Naga’s coffee culture

Author: James Z. Carpio

Back in the olden days if you wanted to have a cup of coffee it took a long process. You would have to let the beans dry out in the open air, have them roasted, then have them ground at the public market, before finally boiling them to make a cup of coffee.

So with the advent of instant coffee people embraced it with welcoming arms. The older folks liked the novel idea of having a cup of coffee in just a matter of minutes.

Here is a brief account of Coffee’s Rich History in the Philippines according to Philcoffeeboard.com:

“The Philippines is one of the few countries that produces the four varieties of commercially-viable coffee: Arabica, Liberica (Barako), Excelsa and Robusta. Climatic and soil conditions in the Philippines – from the lowland to mountain regions – make the country suitable for all four varieties.

In the Philippines, coffee has a history as rich as its flavor. The first coffee tree was introduced in Lipa, Batangas in 1740 by a Spanish Franciscan monk. From there, coffee growing spread to other parts of Batangas like Ibaan, Lemery, San Jose, Taal, and Tanauan. Batangas owed much of its wealth to the coffee plantations in these areas and Lipa eventually became the coffee capital of the Philippines.

By the 1860s, Batangas was exporting coffee to America through San Francisco. When the Suez Canal was opened, a new market started in Europe as well. Seeing the success of the Batangeños, Cavite followed suit by growing the first coffee seedlings in 1876 in Amadeo. In spite of this, Lipa still reigned as the center for coffee production in the Philippines and Batangas barako was commanding five times the price of other Asian coffee beans. In 1880, the Philippines was the fourth largest exporter of coffee beans, and when the coffee rust hit Brazil, Africa, and Java, it became the only source of coffee beans worldwide.

The glory days of the Philippine coffee industry lasted until 1889 when coffee rust hit the Philippine shores. That, coupled with an insect infestation, destroyed virtually all the coffee trees in Batangas. Since Batangas was a major producer of coffee, this greatly affected national coffee production. In two years, coffee production was reduced to 1/6th its original amount. By then, Brazil had regained its position as the world’s leading producer of coffee. A few of the surviving coffee seedlings were transferred from Batangas to Cavite, where they flourished. This was not the end of the Philippines’ coffee growing days, but there was less area allotted to coffee because many farmers had shifted to other crops.

During the 1950s, the Philippine government, with the help of the Americans, brought in a more resistant variety of coffee. It was also then that instant coffee was being produced commercially, thus increasing the demand for beans. Because of favorable market conditions, many farmers went back to growing coffee in the 1960s. But the sudden proliferation of coffee farms resulted in a surplus of beans around the world, and for a while importation of coffee was banned in order to protect local coffee producers. When Brazil was hit by a frost in the 1970’s, world market coffee prices soared. The Philippines became a member of the International Coffee Organization (ICO) in 1980.

Today, the Philippines produces 30,000 metric tons of coffee a year, up from 23,000 metric tons just three years ago.”

In recent years Naga has become dotted with coffee shops along the old city center and the hip and chic Magsaysay District. I for one frequently visit my favorite coffee enclaves with my laptop in tow. It feels very European when you sip your beverage al fresco while watching the cars and other vehicles pass by Magsaysay Avenue.

And another good thing about hanging out at coffee restaurants is that WI-FI is free. It’s a writer’s dream. One can do an article or two even update a blog while enjoying the interiors- plus the cold air conditioning.

As the inflow of customers vary within the day, the time I go to one of my favorite coffee shops is in the morning. The shop still has unoccupied seats with a table. Perfect for typing or composing a literary piece.

During late afternoon the place can be full of students and other yuppies. But after dinner time the place can be a haven for people from all age brackets wishing to catch up and spend quality time with family and/or friends. Entrepreneurs make it their meeting place at any given time.

The selection of different beverages can be many and varied. They have their own terms for small, medium, and large. They offer espresso beverages, brewed coffee, hot chocolate beverages, brewed tea and others. For food they have doughnuts, cookies, cakes and sandwiches.

The coffee culture of Naga has always been there. Most homes have their own menu of coffee be it instant or brewed. One time when we had our first coffee maker it was the spectacle in the house. We had coffee during breakfast, snacks in the morning, after lunch, snacks in the afternoon and finally after dinner. My late father would patiently go through the motions of making the perfect brewed coffee.

Coffee back then was offered in quaint restaurants at the city center. There was a pioneering coffee shop back in the 1980’s that just fizzled out as time went by.

But now it seems that everyone wants to people-watch and be seen at coffee shops, bring a laptop, read a book, a magazine or a newspaper perhaps. Especially for the young generation it seems that it’s ‘cool’ to be at the coffee shops.

Being an old Spanish Royal City, Naga has a coffee culture and not a tea culture. If we were colonized by the British we would have afternoon tea ingrained in our lifestyle. Some establishments are promoting a tea culture. Commercial tea bags have been available also for a long time now but to a lesser degree. We are enjoying our coffee culture at present but soon enough we may be having both a coffee and a tea culture. Splendid indeed!




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