Today’s coffee: Sagada single origin.
Photos provided by 18 Days Coffee Roasters
There’s always something new to look forward to when visiting 18 Days. A new featured blend, a new batch of beans to try, and new tidbits to learn about the craft from the baristas.
The best seat in the house is the bar area, where curious coffee drinkers can ask questions and watch baristas prepare drinks. On most days, you’ll find Jeremy in front of the roaster. Jeremy Catabijan is only 20-years old, but his passion for coffee pushes him to go beyond what’s just in the cup.
His love affair with coffee started after his family acquired a license for 18 Days Coffee Roasters and established themselves in Solenad 3 in August 2016.
This isn’t the first time a local coffee house has tried to penetrate the internationally-dominated coffee market. However, while others may lean towards replicating the success of big industry names, Jeremy believes in promoting coffee that is authentically Pinoy.
The Philippines is home to numerous single origin coffee farms, most of which can be found in Northern Luzon with still a lot of undiscovered farms in Visayas and Mindanao. The definition of ‘single origin’ can be confusing to get in to. In its most simplified version, it is coffee that is sourced from one single producer, crop, or region in one country.
Beyond the Bean
A typical misconception is that coffee is strictly bitter. According to Jeremy, coffee actually has a lot of flavor. The beauty of knowing the origins of each coffee bean is understanding that its flavor and characteristics are closely tied to the particular area it was grown. Arabica beans grown in Ampucao, Benguet, for example, have a calamansi-like taste. While Arabica beans from Atok, Benguet have, what Jeremy describes as: a mix of nutty almond, tamarind, and milk chocolate flavor. One small farm, he recalls, produces Arabica beans that taste like a tandem of bananas and chocolate.
Robusta beans from Sulu and Bukidnon have a distinct nutty flavor, while others taste like macadamia nuts. Liberica beans from Quezon and Bukidnon also have a distinct nutty flavor, but provide a nice woody whiskey aftertaste. One 100% Liberica variety with an unknown origin Jeremy claims taste exactly like jackfruit. Excelsa beans from the ARMM, on the other hand, remind Jeremy of the taste of lanka with a hint of brown sugar. “Just like turon,” he says.
From Farm to Cup
18 Days is only one of the third wave coffee houses that actively promotes the significance of farmers in the supply chain. “They [retail coffee industry] are starting to develop specialty coffee shops like Starbucks Reserve and UCC Clockwork. But, if you really want full flavor control in your cup, then you want to develop with the farm,” Jeremy says. The big difference between local and retail coffee shops is how much control they exert over the taste of your coffee. This goes beyond just the roast and brew. However, since retail coffee shops are modeled on mass production, quality tends to suffer.
“The stigma of the best machines produces the best coffee is now broken,” Jeremy says. “If we can develop coffee as good as it is, it can be brewed in a pot of boiling water and still be better than what you mostly get in coffee shops.”
Jeremy believes that the Philippines has a promising opportunity, being one of the few countries in the world that can grow coffee. “Local coffee shops break standards — we have power and control over the coffee we grow,” he says. “We communicate and develop with the farms. No roasting and brewing will fully control the flavor profile that you want to get. You have to go to the farms to develop your own ideal profile.”
This is what one of his favorite third wave coffee houses, SGD Coffee Bodega, is doing. Located along Maginhawa Street in Teacher’s Village, this coffee shop serves 100% Arabica coffee beans — single origin, naturally grown, strictly high grown, handpicked, hand sorted, small batch roasted, and directly traded. SGD communicates directly with Sagada coffee farmers, and even provide equipment and training, advocating for socially-responsible methods of coffee farming. Their goal? To raise the quality of local coffee and educate consumers.
It was this initiative that lead Sagada coffee to win the prestigious Gourmet Award in the 2017 International Contest of Coffees Roasted in their Countries of Origin in Paris. However, despite this achievement, there is still a lingering perception that Filipino coffee beans are inferior to retail coffee chains’. Jeremy pinpoints two possible reasons for this: instant coffee and the standards set by large retail coffee chains.
“Instant coffee is easily available anywhere and it is very cheap,” he says. “Big coffee brands like Starbucks have brilliant branding. But simply seeing coffee as how it is commonly introduced and marketed won’t help us understand what coffee actually is.”
Just like with the well-known Barako blend. “When you say Barako, it usually means tough and strong. But that’s because of how it’s roasted,” Jeremy explains. Barako possesses its strong taste due to high roasting periods. This was how it was traditionally done back in Batangas where it was first popularized.
Putting the Philippines on the Coffee Map
The uniqueness of Barako is that it’s comprised of a blend of Liberica, Robusta, Excelsa. “This is because of how farmers usually farm the three [varieties].”, Jeremy explains. “They’ll plant it side-by-side with each other to save space. Then when it’s harvested, they aren’t segregated.”
With extensive experimentation, Jeremy has found that Barako isn’t just bitter nor strong. “Given the separate qualities of Liberica, Robusta and Excelsa, Barako is actually sweet, nutty, woody or something similar to barreled whiskey,” he shares. “On just the right medium roast, it can bring out the Barako’s natural sugars.”
While he and many other coffee aficionados believe that Barako has the potential to put the Philippines up against international roasters, the local industry still has a long way to go. “It needs to grow bigger. We cannot satisfy the demand for coffee in the Philippines simply because our coffee farms are too small. Baby steps,” Jeremy says.
This is why 18 Days and other third wave coffee shops are transforming their spaces to, not only sell coffee, but to educate. There are several steps that anyone can take — be it from consumer to retail — to better know and understand the process of coffee production. Jeremy stressed how important it was for coffee shops to openly dialogue with customers. “Coffee shops tend to generalize flavor profiles by continent, saying that asian coffee is usually dark or earthy and woody and only chocolatey. But they neglect the fact that we grow more than that,” Jeremy says.
In turn, they encourage consumers to ask more questions and to explore beyond your usual Starbucks. And the best people to learn from? The ones who grow them.
“I think the farmers knows best if not anyone else. Because they live and breathe beside what we are drinking,” Jeremy shares. “If you want to teach yourself about coffee then I think it’s best to communicate with the people who grow them. Not the people who create fancy aesthetic machines, not those who only roast coffee, not the people behind the bar — but the ones who are the first to touch the plant before it goes anywhere.”