by Elpidio Estioko
When we talk of coffee in the Philippines, we talk of kapeng barako. As I lived in Hawaii for many years, Big Island Coffee’s Kona coffee dominates the scene.
But as I miss the Philippines in this chilly California weather, I can’t help but miss kapeng barako.Batangas, in the Philippines, is not only known for its balisong (knife), but also kapeng barako. In Hawaii, they have a counterpart known as Kona Coffee, a world-famous coffee that is exclusively grown on the slopes of two tantalizing volcanoes on the Big Island.
Lately, I was surfing the net and to my surprise, I chanced upon one event being celebrated on October 1st: International Coffee Day!
This was my first time to hear and learn about it, and immediately I wondered if we can have one distinct for the Filipinos. So, how about a Kapeng Barako Day in the Bay Area? This will be our chance to promote our own brands of coffee which are unique to Filipinos.
I haven’t heard of kapeng barako for a while here in the US until I met two gentlemen from Batangas who were in the coffee business. While that’s five years ago, still our Batangas coffee is not spreading too fast.One afternoon, I joined David D. Bacho and Edgar Madarang at Goldilocks Restaurant at Seafood City in Milpitas. Bacho’s barako coffee business had been going on in San Francisco for a while but for Madarang, it just started two years ago in San Jose and Milpitas.
While we were at the restaurant, one matured Filipino American lady from Batangas happened to pass by our group and overheard our conversation. She also noticed the 16-ounce pack of coffee lying on the table and said: “Ano yan? Kapeng barako? Alamid?” (What’s that? Kapeng Barako? Alamid?)
Then she started to tell us a story. “You know what, a relative of mine brought some barako when she visited us here in the US but after consuming it, I looked around to buy some, but I found nobody selling them.”
Also, a classmate of mine in high school Gloria Benito from Bakersfield, California called me one day asking me where she can find kapeng barako: “How can I order this Batangas coffee Peds (after reading my column in Philippine News Today). My niece brought me one last time she came to visit and I loved it.” She also wanted to serve barako during her son’s birthday.
Based on their stories, the demand was there but there were no supplies, or they didn’t know where to buy them. Even my Batangas friends here in the US, when asked, never knew either where to buy the coffee they have been longing for so long.
Bacho, coffee trader and owner of CJB Coffee Trading residing in Colma, California was duly assisted by his wife Digna in their coffee business.
He said: “Now it is available in San Jose and Milpitas area. I have partnered lately with Edgar Madarang of San Jose and Gene Granadosin of Milpitas to sell our 16-ounce kape de barako and other coffee products in the area. It has been selling in San Francisco for the past five years and now it needs to reach to as many Fil-Ams in the area.”
“Coffee is our business and our passion. We hope to expand our reach, first by saturating the Bay Area and then moving towards the south,” he added.Bacho said his Batangas coffee being distributed here in the US were grown in a 1.2-hectare plantation in Amadeo, Batangas where they planted 1,200 trees.
“We bring in the beans from Batangas to the US, process it, and pack them (handcrafted) here in Colma. We bring them in through airfreight in order to preserve consistency and reserve the characteristics of the coffee, unlike ordering them through sea freight on container vans which contaminates the coffee, and it takes months to arrive.”
He explained that the seedlings were grown for four to five months and then planted them on the soil. After 18 months, the plant starts to bear fruits and harvest time comes in late November or early December. The owners harvest once a year and then the cycle starts again. The barako coffee grows up to 6 feet high.
Responding to a question on the side effects of drinking coffee, Bacho said “like everything in life, caffeine has side effects that mostly appear if you have way too much. For example, as a stimulant for the central nervous system, caffeine could produce anxiety, rapid heart rate, and insomnia.”
But, Bacho, a stroke survivor said: “Coffee rejuvenates dead cells in the body. I drink barako in the evening and I don’t have any problem sleeping after drinking it.”
According to Bacho, the three qualities of barako are matapang (strong), suwabe (smooth) and malasa (tasty).
Craving for that connection back home in the Philippines, the kapeng barako is a good reminder of the good old days. So, would you like to join me for some kapeng barako?
ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author at email@example.com.
by Elpidio Estioko