Robusta goes gourmet
PHILIPPINE coffee has become associated with the Barako variety. The future is not just Barako, however.
It is good to set your sights on Robusta or more specifically, Gourmet Robusta, which will be exported to the rest of the world.
Since 90 percent of the Philippines’ coffee production is Robusta, we may as well find some gems in our produce so farmers can get better value for their coffee.
“We’ve done it with Arabica in the past years—picking red, washing and then cupping our coffees. We are doing it now for Robusta,” says Alejandro “Andy” Mojica of Cavite State University and the Philippine Coffee Board Inc. (PCBI).
“And the world is waiting for our Cavite AA or Mindanao M-1, our export-quality Robustas of yore. Did you know we used to export a lot of it to the US roasters? This time, we are eyeing Europe and regional buyers who are waiting for our heirloom variety Robustas.”
Mojica and his co-directors at PCBI are now developing the coffee which is aplenty in Cavite— the Robusta. In many Robusta-producing countries, it is a well-respected variety because they treat it well. The produce may already be organic by default as farmers hardly buy chemical fertilizers anymore.
Mojica says it can be processed by washing and then drying on raised beds and sorted or sieved as to size of beans, which is a step up from the usual practice of sun-drying the beans after harvest. Such extra steps result in fine Robusta or Gourmet Robusta.
PCBI says Gourmet Robusta will be graded like premium Arabica. Mojica himself will be taking a certification course for grading Robusta to help standardize the quality among farmers that participate in the Gourmet Robusta program.
With a five-year, P5-million grant from Commission on Higher Education and in partnership with the PCBI for technical and marketing assistance for participant-farmers, the Cavite State University has started a research-cum-livelihood assistance program for coffee farmers in the southern part of Luzon, where robusta thrives.
Mojica said the concept of the Gourmet Robusta program was to elevate the product and expand its reach from the instant coffee market to the specialty coffee market.
The workshops are available to coffee farmers in Cavite, Laguna, Quezon, Palawan, and Mindoro.
“We give the participating farmers workshops on wet processing and proper drying. We collect samples of their produce and share with them marketing strategies to get higher prices,” Mojica said.
Farmers who undergo the program can improve the quality of their robusta well enough to command prices 20 percent to 30 percent higher than what they usually get.
According to industry data, from the current buying price of about P70 per kilogram, Robusta can fetch around P100 per kilo when processed well to improve its quality and taste.
While coffee growers are moving on to promoting Philippine robusta products after having raised the profile of local barako coffee, the promotion of barako continues, he said.
Barako is now a prized variety of coffee. Because it is now sorted from among other varieties such as Robusta and Excelsa, and farmers now keep it until a buyer comes and agrees to pay its hefty price tag.
Barako used to be just mixed with Robusta and fetched only say P87 at today’s buying price, when it can fetch P170 to 180 per kilo when separated from Robusta, Mojica says.
Much of Philippine barako output is now exported to Malaysia, Japan and the Middle East.
“We have raised the price of Barako, that local farmers now protect it with the same value as Arabica, “ he said.
Mojica has been working with PCBI for years and is known to be a mentor of coffee advocate Chit Juan, who co-chairs the PCBI.
In 20015, four years after their first meeting, the two co-wrote a book called “Barako: The Big Bean.” The book got a National Book Award and helped raise the profile of barako products in the Philippines.
After the Barako book was published, the two started to go beyond planting and delved into sample roasting of coffee and improving quality.
Perhaps the awareness that raised the profile (and price) of Barako may soon work magic for Gourmet Robusta.
Then we can say: this is what the doctor ordered. One gourmet Robusta coming up!
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