm.

Gab and the Escolta Coffee Company team share 10 points on how Philippine coffee intersects with culture, community, creativity, and beyond:

1. It links hands. Coffee is linked by the different hands that each coffee cherry passes through — from being picked by the farmers from the tree to the community that processes the coffee cherries. From there, it is passed on to another set of hands: the roasters that bring out the flavor potential, the barista or home brewer that brews and extracts the coffee’s goodness.

2. It connects hearts. The heart is the passion that enjoys the cup, recognizes all the people and work that was poured into the cup, and champions support for Philippine coffee.

3. It fosters community. Coffee historically brings ideas and people together. It is consumed and enjoyed in the community or in coffee shops that have become the third place apart from home and work where people hang out. It serves as a social lubricant and a fuel for new ideas. You can see how friends or even neighbors enjoy each other’s company with a cup in hand.

4. It has room for creativity. Each part of the coffee process is open to creativity and experimentation. At the farms, you can find creative experiments in the processing of the coffee cherries and beans — from the introduction of yeasts and fruits to the fermentation process — which bring out unique and surprising flavors in the cups we enjoy. At the Roastery, different approaches in temperature and roast time are tried to highlight different flavors inherent in the coffee bean. And finally, brewers and shops with different creative techniques in brewing and serving make sure you get the optimum flavor in your cup.

5. The Philippines is a coffee-growing country. Imagine the Equator. Now imagine the coffee belt as it runs horizontally along it, spanning 25 degrees north and 30 degrees south of the equator. It lies snugly between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn and we’re smack in the middle of it.

Team Escolta Coffee: (From left) Gab Villegas (head roaster), Maricar Ricardos (executive director) and Ivan Balmadrid (president).

6. We grow diverse coffee varieties. We grow a wide variety of coffee (arabica, Robusta, Excelsa, Liberica) from our highest altitudes and lowlands.

7. It teaches us to care. Recent years have taught us to treat the people who grow our food and plant coffee with the same regard as great chefs or winemakers. If we care about how our coffee tastes and how it’s grown, let’s take it a step further to care about who grows it, too.

8. It shows our care. Every time we brew a cup, we can convey our care and comfort for the people we love. Each brew is given attention to detail to bring out its quality and it definitely says and reassures our loved ones that we’ve got their back and we’re present.

9. Now is the best time for Philippine coffee. The pace at which the quality of Philippine coffee has improved over the years is astonishing. This has been corroborated by the Philippine Coffee Quality competitions every year with farmers and producers getting top prices for their crops, which they pour their hearts and effort into each year.

10. Philippine coffee has a bright future. Countries that grow coffee are the new centers of the Fourth Wave in coffee. In this new wave — where before the best of our coffee was marked for export — more and more coffee now is being enjoyed here with the different shops and roasters making it available to everyone. The best place to drink quality Philippine coffee now is the Philippines, and it’s an amazing feat.



We welcome your suggestions and comments. Please e-mail me at [email protected]. Follow me on Instagram @monsromulo.

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