As a big coffee fan—proud to say I’m not a snob— it’s a bit wearying to think that it’s so difficult to find good coffee in the Philippines when it has all these on its hands:
- One of the best Arabica beans in the world: that goes from Northern Cordillera to Southern Mindanao
- One of the best Robusta beans in the world: the largest chunk found in Central and Southern Luzon
- The perfect weather to enjoy coffee: with a half-and-half monsoon and dry season in the entire Philippines
- Affordable access to sugar: which goes with the Filipinos’ love for things sweet (unfortunately, usually not translated to everyday life)
- Love of good conversations—and gossip (although I think this is universal): with coffee as the perfect company to have you talk and stay sober
… And the list goes on and on.
So the question is, why?
- First off, it’s not unusual for kids to be taught that “caffeine is bad for you” because, 1) it will make you short for the rest of your life; 2) it will make you lose brain cells; and, 3) basically, it will make you dumb. I never had the chance to try this as a kid but I was given all the freedom to munch on chocolate bars and indulge in chocolate drinks. Looking back, I’m not even sure what adults meant when they said “caffeine is bad for you.”
- Also, as raw producers it is also not unusual for most people to never see where their produce goes and how inflated it gets. One kilo of Arabica beans costs PHP 270 (5.73 USD) in a commercial market (this is not even directly bought from the farmers), and when it gets to somewhere around the world, it gets reflavored and repackaged into 5 USD per cup lattes, or 30 USD per kilo packages. This may be one of the reasons why the Philippines, in general, is not fully aware of the coffee-making standards in the world—and this is not entirely the people’s fault, because as you will see…
- Let’s be honest: it’s a sad truth but in the Philippines, the difference between the rich and the poor is so stark that Poor Guy has to settle with flour-and-preservative-rich burger patties; and Rich Guy can just call the phone and have a thick pure beef patty delivered to his door. As a Filipino I feel embarrassed that I cannot do anything grand to make a difference on this one; but going back to coffee, this reality presents itself very well. When workers in the Philippines are not protected by law when they are paid below standards, it’s difficult to make coffee when you yourself cannot purchase the best on your own. And stingy people as the owners are, workers are expected to apply for the job having a training certificate in tow. When barista training is done just for the heck of it, and owners aren’t willing to train, there goes the cycle of bad coffee being the standard because there’s no use beating around it.
The day that we have better coffee in the Philippines is the day that we have addressed these societal differences. Bad coffee, just like any nuisance—poverty, discrimination, slow internet, traffic—is a symptom of a disease. While these things bother us we cannot just sulk in the corner and get mad at the bigger forces that made the world as depressing as it is. But being alive, being here every day, is a gift. To say “Thank you” to your local barista for his hard work, to say “Thank you” to the janitor who cleans your favorite coffee shop’s toilets, are little things we can do to be one step closer to finding the “how” to our “why.”
The “why” in bad coffee, therefore, does not stop here.