The search for local green beans

Guatemala Antigua green coffee beans

Guatemala Antigua green coffee beans

MAYBE it was a mistake on my part, getting a taste of the world’s best coffee first before trying the locally available ones. Because once you’re spoiled with the best, meaning, the top 5 percent of the coffee harvests of the world’s best coffee-growing regions, and you roast the beans yourself, and you know how to brew properly, you’d end up becoming a coffee snob. Really!

So I suggest you don’t commit that mistake, coz we’re talking “Achieving coffee nirvana at home ON A BUDGET” here. So let’s see what’s locally available.

In the Philippines, the four common coffee varieties are available.

Robusta is the one I see more commonly, because it can grow anywhere. This is disease resistant, can survive the hot climate in the flatlands. If you travel to the Philippine countryside a lot, the coffee trees you’re seeing in the lowlands, they’re most likely Robusta. I’ve seen Robustas everywhere — Jolo, Basilan, Bukidnon, Bansalan in Davao del Sur, Cotabato City, Pikit in North Cotabato. It tastes ugly, some say it’s only good to keep the troops and the truck drivers to stay awake, coz it actually has double the caffeine content than arabica. My palate and the rest of the world’s have long concluded that it’s not good coffee. But hey, if you’ve been drinking instant and brewed coffee from some shops pretending to be coffee shops, this may already be good enough for you. If freshly roasted, you may have the best coffee you’ve ever had. The Robustas I wanted to throw away, my friend Julius V. got them instead, and he swears he likes them, and his visitors who sipped his home-roasted coffee. The beans are smaller, rounder than arabica. They may be available in the public markets near you. Go to the market and ask around.

Arabica, as I said, is the coffee of choice, common in the highlands because it can grow only 3,000 feet above sea level and higher. So if you’re near places like Mt. Apo in Davao and North Cotabato, Mt. Pulag up North, or Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon, this bean should be common. I’ve seen some in Malaybalay in Bukidnon. Lots of them at the Baguio market. But I have to warn you that while this is the coffee of choice, not all Arabicas are equal. In fact, maybe 95 percent of them actually sucks, because of bad farming habits, because of bad processing practices. I’ve bought some from Bukidnon and Baguio, I got a “Wow!” once, and “Yuck!” the rest. While the Philippines may have the potential to have good coffee, as far as my experience goes, we’re not there yet. If you notice, we’re not even on the coffee map, and I’m referring only to the coffee map of the best coffees. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Wala. Wa jamu. Our neighbors in Indonesia, India and Papua New Guinea are there, but not us, not Malaysia, not Thailand, not even Vietnam, one of the biggest coffee producers.

Go find a decent green coffee bean vendor online and we’re not there. If you don’t know where to go, lemme help you — Sweet Maria’s, Coffee Bean Corral, and The Captain’s Coffee.

Arabica is usually bigger than Robusta, one side of the bean almost flat.

Barako beans from Mt. Banahaw: green (left) and roasted

Barako beans from Mt. Banahaw: green (left) and roasted

Liberica is popular in Batangas and Cavite, so I heard. The famed Barako is Liberica. This is the “big bean” referred to by some, coz they’re really bigger than the others. Many people really like this, coz this is known for its strong, pungent flavor. It also has this jackfruit smell. Here in the Philippines, in fact, when people see whole roasted coffee beans, they say, “Wow, Barako!” It’s not for me, though, and apparently not for the coffee connoisseurs of the world, too, coz Libericas are not commonly offered by green coffee bean vendors, nor by the famous roasted coffee vendors like Intelligentsia and Counter Culture. I’ve bought green Libericas from Mt. Banahaw in Luzon, roasted them at home, and I didn’t like it. I gave it to my next-door neighbor Tom, and he really liked it. His visitors liked it too. Diff’rent folks, diff’rent strokes.

Excelsa, or sometimes called “selsa” in the Cotabato-Davao area. I bought some greens at the Cotabato City market, but didn’t dare try it.

I did my own long search for the elusive good green coffee beans in many parts of Mindanao, buying and trying coffee beans from Basilan; Jolo; Malaybalay, Valencia and Manolo Fortich in Bukidnon; Davao City; Pikit in North Cotabato; General Santos City and Polomolok in South Cotabato; Bansalan in Davao del Sur — and even as far away as Benguet and Mt. Province from coffee suppliers in Baguio City. It must have been over a year of buying samples from everywhere. But I did not find good green coffee beans. Well, except once, when I got lucky with a Baguio supplier, but the rest of my orders from that same vendor sucked.

