Centuries of Arabica Coffee-A A +A
Monday, January 28, 2013
A KEENER writer with time to spare should do a rewrite and expand this article into a book. I had dreamt of doing this since I came to liking Arabica coffee right after college. It has remained a dream until now.
I tasted my first arabica coffee brew in Fedilisan, Sagada, Mountain Province. It was roasted black in a frying pan and hand pounded into minute nuggets. The first kettle brew has a great liquor flavour and mild to the taste buds. It can be re-boiled thrice. Beyond that, the taste is rather bitter, the sip is flat.
The coffee in Fedilisan is called Typica, a variety of Coffea arabica. It is the same variety earlier planted in many towns of Benguet, more particularly in Kabayan. The Typica coffee grown in Fedilisan became known as Pidlisan coffee. Those grown in Benguet were also popularized as Benguet coffee. It would be interesting to trace how Typica coffee came into our shores, and ultimately grown in the highlands. There should be historical documents somewhere to validate the stories we hear about the Typica being brought to the country by the Spaniards through Mexico as part of the Galleon trade. I heard it was first planted in Kabayan, Benguet before it was distributed elsewhere in our highlands. I am informed that centuries-old Typica coffee tree stands are found in this municipality until now.
There are several Coffea arabica varietals with “typica” and “bourbon” considered to be the first coffee varietals. All the other varietals are believed to be products of these two cultivars.
As of late, I heard several bean types of Coffea arabica that are being promoted by businessmen to our highland farmers. Even government operatives seem to have taken to the sales talk. I would presume the following Coffea Arabica bean types are already growing somewhere in the Cordillera highlands: Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai (a cross between Caturra and Mundo Novo), Mundo Novo, Catimor, San Ramon, and Blue Mountain. There may be more that I am not aware of.
Certainly, I am not against the business sales pitch or promotion of Coffea Arabica varietals even if more often than not, business assume too much about the superiority of their products.
First it is not about the varietals being sold as all Arabica and growing those with the highest yield. Even if the claim was derived from the cultivar’s performance in our highlands, I would still think about a lot of factors before allowing new crop cultivars to invade the land.
To me, it is still about the typica cultivar and the Cordillera. The quality of its taste does not only reside in our tongue. It is the base from which the other coffee varietals were produced. And it is true that in terms of cup quality, Typica is still the best there is in excellence.
It can be argued that given the limitations of agricultural lands in our regions, we must grow those that have the highest yield. I will not dispute the soundness of the claim and that still remain to be seen. Given the way coffee is grown here, I maintain Typica should be our first choice in production and product development. I pray its genes, very much a part of mountain existence, will not be lost and replaced just like the way we lost our native rice cultivars. In our rice paddies, we cannot grow high yielding rice without paying the price from seed to bowl and even its effect to our health. High yield or quality, I will stick with the legacy of the Galleon trades.
There are still several reasons why we must promote and enhance Typica coffee production in our highlands. The courage for that claim emanates from the crop’s native(ness) to highland conditions and the seed-to-cup wealth of technologies developed by the Benguet State University (BSU) for this coffee bean type. The coffee can be grown under pine and partial shade of our watersheds. The lectures delivered by BSU Professor Valentino Macanes reveal how coffee plants can readily adopt to organic production too. The income to be derived from this livelihood begins on the third year and increases every year up to ten years when it is time to rejuvenate the coffee trees, he said.
Given our problems on climate change, food production, livelihood and the need to enhance our mountain green covers, the time to pay attention to growing Arabica coffee has come of age. Please contact the Benguet State University for the science and profitability of growing coffee in our highlands in our times.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on January 29, 2013.