Domoguen: The Cordillera Cloud Forest in my coffee cup

Mountain Light

TABUK CITY, Kalinga -- (Part 1 of a 2 series article). The best time of the day for me during every visit here is early in the morning before the hot sun rises.

It is still 5:30 A.M. today and my mind and body are half asleep. At that state, I was reliving a wonderful dream. I was holding a cup of coffee on my hands and savoring the Cordillera cloud forest with it.

The dream came with images of our old cloud forest, in all its biodiversity, becoming a monocrop. With the old forest, coffee was grown with the birds, bats, bees, and butterflies. I awoke from the dream when I saw myself spewing sun-grown coffee from a cup that tastes like burnt plastic.

Coffee, it wasn't always what it is today. According to experts, it was not doing any harm from the day it was discovered in Ethiopia, and its early plantings in the Middle East, Europe and finally Latin America in the 1700s. Slowly, it became a sun-grown monocrop that is managed with the use of chemical inputs and machines.

Here in Kalinga, I relish the thought that the crop’s traditional cultivation techniques still existed in harmony with its environment and continue to help sustain biodiversity. That contributes to its unique flavor, and I look forward to having my first cup of “Kalinga Blend” coffee later today.

Still wearing my bed clothes, I hop into my slippers and walk towards the lobby of the Golden Berries Hotel.

As usual, the guard at the door nodded his greetings and let me out of the door.

From the hotel, I walked across the road towards the rice fields, to get a reinvigorating fill of the fresh morning scent of earth and grass.

It is really a good thing the Golden Berries Hotel is among the usual venue for the events we undertake with our local government unit (LGU) partners and/or the local farmers.

It is our second day and after the field conditioning walk in the rice fields, a nice relaxing time savoring the hotel’s not so ordinary cup of coffee awaits.

The “Kalinga Blend” coffee is prepared by the hotel’s lady barista and her assistants.

I do not know about Starbucks, but out here, this coffee brew is better. It is a good, semi-strong coffee and yes, sipped in a good atmosphere.

Seeing me settle into my usual chair beside the pool, today’s barista, silently prepared and served my coffee in a big mug to save on smiles and cups to wash. Actually, they want to leave me alone with my reflections.

Ms. Grace Agtina, owner of the Golden Berries Hotel is also the proprietor of “Kalinga Blend.” She knows her coffee and trained her employees to procure and brew it well.

I imagine today’s barista adeptly employing chemistry and physics principles in brewing my coffee. It was great. I asked her what else makes for a good coffee brew, besides her skills.

“Why, good quality coffee beans,” she said, and added that the most knowledgeable on the subject is Ms. Michele Vargas. She handles the procurement of their coffee beans with the farmers.

Later in the day, during a break in our meeting with our local government unit (LGU) partners, I sought out Ms. Vargas to find out if she can share some good practices and secrets about their business.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) through its High Value Commercial Crops Development Program (HVCCDP), special foreign-assisted projects, and its bureaus (BPI and ATI), with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), State Colleges and Universities (SUCs), among others, are providing development support to farmers, in a bid, to create a viable coffee industry in the region, which has yet to take root, in spite of its great promise in improving the lives of farmers.

In Kalinga Province, coffee (Coffea sp.) is a small understory tree or shrub that is traditionally grown amongst forest trees, in the shade. Some farmers have started growing it as a monocrop in the sun.

I told Ms. Vargas that “Kalinga Blend” is such a good quality coffee until now because she has been sourcing their green beans from farmers who grow it in the forest.

Surprised, Ms. Vargas informed me that yes, she procures their coffee beans in areas where these are grown as understory shrubs in the forest.

She added that over the years, she noted that local coffee grown as a monocrop has lost their usual caramel and earthy flavor, commonly associated to coffee grown in the place.

I seem to understand what she meant having tasted coffee grown under pomelo trees in Davao that has citrusy flavor.

I wonder if Ms. Agtina realizes that by simply brewing her “Kalinga Blend” coffee, all these years, she has been helping not only the local farmers but also contributes to conserving biodiversity in the forest of the Province of Kalinga.


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