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If you’ve been to Baguio City or browsed online stores, you must have come across shops selling Benguet coffee. Here is the thing though. Most of the coffee marketed as such are not authentic. In most cases, you may be buying imported beans disguised as Benguet coffee, a bad practice that its popularity has brought about. So it is best to trace the origin of your Benguet coffee or buy only from trusted sources.
Here is the fact. Benguet coffee is a rare find. That’s because these are produced by small-scale farmers in a limited volume. But it’s a special coffee that directly interlinks with the culture and history of communities in Benguet province. And certainly, it brims with a unique flavor profile that speaks of Benguet’s fertile and fascinating terrains.
In this article, we’ll show you everything you need to know about Benguet coffee.
What is Benguet Coffee?
Benguet coffee can refer to any coffee variety grown in Benguet province, located in the northern part of the Philippines. The original Benguet coffee variety is Typica Arabica which was introduced by the Spaniards. This variety later spread to neighboring provinces like Mt. Province and Ifugao.
Today, many Benguet farmers have adopted new species of Arabica such as Bourbon, Mundo Novo, San Ramon, Caturra, and others. A few also grow Robusta and Liberica in the lower elevations.
It’s the Arabica species, however, that defines Benguet coffee. As home to some of the highest mountains in the Philippines such as Mt. Pulag, and Mt. Tabayoc, Benguet has some of the best and most ideal growing conditions for Arabica coffee. It’s a fact that the higher elevation, the harder the coffee bean is produced. The Strictly Hard Bean(SHB) indication on a bag of roasted coffee, in fact, can only be indicated for beans that grow at elevations higher than 1200 meters above sea level. That is why Benguet is an SHB coffee, a suggestion of higher quality to coffee experts.
In Benguet, coffee farms have an elevation ranging from 1400 meters above sea level (masl) to 2000 masl.
Among the well-known Benguet coffee are those that come from the municipalities of Atok, La Trinidad, Tublay, and Mankayan.
What Makes Benguet Coffee Special?
Due to the high elevation of farming areas, Benguet coffee carries the typical characteristics of a high-quality coffee. It has a unique sweetness and acidity that reflects fruity profiles such as citrusy or lemony and while a darker roast brings out the chocolate flavor notes. Add to that the unique landscape where the coffee is grown. Mostly, the crop is cultivated under the shade of pines or alnos trees.
Farmers also take proper care of their coffee plants, ensuring that only organic materials are used in farming. They recognize that organic approaches bring out the best of their coffee. A clear reason for this is their being members of different indigenous tribes. For them, utilizing the land sustainably is critical to ensure their survival as a community and the future generations to come.
It is for that reason that most of their coffee farms apply agroforestry principles. In Tublay, for example, the farmers intercrop alnos, pine trees, and fruit-bearing species to diversify the farm and turn it into a self-sustaining ecosystem. They recognize that by doing so, they create an ecological wonderland that not only nourishes the coffee but also protects and restores local biodiversity.
The local farmers also implement standardized practices when processing their coffee cherries. Mostly, they follow the washed process if water is available for pulping the coffee fruits.
All these factors combine to make Benguet coffee, despite its rarity, one of the most sought after origins by coffee connoisseurs. Some of them even liken Benguet coffee to the globally acclaimed Blue Mountain Coffee of Jamaica and the Kona Coffee of Hawaii.
An endangered heritage food
Benguet coffee is facing gradual extinction despite its acclaimed flavour profiles and acidity. In fact, the Slow Food movement listed it in its Ark of Taste, an international catalogue of heirloom varieties that are endangered. Slow Food is an international movement which began in Italy and geared to advocating organic food and responsible consumption to protect the planet’s environment and biodiversity.
One reason for the inclusion in the said catalogue is because of the small numbers of farmers growing Benguet coffee, especially the Typica species. Many coffee farms have also been abandoned in favour of fast-growing cash crops like vegetables.
There has also been a lack of sustained policies or programs to support the local farmers in the past, thus, the shift. Many of them have quit farming altogether and moved to the nearby cities in search of the literal greener pastures.
Glimmers of hope for the Benguet coffee
All hope is not lost for the Benguet coffee.
In recent years, the Department of Agriculture (DA) in collaboration with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) stepped up their efforts to revive and revitalize the coffee sector in Benguet. They have organized different cooperatives in the farming areas to concretize their plans and ensure the sustainability and consistency of their coffee produce.
Even private sectors such as the Philippine Coffee Board Inc. (PCBI) have been supporting local producers through technical assistance. PCBI has also actively linked the farmers to marketing opportunities like exhibits and trade shows.
EchoStore likewise chipped in as a marketing platform especially for small-scale producers of Benguet coffee. Through this platform, the farmers can have easy access to the market with their story being highlighted in the campaign. With that, they can sustainably improve their livelihoods while showcasing their coffee story and culture to mainstream society. That is core to EchoStore’s social mission interlinked with environmental sustainability and women empowerment.
Consumers who also purchase Benguet coffee from EchoStore can also be assured that it is organic. Whilst not yet fully certified, the producers from Tublay, Benguet are currently undergoing the organic certification process of Naturland, an organization based in Germany that promotes organic production worldwide. Echostore is one of Naturland’s official partners in the Philippines.
Unlike other platforms, EchoStore also directly purchases its coffee from certified Benguet coffee producers to ensure authenticity and traceability.
If you’re a consumer…
If you’re a consumer, you can help in the preservation of Benguet coffee along with its rich history and cultural roots by purchasing from EchoStore. There’s more to that, you’ll certainly have a daily cup of quality coffee brews!