By Antonio G. Papa

How important is coffee as an agricultural commodity? And how relevant is coffee industry in the lives of the Filipinos?

Coffee is today the second most consumed beverage after water, and the second most traded commodity after petroleum. In fact, it is considered as “black gold”, an asset of the Philippines.

Hence, the vision and mission statements of the National Coffee Research, Development and Extension Center (NCRDEC) of the Cavite State University (CvSU) in Indang, Cavite are very timely. NCRDEC envisioned the country “to be locally and internationally known for coffee research, development and extension programs.”

Its avowed mission is to strengthen research and development activities, and enhance the extension delivery system that will lead to increased productivity, sustainability, and global competitiveness of the Philippine coffee.

NCRDEC is tasked to bring Philippine coffee back to the world market.

Meanwhile, Dr. Patricia B. Licuanan, former chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and former chairman of CvSU’s Board of Regents (BOR), shared her insights as an educator and academician about the importance of coffee and the relevance of the Philippine coffee industry in the lives of Filipinos. The following are her thoughts on coffee, on coffee and the Philippine culture, and on the Philippine coffee industry.

On coffee and the Philippine contemporary life 

It cannot be denied that coffee is an essential part of many people’s lives, young or old, wealthy or poor. Millions of people worldwide wake up to a cup of coffee, whether enjoyed freshly brewed or instant, a jolt of caffeine is necessary to start their day.

As more people turns to coffee, there is the establishment of more coffee shops and cafés. On Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City alone, where I pass every day to and from work, Starbucks can be found in four locations. Add this to other international coffee chains in the area such as Seattle’s Best Coffee, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Costa Coffee, St. Marc Café, J. Co Donuts and Coffee, Kopi Roti, McCafe, as well as the homegrown brands like Bo’s Coffee, The Coffee Beanery, Cello’s Doughnuts and Dips, Sweet Inspiration Café, Banapple, and Conti’s.

Also seen on this popular strip are smaller coffee shops and cafés offering specialty or what they now call as artisanal coffee, such as Craft Coffee Revolution, Afters Espresso and Desserts, Third Cup Café, Cup Fiction, Common Folk Coffee Bar, Olivia’s Concept Café, Ella and the Blackbird, and many more.

Gone are the days when simple black coffee with cream and sugar will do. These days, coffee shops offer a dizzying assortment of types and concoctions, from Espresso (Short Black), Double Espresso (Doppio), Short Macchiato, Long Macchiato, Long Black, Café Latte, Cappuccino, Flat White, Piccolo Latte, Mocha to Affogato, or simply a shot of espresso served with ice cream.

Coffee aficionados are no longer impressed with these but also go for the trendy products like cold-brew (no heating involved, cold water gently draws out the good qualities of the coffee) and nitro coffee (cold-brewed coffee stored in kegs and mixed with nitrogen gas to produce a cold, silky drink with a creamy head similar to black beer).

This growing coffee culture seems to be driven by the millennials (ages 19 to 34) who continue to change coffee consumption patterns and behaviors. Research examining generational trends in coffee consumption revealed that the newer generation of coffee lovers is not contented with the coffee that their elders enjoyed. Millennials view “value” differently–not as price per ounce, but as brand’s philosophy, authenticity, and commitment.

Millennials will purchase coffee from companies that reflect their own values. Because of their high levels of individuality, they also prefer getting more customized coffee beverages.

Also, unlike in the previous generations where people prefer drinking coffee in the comforts of their own home, millenials nowadays prefer and regard coffee drinking as a casual activity wherever they are any time of the day. Millennials also tend to be more sophisticated in their coffee choices. As a result, they are able to experiment with new beverages and on coffee preparation methods.

Coffee in the Philippine popular culture

Coffee has a prominent role in Philippine popular culture. In Philippine media, literature and music, there is much reference to coffee and its role in people’s lives.

Coffee as a social class symbol. Coffee is often part of a production’s representation of the character’s social class. Depending on the kind of coffee and its combination– be it espresso with a croissant or 3-in-1 instant coffee with pandesal, its presence on the character’s table indicate where they are on the social class scale. In the longest-running comedy show during the ‘90s, Home Along Da Riles, Dolphy’s Kevin Kosme and Nova Villa’s Aling Ason characters, are repeatedly shown with their large family having kape’t pandesal for breakfast or kape at pansit for merienda at their small dining table in their shanty beside the tracks – which, if we all remember, wobbles when a train passes by. Indeed, in reality, coffee, along with various combinations such as noodles, rice, and bread, is a staple on most of Filipino families’ meal.

In literature, for instance, Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere regards coffee as a reflection of the Filipino culture and belief. In one chapter (The Picnic), coffee was referred to as one of the best beverages (alongside salabat) to be taken early in the morning before going to mass. It is believed to induce happy thoughts and lift the spirits, which when paired with galletas, is suppose to tranquilize brooding people.

Coffee as an element of narrative. Coffee, as an element of narrative, is also used in television (TV) and film as a punctuation for determining moments – such when a coffee cup shatters on the floor upon a revelation, or as an object that sets to motion an interaction or relationship. TV’s longest-running drama anthology, Maalaala Mo Kaya, has in fact two episodes called “Kape” – one episode narrates the story of a nurse secretly in love with her longtime co-worker, both characters having shared a cup of coffee in one of their interactions. The second, narrates the story of a battered wife seeking annulment who fell in love with her lawyer following their series of meetings at a coffee shop.

Coffee as a metaphor. Coffee is also often part of a characters’ lines as a metaphor for emotions, relationships, and perhaps for its taste when unvarnished, for bitter moments in life. In the two-decade running gag show Bubble Gang, a considerable number of skits are held at coffee shops.

One of the popular segments, #HUGOT (read as “Hashtag Hugot”) is set at a coffeeshop. “Hugot”, or pull in this context, refers to pulling out or drawing out emotions by passive-aggressive statements that have potentially deep sentimental or emotional undertones. In this segment, the characters are shown casually chatting over coffee and uttering quite funny “hugot” lines such as: “Itong kape, isang inumin na sa umpisa, mainit, tapos kapag tumagal, lumalamig. Para rin ‘yang relasyon eh – ang pinagkaiba nga lang, ‘yung kape, hindi siya tinatapon pag malamig na.” These “hugot” lines are followed by everyone in the coffee shop standing up and exclaiming “Hugot!”, then performing a dance. This perhaps portrays how youth or young adults today select coffee shops as venue for their conversations on love, partners, bittersweet relationships, and heartbreaks.

Coffee shops as a setting. One can site countless examples of the use of coffee shops as setting for scenes in shows, literature, and movies. They are utilized as a meeting place for the characters or a place they stumble into at moments of confusion, realization, or melancholy. Movies to wit are A Second Chance; That Thing Called Tadhana; Walang Forever; and English Only, Please.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2019 issue.