A trip to coffeeland

With ripe coffee cherries. [Photo by Roger]

With ripe coffee cherries. Photo by Roger

My first encounter with a coffee plant was in 4th grade, when our teacher, Mrs. Abragan, ordered me and a classmate to go look for some branches for the class Christmas tree. Candidates were that of a jackfruit, or coffee, coz they branch out beautifully. We saw the coffee tree first. So we cut it. It didn’t cross our mind that there has got to be an owner somewhere. When the farmer saw us, he unleashed his dogs. We ran as fast as we could, the coffee tree in tow. I had to jump through a barbed wire as high as my chest, and hurdled it easily. My slippers didn’t even let go in the mud. So that afternoon, our class had a Christmas tree!

I’ve seen coffee trees since then, the most of them was during a trip to Patikul in Sulu island summer of last year. The coffee culture in Sulu goes way back, maybe coz Sulu has among the oldest history in the Philippines, and the Tausugs’ trade with the rest of Asia is well documented. There, they won’t offer you soft drinks as in the rest of the Philippines; they’d offer coffee instead. But really sweet coffee, poured into your cup from large kettles. The coffee trees were just along the highway, the road connecting Patikul to capital Jolo. As far as I could tell, they were of the Robusta variety. They appear to also just grow everywhere, not really farmed. But going to a coffee farm in a place like Sulu just didn’t cross my mind, and I have no plans, too.

Since getting into this hobby, I’ve long wished visiting a coffee farm. If I’ve been chasing green coffee beans all over Mindanao these past two years, naturally the next move would be visiting coffee farms.

The opportunity came when I met, online, a coffee grower from Bansalan in Davao del Sur. Louie “Bebot” Puracan is a fireman in Davao City by profession, but his and his wife’s families are from Bansalan, which I’d say, with my little coffee knowledge, is the coffee capital of the Davao Region. To my surprise, late last year, I learned from coffee vendors in Pikit, North Cotabato (a place known for its coffee) that they actually get their beans from Bansalan.

Breath-taking view of Mt.Apo's peak.

Breath-taking view of Mt.Apo's peak.

I’ve since exchanged coffee beans with Louie the short time we’ve known each other online and through text messages — he has sent me his green catimor and civet cat coffees, and I’ve sent him my roasted Red Sea (from Yemen and Ethiopia) blend and beans from Brazil.

When I learned I’d have a meeting in Davao on Friday the 13th (in March), I texted Louie immediately, hoping for a meeting and talk coffee over, what else, a cup of Joe. He texted back he’d tour me in the coffee shops of Davao City because Davao has over 200 coffee shops. But, thanks but no thanks! “Can we tour your coffee farm instead?” I got a YES for an answer. The farm we’re visiting is situated at the foot of Mt. Apo, in a place called Ararat, in Barangay Managa.

So me and Louie and photohobbyist friend Roger (who joined me in the drive from my hometown in Iligan) started our drive to Bansalan on Saturday, before the sun could rise. We parked the car outside the Bansalan Fire Department, where everybody knows Louie. Only a 4×4 car could go up the farm, we were told. So bringing my wife’s diminutive Nissan March to the farm is out of the question. But a motorcycle with chains strapped on the rear tire could negotiate it, too, if the driver knows what he’s doing.

So it was Roger and I on one bike, and Louie and his sister-in-law on the other.

The road to the coffee farms.

The road to the coffee farms. That's Louie behind the driver.

Man, the road was so rough I could feel my brains vibrating, hitting the skull repeatedly a million times. You’d really appreciate how the motorcycle drivers negotiate the deep mud while keeping his balance with two passengers behind him. How I’d love to see the motocross champion of the world compete with Pinoy habal-habal (as the bikes with extension at the back are called) drivers in climbing up mountains with two or three passengers at the back, and one in front!

Approaching Mt. Apo, we had to tell the driver to stop so we could take pictures. The scenery is so beautiful with the vegetable and coffee farms below, and Mt. Apo’s peak above. That’s the country’s highest peak right before our eyes! We decided to take pictures knowing that clouds could cover mountain peaks anytime. True enough, the peak disappeared from our sights an hour or so later.

At the point where the bikes are of no use anymore, we walked another 30 minutes over a rolling terrain, past onion, carrot and cabbage plantations, under direct sunlight. But the climate there is cool, the scenery beautiful. I’d love to stay there for a week or so for some vacation.

Coffee trees amid onions.

Coffee trees amid onions.

Then we met Louie’s brother-in-law, Jimmy Ordaneza, who is running the five-hectare coffee farm, and taking care of the civet cats in poultry-like cages.

Louie’s farm, as well as the neighboring farms in Ararat, is planted with the Catimor variety. From what I learned reading about coffee online, Catimor is not really highly regarded in the specialty coffee industry, although Louie says Nestle really likes it. It is supposed to be a cross of the Caturra and Timor varietals, and has Robusta component. It has high yield even if only a few feet tall. The Catimors there are growing well under direct sunlight.