Go on your own journey, and search for the elusive good green coffee beans. But if you want a shortcut, I’ll show you one way I know.

In my own journey, both on the road and on the Web, I came across If you click the link, it’ll lead you to “Bote Central and Serenity Coffee.” [Ah, now I remember, my text mate Benson of Cebu (you’ll see him commenting here in my blog) pointed me to them.] They do distribute packaging bottles, and also the much publicized local version of Kopi Luwak, the Coffee Alamid, but that’s a long story for another blog post. Eniweys, I tried ordering from them, first Sultan Kudarat beans as Benson suggested, which I liked. I also ordered some Sagada beans, which I also liked.

So now I get all my local green beans from them. Every now and then I order half-kilo samplers from them, try the different beans, and order more of the ones I like. Although their clients are mostly large coffee shops, they accommodate nobodies like me who’d only order a few kilos at a time. I actually visited the couple Basil and Vie in their home and factory in Las Piñas. Nice people. Lots of coffee there, their employees separating the bad beans, Basil roasting on the roaster he made himself. They really do go around the country to check the beans, talk to farmers.

Their coffees could not yet compete with the best of the world, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed the Pinoy beans will shine some day. The coffees I got from them, I sent some samples to expert cuppers in the US, to my friends at GCBC. And yes, their verdict, they wouldn’t even bother scoring our coffees coz our beans are still not up to standard when talking specialty coffee. The Barako beans from Banahaw included. If I’m short on cash, I roast Arengga’s beans, and honestly, I can drink them every day. They still can’t compete with the Brazil Moreninha Formosa and Yemen Mokha Sanani beans I currently have now, and all the previous specialy grade beans I’ve tried, but at least they’re good enough for me. All my visitors agreed so far. There are many coffee shops I’ve been to that I couldn’t drink the coffee at all.

If you know another company doing what is doing, please leave a message in the comments below, so I could contact them and who knows, I can order a few kilos and like their beans, too.

Kape ta bay!


9 Responses to “The search for local green beans”

  1. Benson on December 19th, 2008 8:34 pm

    Bob, tan-aw nako wala pay makalabaw sa quality sa beans sa arengga. Naa koy sample gikan sa davao del sur, bati kaayo daghan ug laya. Gi-try nako ug roast murag camote ang lasa.

  2. Bobby on December 19th, 2008 8:35 pm

    Hahaha! I got some beans from Bansalan, Davao del Sur, too. Tasted more like Liberica. Camote, hahaha! Atta coffee!!! Yeah, for now, arengga’s our local green bean supplier.

  3. mariz on January 11th, 2009 7:47 pm

    ‘bay, sulayan nimo ang coffee beans gikan sa lanao sur? try it. i had my first brewed coffee in lanao sur but that was years ago. also try the coffee from east timor and PNG, maayo baya. I don’t know how easy it is to get them though. A friend of mine opened a coffee shop at CDO, local daw iyang suppliers.

  4. Bobby on January 11th, 2009 9:21 pm

    sa una bisag aha gikan basta kay brewed lami biya. lami gani starbucks katong virgin pa ko sa kape. but once you’ve tried specialty grade from the world’s best coffee growing regions, ay ambot, mahilas na man imong dila. nahurot na biya nakog libot ang mindanao pangitag hilawng kape. pero kung matapad man gud sa mga kape nga mapalit nako online (meaning, specialty export grade), di na man jud tawon makasukol ug sa merkado ra ka mamalit uy. PNG i have tried, and i like it. but not all PNG coffees are good; in fact, most of them sucks. katong mga top 5% percent ra man usually sa harvest ang maayo, bisag ahang nasud ka moadto. unya kining da best sa 1st world countries ra pud nimo mapalit kay mao may willing mobayad ug mahal. gikapoy na kog pangita lami nga local beans, gamay ra jud makit-an. safer to buy online kay nag undergo nag extensive cupping. daku pag trabahuon pinoy sa quality control. and remember that pinas IS NOT in the world coffee map. indonesia timor & png naa pa. thailand malaysia wa pud.

