By Liwliwa Malabed

Coffee is a staple in Filipino households. And each cup has a story to tell.

Red Soil Cafe and Coffee Roastery’s story started with the biting cold of the highlands. The cold air makes the smell of coffee linger, the warmth of the cup spreads from your hands to your soul.

“We are coffee drinkers here in the highlands. We warm ourselves with coffee,” reveals Edgar Kawig, one of the owners of Red Soil Cafe and Coffee Roastery.

Red Soil Cafe and Coffee Roastery roasts on demand to ensure freshness of coffee.

Red Soil Cafe and Coffee Roastery is an independent micro roastery and café in Baguio City. It was established in 2018 and is managed by the Kawig siblings Edgar, Hector, and Krisha. One of their advocacies is promoting local products. Their menu boasts of Tamarillo cheesecake made from organic eggs then topped with homemade mango-molasses and Tamarillo jam. Tamarillo is a shrub locally grown in the Cordillera. The creamy, sweet, and tangy cheesecake is best consumed over coffee.

As for their coffee beans, they source them from local upland farms in Benguet, directly working with people whose lives revolve around the soil.

“We promote soil to cup quality of coffee. We try hard to source our coffee beans from farmers that practice good farming and produces quality beans, buying it to them at a fair price. Our terrain in the highlands does not allow farmers to mass produce coffee beans so the way for farmers to profit is through quality because quality comes with price,” Kawig shares.

The cool weather and the elevation provide the perfect conditions for growing Coffea Arabica. And Benguet is known for high-grade Arabica coffee beans. This is attributed to best practices of highland farmers in Atok, Itogon, Kibungan, La Trinidad, Tuba, and Tublay. The coffee trees are grown organically without the use of chemicals or pesticides. The farmers harvest only the ripe coffee cherries and dry them on elevated drying beds. This ensures ripe, arsenic-free beans.

Red Soil not only serves memorable desserts and single origin coffee but also sells freshly-roasted beans. They roast on demand for guaranteed freshness of the coffee beans. Their Arabica beans have flavor notes of brown sugar, fruits, citrus, nuts, and cocoa. This makes the coffee experience richer and more interesting.

But the hunt is not easy. Come November up to February, the Red Soil team would go around municipalities to look for quality beans.

Kawig, in a mix of Tagalog and English, tells of their coffee hunt, “Last harvest, we went door to door. When we run out of stock, we go to co-ops like Kibungan Arabica Coffee Growers Multipurpose Cooperative because that’s where the farmers sell their beans, especially those who don’t have access to the main roads. Some farmers bring the beans straight to the shop. Some are microlots. Instead of selling them in the market, if their beans are nice, we buy them at a good price.”

Red Soil Cafe and Coffee Roastery have partnered with cooperatives and farmers from nearby municipalities. Together with a group of people in the coffee industry comprising of roasters, farmers, and café owners, they help each other promote quality coffee sourced locally.

Mrs. Dong-e, a coffee farmer, maximizes her profit by having her coffee roasted at the Red Soil Cafe and Coffee Roastery. She then packages and sells the roasted coffee.

“We are part of a world movement promoting artisan or quality coffee over instant sugar concoction masquerading as coffee. It is hard to market freshly-roasted local coffee in a country dominated by instant coffee drinkers. We dream to be like Brazil, where there is a demand for fresh, whole roasted coffee beans in the market. There is also a shortage of local coffee beans so the Philippines imports from other countries like Vietnam and these beans are cheaper than our local coffee. That is another challenge in promoting local coffee.”

Red Soil Cafe and Coffee Roastery is not only a venue for showcasing and marketing coffee products. Some coffee farmers, aside from selling their beans to Red Soil, also have their coffee roasted in the shop. The farmers then package and sell these as roasted coffee for additional profit.

Fueled by their passion for coffee, the Red Soil team continues to enrich their knowledge by taking courses such as Barista 101, Coffee Roasting & Cupping and attending Seed to Cup training. They plan to adopt a coffee farm and provide farmers the equipment and tools they need so they can produce world class quality coffee.

So have a cup of Red Soil Coffee and enjoy the stories it brings: the story of growing up in Kamog where the soil is red, the story of a farmer from Tuba who has been cultivating their backyard since childhood, and the stories of the people of the mountains.

For more information, visit The Red Soil Coffee on Facebook

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s November 2019 issue.