By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
Coffee has become an important element in starting one’s day. A fresh cup can awaken the senses and help many face the day. Apart from this, the beverage has a wide range of flavors and aromas that people can change according to their preference. Still, the taste of pure, quality coffee can speak for itself even without sugar, cream, and other additions.
This raw, unadulterated flavor is what makes Steven Ballantyne, a television producer and CEO of a film production management in Asia known as EPM Asia Ltd., passionate about coffee.
“I was leading an expedition in Papua New Guinea way back in 2003. The local guides collected green coffee beans from a farmer, roasted it on an open fire in a baked bean tin, crushed the bean with rocks and brewed in the same tin with river water. It was the first time I tasted pure coffee and I was absolutely hooked! It was at that moment I just knew I needed to grow coffee,” Ballantyne said.
Originally from the United Kingdom, Ballantyne explored several countries in search of the ideal spot to start a coffee plantation. Late in 2014, he travelled to the Philippines with his friend, Winifred Articona, an interior designer born and raised in San Pablo, Laguna.
When Articona introduced Ballantyne to local brew known as ‘kapeng barako’ and to the natural beauty of Batangas, the television producer partnered with Articona to start the coffee plantation that he was looking forward to.
By 2016, they had established Hinitan Plantation, a 10-hectare coffee and cocoa plantation, in Lipa, Batangas.
“We are situated on the steep banks of Taal Lake, Lipa, Batangas. When we started, the land was pure jungle. Today, we have a balanced combination of agricultural land alongside the jungle areas which we preserved to support the natural habitats of many species of wildlife living on the farm. This includes troops of Philippine long-tailed Macaque monkeys which are also featured on our company logo,” Ballantyne said.
As for its name, the top of the farm is known as Hinitan Ridge which also means ‘hot place.’ The television producer and interior designer were the first people to open up shop in this area, thus adopting the name of the place for their farm as well.
Preserving and promoting the liberica variety
From the beginning, Ballantyne shared that they chose to dedicate the farm to producing high quality ‘Barako Liberica’ which they thought to preserve and introduce to a global market.
Batangas coffee is the other name for barako coffee which is a coffee variety grown in the Philippines, particularly in the provinces of Batangas and Cavite. It belongs to the species Coffea liberica.
Liberica is listed by the Slow Food Movement in the Ark of Taste international catalogue of endangered heritage foods.
“Alongside wanting to preserve liberica species, I also wanted to explore how we could take this local brew to the international market and how we could produce the best quality coffee possible through careful management of not just the planting and tree management, but through to the processing and roasting,” Ballantyne said.
The co-owner of Hinitan Plantation hails from a family of farmers in Canada, but admittedly had absolutely no previous experience in the trade. To make up for that, he possessed a deep passion for coffee and a drive to create a coffee plantation where he considers everyday in it as a learning experience.
“We have a full-time, dedicated team whose constantly working across the farm to ensure each tree is carefully managed, and kept hydrated. Our farm manager, Joan Fernandez, maintains detailed records on each tree and constantly monitors them for any sign of disease or infestation which could cause long term damage to the entire farm if it went unnoticed,” the television producer and co-owner of the coffee plantation said.
Due to the size of the farm, Ballantyne and Articona engaged a team from Lipa, Batangas and a team from Bugkalo, Sierra-Madre, with each person bringing a wealth of farming knowledge and experience to manage all aspects of the farm, from planting to maintenance to design and layout.
Since Hinitan Plantation is founded on extremely steep land, maintaining it has been a constant challenge, initially during the principle planting period. But with terracing along with carefully planned paths and walkways, the area has become more accessible to the farmers there.
“Water, or the lack of it, was also a major issue. It was only resolved in 2019 when we drilled a deep water well, drawing water through volcanic rock, which naturally purifies. As a result, our trees are hydrated with high quality water which is a step closer to producing high quality beans,” Ballantyne said.
He added that in managing a coffee plantation, it is important to plan ahead, expect the unexpected and be prepared to seek out advice.
“The world of coffee is [like] a very close family and there is always someone who can help; you just have to reach out and ask. But ultimately, get your hands dirty, get to know your trees and the different areas of the farm as this can greatly impact the level of care and watering required,” he said.
A global market for a local brew
Since liberica or kapeng barako is not globally popular according to Ballantyne, they in Hinitan Plantation want the global market to be appreciative of the variety and its rich flavor. Presently, the plantation’s coffee products are available in Hong Kong at local pricing.
“Under the Hinitan band we are selling a range of coffee not just from our own farm but from across the Philippines, which we are extremely proud to promote. We also sell coffee from plantations across Asia including Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and Yunnan China,” Ballantyne said.
He added that they have just launched a range of chocolate products and some silver jewelry to reflect aspects of the farm, including a silver coffee Bean and a silver monkey which is on their brand’s logo.
Other than raising awareness for the coffee variety overseas, the co-owners of the coffee plantation are also keen on promoting the local coffee in the Philippines in support of the farmers as well as the preservation of the coffee’s quality.
“By supporting and buying locally, you are not just helping one farmer rather entire families and those around them. And locally produced coffee products are, in my opinion, far better in quality and taste as compared to mass produced ones,” Ballantyne said.
He and Articona are looking forward to seeing their products in stores across the Philippines come 2021.
“We are looking forward to welcoming guests in Hinitan Plantation. In 2021, we will be opening a restaurant which we have built on the farm,” Ballantyne said.
The coffee farm is also set to build guests houses over the coming years so that their guests can enjoy the full Hinitan experience.
For more information, visit Hinitan Plantation on Facebook.