  5. louie on January 27th, 2009 10:30 am

    im from bansalan and i know by heart the quality of our coffee. FYI, the coffee variety bansalan is known for these days is neither of the above you have mentioned. we have our own farm and we have the catimur variety. catimur taste better than those coffee you have mentioned. if you want samples, i can send it to you for free just for you to know that our products are not kamote. for all we know, elevation plays the difference in coffee production. bansalan coffee farms are in the foothills of mt. apo.

    just check this out brod.

  6. Bobby on January 27th, 2009 1:44 pm

    Hey Louie,

    Glad to hear of someone who cares about his coffee, coz I almost do not see that here. Or maybe coz I just haven’t gone to coffee farms yet. My experience, though, is buying green beans from the markets all over Mindanao, including from those Chinese compradors in Bansalan. And since from the market, you can of course expect low quality. Now, I’d really be glad to check out your beans. And no, I don’t want freebies. Can you send me maybe half kilos of what you think are your best varieties? Maybe up to 3 or 4 different varieties, half kilo samplers? Tell me how much they cost, and how much to ship them to Iligan. No freebies pls, coz I’m no big coffee buyer. I buy only for home consumption. If you’re go, so we can arrange payment and shipment. My final test of coffee quality is sending them to expert cuppers in the US, some professional, some hobbyists. My way of helping to promote Philippine coffee coz, unfortunately, the Philippines isn’t in the world coffee map yet. What I’ve sent so far failed the test. We’ll see if they’ll like your coffees.

    Next time I pass by Bansalan, we should meet up.


  7. anna on December 4th, 2009 2:43 pm

    hello! ano bang klaseng lasa ng kape ang hianahanp mo? depende kasi sa klase ng kape at pagroast nakasalalay ang lasa ng kape. kaya maraming uri ng kape marami ring ibat ibang sarap ng kape..

    taga cotabato city ako, and roasted at ginigiling na kape ang munting negosyo ng pamilya ko. most of our customers particularly Muslims prefer strong coffee.

    we have four kinds roasted coffee:

    brown=ito yung excelsa na iniluto para sa mga mild coffee lovers.

    regular= (excelsa) ang tawag namin dito sa cotabato sa kape na may lasang katamtaman lamang at mabango ang amoy,at ito ang pinakamabenta sa apat na klase.ito rin ang kadalasang bibibili ng taga marawi at taga cagayan.

    sime ang tawag namin sa native roasted coffee na matapang na talaga ang amoy at lasa..

    black= naman ang pinakamatapang sa lahat,talagang mapait na masyado at ito rin ang pinakamatipid dahil kokonti lang ang ilalagay mo sa baso kasi tipid din ito.

    sana maktulong ako sa problema mo…thanks…

  8. Bobby on December 4th, 2009 6:57 pm

    ma’am anna, simple lang hinahanap ko — magandang klase ng hilaw na arabica na kape, at supplier na consistently may stock ng magandang kape. nasubukan ko na yung ibat-ibang klase (robusta, excelsa, liberica), di ko type. gusto ko ako mag roast, para matimpla ko kung anong roast dapat sa particular na kape, kung light ba, medium o dark. at sympre ako na rin maggiling, gina grind ko just before brewing.

    naka ikot ako sa palengke ng cotabato, nagtatanong sa mga nagbebenta ng kape (marahik isa ka don), kung saan nakakabili ng hilaw. sabi nila sa pikit. pumunta akong pikit, naghahanap ng hilaw, pero puro robusta ang maipakita nila. sabi ko may arabica ba, sabi nila, kung gusto mo ng arabica, punta ka supplier namin. saan? sa bansalan. so nag drive uli kami papuntang bansalan, at doon nakita ko ang karami-raming kape. bumili kami ng ilang samples. kaso lang, matapos kong i-roast dito sa bahay, at ng matikman, di ko type.

    ganon lang siguro talaga – kanyakanyang panglasa. pag di mo type, type naman ng iba. kaso lang, ayokong bumili ng marami pag di ko type.

  9. Bobby on December 5th, 2009 9:49 am

    ma’am ana, dito po ako usually nag-aabang ng kape na mabibili ko …

    medyo may kamahalan, pero di ka magsisisi at consistent ang sarap ng kape nila, hindi tsamba-tsamba. walang nasasayang.

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