Starweek Magazine

A brewing revolution

- Ida Anita Q. del Mundo -

When you order your favorite cup of coffee or pour yourself a mug of your morning brew, do you know where the coffee beans were roasted? Or at least where the beans came from? Questions like these would probably not cross the mind of the average half-awake coffee drinker, but for Pinoy coffee advocates like Vie and Basil Reyes, answering these questions is essential.

“I can even tell you the name of the farmer that produced the coffee,” says Vie confidently.

The husband and wife team heads Bote Central. Founded around four years ago, it is the newest coffee player in the industry. The couple describes Bote Central as an environment-friendly company and a family corporation.

They aim to promote social development through their business as well as work towards a cleaner environment through their endeavors.Vie and Basil started out selling vinegar, but through their research on the conservation of forests, they discovered the sugar palm trees that house the civet cats famous for the rare alamid coffee. The couple soon made the switch from vinegar to coffee, marking the start of what promises to be a Filipino coffee revolution.With the aid of Bote Central, farmers of Mt. Matumtum earned $1 million from the civet coffee under the couple’s Arengga brand. Further more, farmers in the area learned to respect the animals and take care of their habitat. While it is a rare and sought-after variety of coffee, they realize that coffee alamid will only benefit a small percentage of farmers, Bote Central turned its attention to the regular Filipino coffee.

One of the most pressing problems in the coffee industry is that the agricultural level of the coffee production is usually neglected. Farmers who grow and harvest the coffee beans are paid an unfair price for their produce by large companies who then turn the Filipino-grown produce into instant coffee.

“It’s an insult to Filipino coffee,” exclaims Basil. Many other companies support imported coffee beans, overlooking the local farmers altogether. Vie says that “if we want the coffee industry to survive, we have to do something,” adding that “no matter how many coffee shops you see, there is no effect on the farmers,” addressing the fact that the coffee industry seems to be booming in the country with the recent coffee shop trend.

“The key to success is roasting,” says Basil on the most profitable part of coffee production. “All the big companies in the world are roasters,” he adds. Knowing this, Basil set out on a mission to develop a system that would enable him to bring the roasting to the farmer’s level, thus giving them the power to profit directly from their own beans.

The meticulous art of coffee making, supervised by a roast master, is an intricate process that would take too long to teach to a group of farmers in a dying coffee industry that needed immediate aid. A natural at inventing and putting things together, Basil decided to create a roasting machine that could perform the job of a roast master with just the press of a button, basing the design on a similar Japanese-made machine. An associate was trying to sell the second hand Japanese roasting machine to Basil for $5,000, but instead of accepting the offer, Basil created his very own machine. Because of the importance of the roasting machine in fulfilling the company’s mission, Basil devoted two whole years and much thought and energy into creating it. “I kept it inside our bedroom,” he shares. “The machine was the last thing he would ‘talk’ to at night and the first thing he would greet in the morning,” adds Vie.

The machine, soon ready to be used commercially, is controlled by a computer using a software program developed by their son, Paolo, an engineering student at De La Salle University-Manila. The farmers only have to fill the machine with beans, press a button and wait for the coffee beans to roast. The computer controls the temperature, the time, and all other aspects needed to produce a perfect roast each time.

Through the computer, Basil also developed a system of payment for the farmers similar to a cell phone’s prepaid load. To be able to work the machine, an amount of money is transferred to the company in exchange for a password good for an equivalent amount of coffee that can be roasted. For around P5,000 “load,” a farmer can already roast 200 kilos of coffee beans.

Named “Rearden,” the machine enables small town coffee communities to produce high quality, freshly roasted coffee from their own locally-grown beans. In fact, Basil used the machine to roast the coffee alamid and the resulting coffee was warmly accepted in the international coffee industry.

As a company concerned with understanding the farmers’ needs and caring for the environment, Bote Central has rocked the buying price of coffee beans by offering to buy the farmers’produce at P100-120 as compared to the usual P40-80 per kilo. They have also started a coffee revolution by introducing Rearden into small coffee communities, bringing quality roasting to the level of the farmers, eliminating the need to sell coffee beans at unfair prices to big roasting companies.

Perhaps the greatest indicator of the company’s success so far is the visible improvement in the lives of the farmers. “They now have lights so the children can study at night, they have cell phones, they have two pairs of slippers,” reports Vie.

“We never drank coffee before we became involved in the industry,” Vie confesses. But, driven by their passion to improve the lives of farmers and enable fair trade among them and the different companies involved in the industry, Vie and Basil went from non-coffee drinkers to coffee connoisseurs, acquiring as much knowledge as they could on their product. “Do everything with passion,” Basil says of their company’s driving force.

“We hope to revolutionize the landscape of Philippine coffee,” says Basil. So far, the roasting machines have been set up in General Santos and most recently in Sagada. “Sagada now smells of coffee,” Vie declares proudly. Soon there will also be roasting machines in supermarkets in the Metro, making freshly roasted Filipino-made coffee available to an even wider consumer base. Schools and corporations have also followed suit, supporting the cause by ordering Bote Central’s Arengga coffee to be supplied exclusively in their offices. Not intimidated by the pressure imposed by big and established roasting companies, Vie says confidently, “We are a small but aggressive company. We are not afraid to do what has not been done before.”

In the future, Bote Central plans to come to the aid of even more agricultural communities by venturing into the sugar and coconut oil industries. These seem like far-off dreams, but Basil says, “Think big to end up with something big. Think small and you’ll end up with something even smaller.”

Anyone can join Vie and Basil Reyes’ coffee revolution and support our very own homegrown coffee. “Ask for Filipino coffee,” says Vie and more importantly, “Be open to paying the right price for good quality local coffee.”

While Bote Central is working to make Filipino coffee readily available to a wider market, they hope that more and more people will support their cause and patronize local brews. Instead of an ordinary latte, wouldn’t it be so much more enjoyable to wake up to a cup of Filipino pride?

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