From Coffee Farm to Coffee Cup in the Philippines
As with all digital transformations, the first step is to wholly understand the current process. Therefore in March, I embarked on the first of two planned trips to the Philippines to visit our blockchain partner, Kalsada Coffee, a Philippine and US based coffee company. The goal of this trip was to better understand the entire coffee supply chain process so that Yave.io, a coffee blockchain traceability startup,can map out the digital workflow.
From Japan, the trip to Kalsada’s farming community took 24 hours and required three modes of transportation: plane, train, and automobile (bus and jeepney). Though it never felt long because my traveling companion was an awesome Field Officer from Kalsada who, on numerous occasions, saved my life from incoming traffic. The first leg of my trip upon landing in Manila was a 7-hour bus ride to Baguio (1500 masl) — the closest major city to Sitio Belis (1700 masl). From Baguio, we transferred from a coach bus to the local jeeps— the iconic mode of public transportation throughout the Philippines.
Two hours up a winding mountain road later, we arrive at Sitio Belis, an area made up of about 70 integrated small-holder farms. Integrated here means that the farms produce a variety of crops, one of which is coffee. According to Kalsada, while this farming community currently produces about 5 metric tons of green beans, there’s definitely a push to grow much more. It’s commendable to mention that through Kalsada’s symbiotic relationship with the farming community (Kalsada in some ways, resembles a co-op, but is a privately held company); new concrete roads were paved; new drying stations were constructed; a new pulper (a great story on its own if you ever have a chance to grab coffee with the Kalsada founders) was purchased; and most important of all — international market access for Philippines coffee.
During my two days on the farm, Kalsada and the farmers were generous to share with me their coffee process. One story that really stuck with me was how Kalsada supports the local elementary school by purchasing coffee cherries surrounding the property to help fund fieldtrips and school supplies. It’s important to mention that Kalsada also pay farmers a much higher price for their coffee than the New York C-Price.
On the farms, women play a major and active role in the coffee process. The processing labour to turn cherries into green coffee is predominantly handled by the women in the community. Fascinatingly, 90% of the farmers delivering cherries to Kalsada mills are women — some even traveling 2km up steep foliage trails with a basket full of cherries (Kalsada pays an additional premium for the distance they travel). By providing women with employment opportunities and access to knowledge and skills, Kalsada is empowering them with sustainable livelihoods, improved economic security and an increased ability to participate actively in decision-making.
With increased income from Kalsada’s higher prices and wages for processing work, I can now send my children to school. — female coffee farmer Kalsada sources coffee from
Not without challenges however, several well-documented issues that affect the productivity of Philippines Coffee also affect the farming community in Sitio Belis, including:
- lower than optimal yield, due to insufficient adaptation of modern farming techniques (e.g. pruning, pest control, etc.)
- availability of technology and tools to improve labour-intensive processes like pulping, washing, sorting, etc.
- competition for planting acreages with other cash-crops that yields more often and require less maintanence than coffee (e.g. Chayotes and other market vegetables
In speaking with Kalsada, they are tackling these areas head on in their three-ear plan to:
- build structures that are suitable for the steep terrain and climate of the area
- develop financial literacy programs for farmers so they learn how to be better agripreneurs
- pilot a model farm project that will showcase the best agricultural practices to adapt in the area
At the Third Annual Philippines Coffee Conference, I was fortunate enough to meet innovative industry leaders, agripreneurs, non-governmental organizations NGOs, and scholars in the industry. What a great feeling it is to be surrounded by such passionate folks that want to put Philippines coffee back on the map as a major coffee producing nation. One interesting story involves a professor’s research on catching counterfeit civet coffee. For the unfamiliar, the civet is a kind of forest cat found in Southeast Asia. Coffee from civet is harvested after the cherry is ingested and digested. Not one to shy away from social impact opportunities, members of Kalsada have also started printing epic shirts to draw animal rights awareness for caged civets.
Anyways, back to the conference, it’s cool to see Philippine coffee cupping score well above the 80s and establishing itself into the “specialty category”. Coffee from the winning farm will be showcased at the first Philippines coffee booth at the 2018 Specialty Coffee Expo from April 18–22th in Seattle.
Back in Manila, I was invited to Kalsada’s office on Escolta Street in Binondo City. Despite being in the heart of Chinatown, the level of hipster-ness was extremely high and I say this in the coolest possible way! The panoramic photo below for example, is on the first floor in the First United Building where Kalsada is based. The whole building is always brewing with creative talent from designers, to architects, to coffee innovators :)
There is a 360 image here… but it might take a few seconds to load
While coffee is toll roasted off-site, the packaging (for domestic sales), business processes, and logistics are all handled at Kalsada’s office on Escolta Street. It was wonderful to meet the whole team and, yes, not only did I help with packaging, I also did my best to stay out of their way!
To finalize the coffee process, we toured some of their partner cafes, one of which is Artesania, a designer furniture store and coffee shop. Here I also had the same Americano coffee sourced directly from the farm I stayed at in Sitio Belis.
Wow thanks for reading about my amazing week in the Philippines. My deepest thanks to everyone at Kalsada Coffee for hosting me on this coffee mapping process. I’m very humbled by the experience to stay with the farming community in Belis and to see how Kalsada sources their coffee. It was also amazing to connect with women entrepreneurs who are leading the push for advancement and transparency in the Filipino coffee industry.
Yave.io is a technology startup developing a blockchain system on Hyperledger to address the direct challenges of transparency in the specialty coffee supply chain -efficient traceable trade.
Kalsada Coffee is a US and Philippine-based coffee company co-founded by Carmel Laurino and Lacy Audry and run by a team of women entrepreneurs championing Philippine specialty coffee. Kalsada’s top priority is to support Filipino coffee producers and their dedicated efforts to bring quality coffee to market.
This trip was supported in part by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada research grant. Funding from which is backed by the Government of Canada, through APF Canada’s “APEC-Canada Growing Business Partnership” program.