Bukidnon coffees win in PHL’s first ever ‘cupping’ competition

ILIGAN CITY ­(MindaNews / 5 March) – Bukidnon coffees topped the country’s first ever “cupping” competition held at the Cavite State University from March 1 to 4, according to the Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. (PCBI).

The Inhandig Tribal Multi Purpose Cooperative (ITMPC) of Malaybalay City won this year’s Kape Pilipino Green Coffee Quality Competition in the Arabica category while Kape Maramag won in the Robusta category.

Processing coffee at the Hineleban Foundation in Bukidnon, one of the players in the Philippines’s emerging specialty coffee industry. MindaNews file photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

Although there are more than 100 coffee species, the most popular are Arabica (Coffea Arabica) and Robusta (Coffea Canephora). Arabica, usually grown in the highlands and more prone to diseases and thus needs more attention from farmers, has generally been regarded as the best coffee; whereas Robusta, which can grow in the lowland with little care, is popular among instant coffees.

The two winners will be sending representatives to Seattle, Washington this April for the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) expo, said the PCBI website.

“These coffees will now command a higher price in the specialty coffee market,” the PCBI added.

The PCBI said 78 coffee samples were submitted for the competition, with participants from as far as the Cordillera Administration Region up north to Sulu down south.

The winning Arabica coffee scored 85.84 points while the Robusta got 83.75 from judges, among them international experts from the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI). The panel of judges was headed by Samuel Gurel of Torch Coffee, which is helping empower coffee farmers with trainings.

Chit Juan, PCBI president and co-chair, said in a Facebook post Sunday that to be considered “specialty” grade, a coffee has to score at least 80.

“It’s a scale up to 100 where trained palates called Q graders taste the coffee, smell the grounds, the brew and slurp as much as they can to describe its ‘notes’. Notes are the reminders of floral, caramel, chocolate, spice, fruits that a grader may associate the taste and smell with. It can also be earthy, grassy or simply unacceptable as a fine coffee,” she added.

One of the judges, Mbula Musao of Kenya, a Q grader herself, said “some flavor notes reminded me of Ethiopian Sidamo.” She added that the winning Robustas are like “fine coffees” from Uganda.

“I’m totally amazed by the taste profiles of the winners,” Gurel was quoted by PCBI as saying.

Both winners, Juan said, were “processed naturally.”

“This means it was picked ripe, dried in the sun and allowed to develop its flavors naturally…. That shows we can do good coffee even without water in the processing. Just picking ripe and drying well,” she added.

Juan said it is “good news for mountain communities who have no access to running water.”

“I am ecstatic because we found samples from all over the country – far and wide like Palawan, Laguna and Bulacan for Robusta. Benguet, Mountain Province, Bukidnon and Davao for the Arabicas,” she said.

“This may be the start of the rebirth of the Philippine coffee industry…. And this is the start of a new coffee revolution,” Juan said.

Sylvia Okinlay-Paraguya, an advocate of the cooperative movement, said the ITMPC, composed of Higaunon farmers, has now become a “superstar cooperative.”

“I’m very happy to note that it is a tribal cooperative. A model to other tribes. Super proud Higaunon here,” she said in a Facebook post.

The Kape Pilipino, said the PCBI, is part of the project MinPACT or Mindanao Productivity in Agriculture, Commerce and Trade. It is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and implemented by ACDIVOCA.

Though now known only by its acronym, ACDIVOCA is a result of the merger of the Agricultural Cooperative Development International and Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance, both nonprofit international economic development organizations.

PCBI is the grantee organization which conducted the coffee trainings.

Other coffee growing countries in South and Latin America and Africa have long been conducting annual coffee competitions dubbed “Cup of Excellence,” with the winning coffees commanding high prices in an auction shortly after the contest.

Juan said the PCBI started “cupping” classes way back in March 2016 so the Philippines will have certified Q graders and improve the country’s specialty coffee industry.

She noted that before the classes, farmers knew little about the quality of their coffee and were at the mercy of the big buyer or trader who subjectively graded their coffee.

“Now, farmers can grade their own coffee before even pricing it. Buyers, beware. Farmers now know about their quality and the price they can fetch given correct processing techniques,” Juan said. (Bobby Timonera / MindaNews)