Domoguen: Selling Cordillera coffee as regional champion commodity

IN 2016, Fortune Magazine reported that the global demand for coffee was growing, and Americans were leading the way.

The report showed that “US coffee drinkers are consuming more of the brew than ever, sending global coffee consumption to an all-time high and prices for the beans soaring.”

In that same year, market analysts expected global consumption of coffee rising by 1.29 percent, with the US as largest consumer.

The Fortune report showed that the price for Arabica-coffee futures was up 20 percent in June, marking the biggest monthly gain since February 2014.

The price was about $1.4565 per pound, and Citigroup estimated that prices could reach $1.50 by the second half of 2017. Prices for Robusta coffee beans, which are used in instant coffee, are also up, gaining 4.2 percent in the middle of 2016.

The Fortune report did look into how coffee consumption increased or how Americans came to drinking so much coffee? The question has not occurred to me at that time when I was reading the report until we had a press conference to promote the conduct of the 3rd Philippine Coffee Conference here in Baguio City.

During the press conference, Gemma Ngelangel, owner of the Goldfish Brew and Brew, told the media during the question and answer portion for the panel, about bringing the best of the Cordillera’s roasted dark coffee beans to consumers. “Unless you love what you are doing, you cannot really do what is best for both producers of coffee and its consumers.”

Ms. Ngelangel has opened up coffee shops in Bontoc and Baguio City. She sources her coffee beans from farmers in Benguet and Mountain Province. Before Ms. Ngelangel came into the scene, Ms. Grace Agtina, owner of Golden Berries Hotel in Tabuk City has been the closest outlet of Kalinga coffee in Tabuk City. She has also been marketing her blends in Baguio City and elsewhere in the Philippines.

Like Ms. Ngelangel and Ms. Agtina, Mr. Oliver Oliem, Chairman of the Cordillera Regional Coffee Council has been bringing coffee from his coffee association (Atokape) in Atok, Benguet to consumers within the region and wherever they are invited by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to promote and sell their products.

During these trade fairs, Mr. Oliem and his group would brew their Arabica beans and people would line up to have a taste of the dark aromatic drink. I am informed that “Atokape” has opened a coffee shop and outlet for roasted Arabica coffee from the highlands of Atok in Baguio City.

Ms. Ngelangel and Mr. Oliem’s story brings me back to another story published in 2007 in the New York Times and other newspapers in the USA that perhaps serves as the right background to the increasing consumption of coffee in that continent. The story narrated why Alfred H. Peet, who died in that year, was credited as “the leader of a coffee revolution” in the US.

Alfred H. Peet, the son of a Dutch coffee merchant, pioneered a revolution in roasting exotic dark beans that led to America’s love affair with high end coffee, was how The New York Times report memorialized him when he died at age 87.

Also often called the “grandfather of specialty coffee,” Mr. Peet started his business in Berkeley, California, in 1966, with a single retail coffee
bean outlet that soon blossomed into a public company with 150 stores in 10 states.

Mr. Oliem would perhaps love this about Mr. Peet, as he continues to mentor others in the local coffee business. For like Mr. Peet, pioneers in the business serve as mentors and inspiration to other coffee entrepreneurs. In the USA Mr. Peet was well loved and remembered by many including the founders of Starbucks because of what he has done to make them prosper in the business of coffee retailing, brewing, and production.

In the other newspaper accounts, Mr. Peet was remembered as “guru of everyone in the gourmet coffee revolution.” The Atlantic Monthly said, “He was the big bang. It all started with him.”

Here are other revealing testimonies about Mr. Peet and how he changed the way a nation looks at coffee, thinks about coffee, and drinks coffee. Before “everybody was drinking coffee that came out of a can,” said Ms. Waters, who credits Mr. Peet with introducing her to quality coffee. “He was a purist rooted in the European tradition. He taught us a new way to look at food, wine and coffee — paying attention to the preparation, the ritual, and understanding how the beans and ingredients were grown.”

Mr. Jim Reynolds, a buyer and roaster at Peet’s since 1984 and who holds the title roastmaster emeritus, has testified that before Peet came into the business, “America had a reputation, internationally, as having coffee that tasted like dishwater.”

Clark Wolf, a restaurant consultant, credited Mr. Peet with almost single-handedly helping the American consumer appreciate the dark roast blend.

“He got us to embrace deep, rich flavors,” Mr. Wolf said, “and so had a huge influence on much of what we value in food, coffee, and wine today.”

Starbucks owes much of its success to Mr. Peet, who trained its founders and supplied its coffee when it first opened in 1971. “He generously shared with us how to cup, to roast, and to blend, and instilled his uncompromising standards,” said Jerry Baldwin, a co-founder of Starbucks.

The original Peet coffee retail shop is still thriving in Berkeley near the University of California. It was the first of four Bay Area retail shops. Despite his influence on Starbucks, Mr. Peet chose to keep his company modest in size, even after it went public in 2001.

In some ways, Mr. Peet’s story suggests how we must promote the consumption of coffee in our own country.

If I heard it right, the Philippines is now the 5th coffee consuming country in the world, 4th total importer of the beans, and the first importer of soluble coffee. That is an offense to local farming. We must produce and drink our own coffee, which is among the best. We even sell our coffee to multi-national corporations and in return, import coffee? Let us have more Mr. Oliems, Ms. Agtinas, and Ms. Ngelangels serving as outlets of highland coffee among our people, and the world.

To beat importation, we must respond to the consumers’ most persistent question: “Where do we buy local coffee beans, brews, and roasted beans?” In Baguio City, the only outlets for coffee (from all over the country and even Asia), are those at the Hangar Market and SM. That says something about how we promote the commodity. The local and global demand for coffee is high but it does not automatically translate into profits and benefits for the local coffee industry. With that in mind, it does matter how we promote our coffee to our people.
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