Brewing Unity: International Coffee Collaboration and Friendship in the Philippines
19 Dec 2023
At the heart of the Slow Food Coffee Coalition are individuals—coffee farmers, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts—united not only by the Manifesto but also by a shared passion. This passion drives our daily mission to bring into the world coffee that embodies the essence of good, clean and fair. Our diverse journeys, from fertile coffee farms to innovative ventures, share a common vision: making coffee a force for good, benefiting both the environment and the people who cultivate it.
Meet Teddy Cañete and Thomas Sproten
This month, we highlight the story of Teddy Cañete, a Philippine producer, and Thomas Sproten, a German roaster—two friends and members of the Coalition in the Philippine archipelago, where the tropical weather and the mix of lowlands and mountains provide the right conditions for growing four different species of coffee: Robusta (Coffea canephora), Arabica (Coffea arabica), Liberica (Coffeea liberica) and Excelsa (Coffea excelsa).The most successful coffee-growing regions in the Philippines are the Cordillera Administrative Region and Northern Luzon in the north, Central Luzon, Calabarzon and Mimaropa in the center and Visayas and Mindanao in the south. While Filipino coffee production might not be widely recognized internationally, it holds a significant place in the daily lives of the country’s people. There is a growing awareness of its quality within the country. In this context, we’ll focus on Visayas, particularly the Negros Islands, and delve into the Minoyan Murcia Coffee Network Community. As part of the Coffee Coalition network and working alongside the Slow Food Community for Promoting and Preserving Traditional Foods in Negros Island, Teddy and Thomas champion the philosophy of good, clean and fair in the Philippines.
Hello Teddy and Thomas, can you tell us a little bit more about yourselves?
Teddy: Hello, my name is Teddy Cañete and I’m a farmer from Minoyan, in Negros Occidental. One of my goals as a farmer is to promote good, clean and fair production of coffee to other farmers through the work of the Coffee Coalition in the Philippines.
Thomas: I’m German, but I’ve been living in the Philippines for many years now. Seven years ago, I opened my roastery, Coffee Culture, in Bacolod, the provincial capital. Apart from roasting coffee, I work alongside producers to teach them how to roast, how to improve the technologies they use in the farms and to educate them on sorting and processing methods, tasting and so on.
Robusta, Liberica and Arabica
What coffee do you grow and process?
Teddy: I grow mostly Robusta but also Liberica and Arabica. When I first met Thomas, many years ago now, we started to work together on different species of coffee. At the time, I was only growing Robusta. I was following what the older generation of coffee farmers was doing, which was not to mix species because Liberica was not recognized by the market and no one would buy it. However, I did start planting Liberica. And then, thanks in part to a project in collaboration with World Coffee Research, I also started planting a little bit of Arabica. I’m expecting my first harvest next year. It’s a novelty in Negros Occidental.
Thomas: Instant coffee made from poor quality Robusta still dominates the domestic market, since until not very long ago the locally produced coffee had no quality standards and predominantly entered the “commodity coffee” stream. However, coffee has since become very “hip” and awareness around fine Robusta is growing so much that we now have quality competitions for it. Things are changing, and the work with the Coffee Coalition is very timely because we don’t have to focus just on the “good” part, but also on the “clean” (if how coffee is produced respects the environment around it) and “fair” (if the work of producers is respected).
Objectives and Activities
What objectives and activities are you carrying out as the Coffee Coalition?
Teddy: To advocate for good, clean and fair coffee through transparency. We do so by involving more and more producers in the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS). With the PGS, we work as a community and involve different players like local baristas, roasters, traders, graders etc. We want to show as broad a public as possible our work and how hard it is.
Thomas: Another big project for us is the “Coffee Trails.” This consists of bringing people to coffee farms as part of a travel experience to the region so they can experience how coffee is produced and what life is like on the coffee farms and learn about the economic impact on farmers. For a long time, coffee—and especially Robusta—has been just about the price, treated as a pure commodity. But coffee has names and faces. With Coffee Trails we were able to generate a lot of awareness. Now people know more about coffee from Minoyan; we had support from the government for this project, travel agencies are bringing international visitors to take part in the Trails and many more people are able to appreciate the quality of the coffee. This for us is a phenomenal result.
Terra Madre Visayas 2023
In November, the Philippines hosted the first Terra Madre Visayas and you represented the Coffee Coalition network. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Teddy: It was a great opportunity for us to showcase our activities, the PGS and the Coffee Trails. There were many participants, not only from Visayas but from Luzon as well. Prior to going to Terra Madre Visayas, the participants visited our farms, listened to our story and learnt about coffee processing. Now, many people want to establish their own Coffee Coalition communities in other parts of the Philippines. It helped us reach a wider audience and we also won an award for our booth.
Thomas: It was fantastic! The first local Terra Madre. It brought a lot of enthusiasm and attention to the topic at the local level. People came together to share experiences, eat local food, try Ark of Taste products and drink great coffee. This way, coffee became part of a bigger conversation. It’s a great milestone if you think that two years ago, nothing like the Coffee Coalition existed. We are hoping that in two years we can bring Terra Madre to the Philippines.
What are you goals for the future?
Teddy: To reach out to as many farmers as we can inside and outside the area to bring them into the PGS and get their coffee production in line with the Coffee Coalition standards. A PGS can really help us farmers to look more into some aspects of coffee production and caring for the environment. At first, we were only four, now we are already around 13 and counting. We can tell there is public interest in the coffee coming from Minoyan and the work we’re doing with the Coffee Coalition. The goal is to expand further, reaching other provinces.
Thomas: Personally, I feel I can be an ambassador for the Slow Food philosophy to other roasters who are interested in buying Coffee Coalition coffee and maybe creating their own Slow Food Community. Even though the quantity can never compete with commodity coffee, I can see the economic impact. People are now very attentive to topics like local coffee and high-quality Robusta. I want to keep on creating the circumstances for exchange and for the empowerment of farmers through training and education.