“Red October”
NOTES FROM THE EDITOR - Singkit (The Philippine Star) - October 14, 2018 - 12:00am

I was reluctant to attend the coffee lunch for two reasons. First, I’m a tea person and second – and more important – it was in Makati (just one word should explain this: traffic). But go I did, relying on Waze to find my way to the Holiday Inn & Suites that bright Thursday morning.

October is Philippine Coffee Month, and from what I learned that noon there is much to celebrate about Philippine coffee – but much remains to be done. For starters, local coffee production has grown from 22,000 metric tons a year 16 years ago, when the Philippine Coffee Board Inc. (PCBI) started, to 35,000 MT a year now – which may seem like a lot but considering our annual consumption of 180,000 MT – yes, that much! – we’ve got a lot of coffee growing to do. We spend P150 million a year to import coffee; that’s a lot of money that could be going to our coffee farmers, who now number about 160,000, many of them women.

One of the happy surprises I learned that day was that more than half – or about 20,000 metric tons – of our annual production comes from Sultan Kudarat. They grow premium Arabica (which the Holiday Inn proudly serves), and if more people in that beautiful province get involved in growing coffee, insurgency would not find ground to grow.

I skipped the cupping exercise. The evaluation form alone was complicated and daunting; could I really tell if the aftertaste was lingering or resonant, harsh or clean? Even PCBI founding trustee Bill Luz found the exercise complicated. With my coffee experience limited to Saturday breakfast with friends, the finer points of premium coffee would just be wasted on me.

Instead, I had a very educational chat with PCBI chair Nicholas Matti and director Rene Tongson, who enlightened me on how big an industry coffee is, in the country as well as worldwide, and shared some juicy “secrets” about the bean and the brew. The hotel chefs innovatively used coffee in food, from salad dressings laced with coffee to coffee croutons in soup to a coffee rub on the prime rib to coffee in cakes and pies and mousses. I certainly came away with a much greater respect for and appreciation of coffee.

Now about the title of this column. Don’t get your hackles up, because this has nothing to do with destabs or kupals (coup plots) or such sordid activities. Coffee farmers are being encouraged to harvest coffee fruits when they’re ripe – red in color, rather than unripe or green. According to the Coffee Board’s founder and STARweek contributor Chit Juan, the ripe fruits give the sweetest flavor, and farmers get better value with the red fruits. However, not all the fruits on a tree ripen at the same time, especially when the trees are rain-fed rather than irrigated, which is the case in the country. So while it is easier to harvest all the fruits – red and green – at the same time, farmers are being encouraged to only pick the red ones and come back to harvest when the other fruits ripen.

And since October is Coffee Month, one of the guys (he will remain unnamed) thought Red October would be a catchy name for this new initiative.

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