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Sulu Coffee Culture is alive and brewing

/ 10:31 PM January 14, 2012

69- YEAR-old PahSali S. Ahalul, a Moslem entrepreneur, with author. At right, he holds a specialty coffee guide and Visayas coffee box.

I found myself traveling with the GKnomics ladies to Sulu as we wanted to visit GK communities and think of social enterprises (possibly coffee) for their sustainability.

One of the stops during our short stay was breakfast at a popular joint called DENNIS Coffee Shop. For a while there I thought it was a “copy” of the famous Denny’s (24 hour cafe of the USA). To my pleasant surprise it is spelled DENNIS and it was named after the son of the proprietor—69-year-old PahSali S. Ahalul, a Moslem entrepreneur.

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Here at DENNIS Coffee Shop we experienced the “Sulu typical breakfast” consisting of an assortment of small dishes like “kakanins” collectively called “BangBang”. I learned new names of rice cakes like Pitis, Pasung, Panpan and savories like PaliKambing (lamb or goat meat), Pancit and Sate (several sticks of chicken sate served over rice balls (like puso of Cebu) and smothered with a sweet and spicy sate sauce.

Now for the coffee. Sulu has a lot of coffee trees spread over many mountains and PahSali knows exactly how the locals like their coffee. Unlike many occasions during the past two days when we were served “sugared” black coffee, PahSali gives it to you black, and the sugar and milk follow. Make your own blend.

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I was so amazed that this 69-year old had been in the coffee business since 1962, definitely much longer than many coffee chains we have in the country. He now has five branches in Sulu and is looking at expanding to Zamboanga and Basilan. No, he does not franchise the business. He shares his history and recipes with relatives, and some of the cafes are run by next of kin. He, however, hangs out in the biggest branch where he entertained us with his story.

His own father was kidnapped in the 60s leaving him and his mother to fend for themselves for a long time.  During his father’s absence, his grandmother who cooked “BangBangs” (sweet kakanins) made her recipes while Sali made the coffee. That was 49 years ago. Today he still serves the same coffee albeit at a slightly higher price of P8 for black with or without sugar and P15 with milk. He proudly showed me his stainless pots where the freshly-brewed coffee sits while a kettle is used to portion the coffee into mugs or cups. He serves about 600 cups a day even if he is only open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

We talked about planting more coffee in the area and he right away committed his 18 hectares of land in the upland area of Sulu for new coffee plantings which we will do with the GK Team headed by JainabAbdulmajid, Area Coordinator for GK Sulu and at the same time she is the tourism officer. PahSali hopes to see the day when his own coffee farm will turn out the red coffee cherries he will use for his DENNIS brew.

Together with the Philippine Coffee Board, Inc and GK Sulu, we hope to help him sell his DENNIS Blend in  Kape Isla stores, airports, stores in Zamboanga and Basilan so people may experience his coffee even if they cannot get to his shop in Sulu.

For the rest of our stay, PahSali accompanied the group and assured us of his commitment to plant coffee and to sell more coffee by opening more shops and selling his popular coffee blend.

A visit to Jolo is not complete without a stop at Dennis Coffee Shop, the locals say. And after 49 years of brewing coffee, PahSali is now looking at leaving a legacy through his cafes and his coffee farms.

As I arrived in Manila, my phone rings and it’s PahSali calling. He says he continued to meet people even after we left and was rattling off many more hectares of possible coffee plantations. I could only say “thank you” but  was totally floored that this seemingly shy entrepreneur suddenly is now one of Sulu’s strongest coffee advocates, together of course with Princess Kumalah “Lala” Sugelardo, a Tausug princess who sells premium Royal Coffee in Manila.

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With Princess Lala and PahSali, Sulu coffee will see a rebirth and maybe even become one of our best products to serve the world, not only because it is good but because it will contribute to peace and development in the conflict areas like Sulu.

Soon we will have Royal Coffee and Dennis Coffee Blend in Kape Isla, Serendra.

(The author is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms in Serendra and Podium malls. She also heads the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two nonprofits organizations. She often speaks to corporates, youth and NGOs on social entrepreneurship, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan.  E-mail her at [email protected])

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TAGS: coffee, DENNIS Coffee Shop, social enterprise, Sulu
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