“Philippine specialty coffee is our best-kept secret, and we should stop keeping it a secret.”

Iona Fresnoza, cofounder of Kapé Coffee, first met Ate Marivic, president of the Balutakay Coffee Farmers Association Cooperative (BACOFA) at, The 2018 Specialty Coffee Expo, in Seattle.

“I was so happy to see that there was a booth about Philippine coffee, I met her, and she gave me samples of their coffee from their cooperative. I brought the beans here to Vancouver, roasted them and it was great. I stayed in touch with Ate Marivic and I told her, ‘This is the quality of coffee that we are looking for from Philippine coffee growers.’” 

Fresnoza had always been partial to Cordillera coffees, a region in the north of the Philippines. “Because I was born there, I am always a fan of the coffees that are coming from our region but Ate Marivic’s coffee was really astounding. I said I have to go there, and I have to show the world that there’s coffee that is really delicious, coming from the Philippines.” Following their initial meeting in Seattle, to Ate Marivic’s surprise, Fresnoza travelled to the BACOFA Co-operative in Bansalan. 

After a three-hour drive down some pretty rough roads, Fresnoza arrived at the farm. Located in the foothills of Mount Apo- the highest mountain in the Philippines- the farm is rich with volcanic soil making it ideal for growing coffee. 

“When you go to Ate Marivic’s community, the humidity is high and it’s very cloudy. That’s where the coffee gets its shade. Compared to coffee farms in Benguet or in the Cordillera region where coffee trees are planted with other trees to shade them, in BACOFA, they rely on the clouds for the natural shade.”

The production at BACOFA is a community effort, “Even young people in the community get involved in harvesting. They're the ones who get hired to pick the coffee cherries.” The processing of the coffee is left to the more knowledgeable members of the community like Ate Marivic and her sister-in-law, Ate Marie-Luz. They also hire women per hour from the community to help with sorting after the crop is picked. “More and more their co-op is growing. There's more production and there's more consistency because there is now a team of individuals in their co-op that does the processing.” 

For the future, Fresnoza hopes that the BACOFA can expand their farms and bring in more producers to be part of the co-op. “For us, success means that their livelihoods prosper as well. We're doing this for the sustainability of livelihoods, generation of sustainable income for farmers, and something that they can pass on to the next generation. I think one of the key outcomes and success stories that has come out of this is that Ate Marivic’s daughter is now inspired to take on coffee farming and follow in her mother's footstep.”

Philippine Specialty Coffee:

The Kapé coffee featured in Issue 8 of The Roasters Pack is a collaboration between Ate Marivic and Ate Marita. Ate Marita grew the cherries and Ate Marivic processed them. 

Philippine coffee is still quite rare. Fresnoza finds that people typically associate it with a strong, dark taste. This is because they are most acquainted with Barako or Liberica coffee- two common varieties found in the Philippines. “The term Barako if you translate it to English is similar to burly, someone who’s burly and strong and muscular and really tough.” Ate Marivic and Ate Marita’s coffee is light compared to these varieties and is a good representation of Philippines specialty coffee. “It has a clean finish, chocolatey, it’s approachable.”  

The high humidity in Bansalan makes it challenging to dry the beans, so they opted for a semi-washed process. This process gives the coffee a medium body with a clean finish. “It’s like chocolate-coated raisins, it’s something so delightful but not too crazy that you can have it anytime.” 

What is Kapé Coffee?

Kapé is a social venture run by Fresnoza and her partner Paulo. The project was born out of a desire to stay connected to their homeland. It began with the pair bringing green coffee home in their backpacks and doing sample roasts. They are now an accredited coffee exporter in the Philippines, an importer and a small batch roaster in Canada. 

For their latest roast, they have acquired three new origins of coffee: one from Mountain Province and one from the Cordillera region. “It’s been hard to source coffee from there because the supply always just remains in the local community. They are not yet able to push higher, but last year we were able to say, yes, we can sell X amount of coffee to exporters. We are excited about the future of that.” 

Fresnoza was always committed to bringing coffee from her homeland here. She decided that it was better to have a brand that was able to showcase the stories of the farmers directly and allow them to build more sustainable and closer relationships with farmers. “The way that we’re doing it is, we work directly with farmers, no middlemen. So 100% of the profits go to them. In this model, they can earn four times more than they would in a regular market transaction.”

July 28, 2022 — Zara Snitman

Leave a comment

Please note: comments are reviewed and approved before they are published.