Jimmy and his ripe Catimors.

Jimmy and his ripe Catimors.

Louie said farmer in Bansalan used to plant Arabicas there, but stopped doing so when the price of coffee dropped so low years ago. There are still some taller Arabicas there, though the trees have not been attended to.

As I said, I’m no coffee expert, especially so in the growing of coffee. My only farming experience was in fifth grade, where I cultivated two garden plots measuring about 1×4 meters, which I planted with pechay, tomatoe and raddish. All I know about growing coffee are the stuff I read online — that the most priced coffees are of the Arabica variety (not Robusta), grown in high altitude (3,000 feet and higher), under the shade of taller trees, organic and bird friendly (meaning, no fertilizers nor insecticides used). These information, of course, shocked Louie and Jimmy. But I can’t really argue, coz I know nothing myself. I’m just a city dweller whose work mainly involves typing on a keyboard and clicking his camera out there in the field.

L-R: Me, Roger, Louie. Mt. Apo's peak behind Louie.

L-R: Me, Roger, Louie. Mt. Apo's peak behind Louie.

But I’m glad that Louie is receptive to these ideas about coffee farming. I’m sure he’s reading a lot online these days. Bansalan and the rest of the areas at the foot of Mt. Apo surely have the potential for a great coffee farm. They have the right altitude, as the altimeter on Roger’s watch said we’re around 1,300 meters (over 4,000 feet). As you can see in the picture, there are trees there, too, past the vegetable farms. Would be nice to explore that area for possible coffee growing.

As I’ve written earlier, I’ve roasted a small sample of Louie’s Catimor beans. While it didn’t shine as the Ethiopian and Yemen beans, it ain’t bad. I can drink it every day, unlike most of the coffees I got from elsewhere in the country.

If I were in the position to help Pinoy coffee farmers (calling on the government and donor agencies!!!), I’d love to bring them to Africa and South America to visit coffee farms and processing plants there. So they could observe the work firsthand, and talk to farmers to get ideas. After all, the Philippines is not in the world coffee map. A few ideas from the great coffee growing regions could be of much help to Filipino farmers.

But I’m just one promdi coffee hobbyist. All I can help is to spread this hobby, so that more of us (coffee shops included) will be looking for good quality local green coffee beans, hopefully direct from farmers so they could get a better price, much higher than what the compradors pay them.

Comments

11 Responses to “A trip to coffeeland”

  1. Mindanao Bob on March 26th, 2009 9:22 am

    Nice article ‘ngay. I wish that I could have visited Louie’s farm with you, but I’m afraid that trip would have been hell for me! It is truly a beautiful place, though.

    Actually, from the beginning part of your article, I am now having an itch to visit Sulu and see the coffee culture there! Maybe I can bring a cup of coffee to those Red Cross workers that are “stationed” there now! :lol:

  2. Bobby on March 26th, 2009 5:43 pm

    Sulu?! You better hurry! I should get to Dinagat sooner than you can get to Sulu. :-)

  3. Mindanao Bob on March 26th, 2009 6:44 pm

    I am writing this from Patikul now. Send help! Will trade for wild arabica!

  4. Bobby on March 26th, 2009 7:00 pm

    Hahaha! I doubt if they can grow Arabica there, coz there ain’t no mountain high enough. :-) You may have to settle with Robusta or Excelsa.

  5. Martin on March 29th, 2009 8:15 pm

    Hi Bob!

    What a great story and pictures. The trip looks like it was well worth the distance and rough roads. I agree with your thoughts on learning different coffee growing methods and practices from other parts of the world.

    Cheers!

  6. Bong on April 2nd, 2009 1:05 pm

    Bob,

    Nice story and nice photos. You have something good going on here :-)

    Bong Olaer

  7. jewel kho on March 5th, 2010 9:17 am

    im a student and wishes to interview mr. parucan for my research paper. can i ask for his contact number or his email address??

  8. Bobby on March 8th, 2010 10:33 am

    jewel, i passed your msg to him.

  9. zet sonza on March 25th, 2011 6:12 pm

    Was browsing around for websites about coffee when your blog caught my attention. Probably because I understood your invitation in Bisaya.
    Anyway, I’m no coffee connoisseur, just a farmer flicking through sites that would help me with my coffee plants. We don’t have a big farm really.

    You’re interesting to read, Bob. Keep it up!

  10. Bobby on March 25th, 2011 9:03 pm

    hey zet, can i buy maybe a kilo of your greens? i’d like to try coffee from all over. :-)

  11. zet sonza on March 26th, 2011 12:48 am

    haha how I wish I have even just a kilo to sell! We’re just starting. Not much to boast. Your blogs put you on a higher plane about coffee matters. I’m just a simple farmer who used coffee as an intercrop for bananas. Mister Donuts’ brewed coffee is as gastronome as it can be for me. :)

    Anyway, I will be reading your blogs and looking forward to more of them.
    Keep on brewing, stories and coffee!

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