Improving Coffee Quality in the Philippines

By: Lisa Conway, CQI Operations Director


The Philippines has a rich history of coffee—in fact, it was one of the world’s top coffee-growing nations. Arriving in 1740, coffee spread throughout the Philippines in the ensuing decades, and by the 1860s was being exported to America. In 1880 the Philippines was the fourth-largest exporter of coffee behind Brazil, Africa, and Java, and when coffee leaf rust hit those nations, the Philippines became the world’s top exporter.

However, coffee leaf rust hit the Philippines in 1889, destroying nearly all the trees in Batangas, one of the country’s top coffee-producing areas. Within two years, coffee production was reduced to a sixth of its original amount, and many coffee producers shifted to other crops. The crop rebounded a bit in the 1950s, as the Philippine government brought in more disease-resistant varieties, and favorable market conditions in the 1960s brought more farmers back. Today, the Philippines produces about 200,000 60kg bags—a significant amount, but far from its peak production.

There are, however, dedicated coffee professionals passionate about improving the Philippine coffee industry. The Southeast Asian country composed of 7,000 islands possesses the natural growing conditions—including temperate climate, high altitude, and weather patterns—capable of growing world-class coffee.

Improving coffee quality in the Philippines was the focus of a recent three-year project in partnership with Coffee Quality Institute and development nonprofit ACDI/VOCA, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The project, titled Mindanao Productivity in Agricultural Commerce and Trade (MinPACT), aimed to improve coffee quality, knowledge, and value for the growth and development of the Philippine coffee sector.

Here are three ways the project made progress toward those objectives in supporting the development of the Philippine coffee sector:


Providing cupping training and developing Q Graders

A key element of fostering an understanding of coffee quality in the Philippines is developing coffee laboratories to evaluate coffees using internationally recognized standards and protocols. The Barista Coffee Academy of Asia (BCAA) and its associated trade company Equilibrium have been a key partner in this regard, successfully completing Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) lab certification for their Manila and Davao labs.

Cherry Cruz, owner of BCAA and Equilibrium, says that working with SCA and CQI has been a necessary step toward providing relevant and current coffee education to their students. “Having an SCA lab is just one of the many steps we are taking to provide students with world-class coffee education,” Cherry says. “Such a lab provides the venue for future SCA- and CQI-sanctioned classes and helps us stay on par with global coffee education and trends.”

At these labs and other locations, the project also sought to train cuppers in the Philippines to earn their Q Grader certification, CQI’s globally recognized accreditation that allows international coffee professionals to speak a similar language around quality. Over the three years of the project, our cupper training reached diverse sectors including coffee laboratories, schools, government agencies, trade associations, social organizations, producers and producer groups, roasters, retailers, import and export trade, and universities. The project delivered 19 cupping courses in three years, with 220 individuals receiving training. Of these students, 146 took the rigorous Q Course, and 67 became licensed Q Graders: 36 Q Arabica Graders and 31 Q Robusta Graders, far exceeding the project’s original targets.

These Q Graders are now in the position to represent quality production and standards across sectors. They can also provide producers with feedback to trade their product on cup quality and value.

Improving quality

While upping the quality of Philippines coffee was a main focus of the project, it was fortunate that the country already has several unique strengths as a coffee origin, including abundant natural resources and distinctive microclimates, a large population with huge economic potential, a long history of coffee cultivation, and great academic institutions.

The project aimed to capitalize on and enhance these attributes, largely through supporting Philippine coffee farmers to improve the quality of their crop—they have the potential to grow both fine robusta and specialty arabica. The project supported ACDI/VOCA’s technical extension work and included sector analysis and recommendations, agronomic and post-harvest handling consultations, and contributing to a quality practices and standards guide specifically for the Philippines.

Cherry Cruz of BCAA says the project is integral in helping to build on the strengths the country’s coffee sector already has. “The Philippines is blessed with heirloom coffee varieties. We have the microclimates in various locations in the country capable of producing different taste profiles in the cup,” Cherry says. “Our farmers just need to elevate their quality orientation in terms of farm maintenance and post-harvest protocols. This is being addressed now … our farmers are being reached out to and provided with the needed farming education.”

Building market linkages and awareness

With efforts to improve and recognize quality well underway, another key measure to strengthen the Philippines coffee sector is building global awareness of Philippine coffee and markets for the country’s farmers to sell their coffee.

The project aimed to address this in one key way by strengthening the Philippine Coffee Board to be a cohesive organization representing Philippine coffee interests in domestic and global markets. Pacita Juan, president and co-chair of the Philippine Coffee Board, says the organization is eager to show the world the quality potential of coffee from the Philippines. “Our coffees have never been better,” she says. “Since the first Kape Filipino green grading competition, farmers now look forward to more events to show off the improved quality they can achieve with better post-harvest processing.” The Kape Filipino competition has since been rebranded to the Philippine Coffee Quality Competition; now run by the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) and the Department of Agriculture (DA), the competition had its first installment in March 2018 and is expected to return in 2019.

The project supported additional efforts to build market linkages and awareness of Philippines coffee, including:

- CQI, in partnership with the Philippine Coffee Board, helped design and implement two consecutive green coffee quality competitions to develop and promote the production of high-quality specialty arabica and fine robusta coffees. The winning farmers of each competition were awarded a trip to the SCA Expo in Seattle, where they met with international buyers and learned about the importance of quality to buyers.

- In 2017 and 2018, CQI supported representation of MinPACT stakeholders at the SCA Expo in Seattle. Activities in both years included promotion on the show floor as well as a CQI-curated public cupping for a targeted list of international buyers and trend spotters. These cupping events introduced global coffee buyers to the Philippines as an emerging origin for arabica and robusta coffees.

Specialty coffee from the Philippines is on an upward trajectory, and the recent MinPACT project has played a key role in improving quality and giving local coffee professionals information on which they can build. “Though we have a lot more room for improvement, we have specialty arabicas and fine robustas that can be exported as micro-lots to give the world a taste of our coffee,” says Pacita Juan of the Philippine Coffee Board. “We are encouraging our young people to continue our coffee traditions and promote coffee production and propagation, so they can carry on what we have started. We are thankful to CQI for finding that rough diamond of Philippine coffee and making it shine through the expertise of the world’s best teachers and experts on quality coffee.”

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