Culture

Pinoy coffee is making an international comeback, thanks to this startup

(Museum of History & Industry, PEMCO Webster & Stevens Coll.)

 

Saying that coffee is a big thing in Philippines is an understatement. We drink coffee like we drink water. It doesn’t matter if we drink 3-in-1, Starbucks frappes, barako, or, gasp, coffee-flavored wine — a coffee lover’s day cannot progress without a cup or five.

Over a century ago, the Philippines was a major exporter of coffee. But diseases started infecting crops, and production dwindled. Eventually, farmers lost interest and shifted their focus to other types of crops.

Today, the coffee industry is dominated by multinational bigwigs who use imported coffee beans. While there are still groups that advocate for local coffee, like Bo’s Coffee and other small shops, it is for the most part an import-driven industry.

Kalsada Coffee would like to change that landscape by telling the stories of local coffee farmers, improving their lives and the coffee they harvest.

Carmel Laurino established Kalsada in 2013. “I was inspired by a 1909 photograph of Pike Place Market (in Seattle, USA) where Philippine coffee was being sold,” she said.

Sixty years later, Starbucks built its first store in the exact same spot where Philippine coffee was sold in the United States.

Together with Paris-based coffee expert Lacy Wood, Laurino ventured to the Philippines to experience its coffee culture and to personally meet local farmers. “Kalsada works closely with smallholder coffee producers to build quality,” she said.

Through these connections, Laurino has been able to source coffee from the Philippines and began exporting it all over the world.

Kalsada Coffee gives a new definition to third wave coffee production by being directly in touch with the farmers, and helping them improve their farming methods: They supply cheap and easy-to-maintain tools, such as drying beds, to increase the value of their coffee.

 

A farming bed supplied by Kalsada Coffee. (Courtesy Kalsada Coffee)

 

 

In less than two years, Kalsada has inked partnerships with five producers from Benguet and Mountain Province. Their coffee has been so well-received by coffee drinkers that their products were even sold out during the holidays.

Kalsada has also partnered with Uno Morato for “Good Food Sundays” and with Purple Yam in Malate. They also have a home-delivery service.

The team began 2015 with a Kickstarter project that aimed to raise $15,000 to further invest in infrastructure for their farm partners, such as a micro-washing station that will help save time and effort.

The Kickstarter project, which ended yesterday, received $18,056 from 231 backers, far surpassing their goal. Local coffee fans have also welcomed their initiative with open arms.

“We arrived at the beginning of the growing specialty coffee scene in Manila and were happily surprised by how receptive and open locals were of tasting our coffees and listening to our stories of our farm visits,” Laurino said.

For now, Kalsada has their eyes set on production, focusing on training farmers and supplying specialty coffee.

“We are focusing our efforts on the farm level, up to roasting coffee in order to reinvest in more quality building and training efforts as well as being able to supply coffee to the ever growing specialty coffee shops in and around the city,” she said.

 

 

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