Friday, December 23, 2016

A Brush on Specialty Coffee by Dr. Manuel Diaz

Long ago, people in the province would fire up woods to boil ground coffee beans on a huge kettle.  I despised seeing my grandma, pour over some over clean white cups and near it were sugar and Coffeemate on jars to customize your own cup of Joe.  I thought it was tedious and unsafe, but that's how they like having their coffee.

On another story, when my father was still working in Saudi Arabia, he would send us big jars of Nescafe Gold and Folgers roasted choiced coffee, which was only mixed in hot water but still needed to be sweetened and mixed with some creamer for a tastier .  As I grew up making my cup of coffee was not influenced by any of the stories I shared.  In fact, for practicalities' sake I would just drink 3-in-1 commercial coffees, it's the most convenient way of getting that much needed jolt when you need it.  But I never was into coffee, not until when I became a parent and had entered a night job.

But adulting can be correlated to coffeenating, and through the years, my taste for coffee evolved, just like how Philippine coffee business had been.  Hence, the trendy term to date -"third wave" coffee.

Studies have coined terms to define the different coffee trends.  The "First Wave" of coffee pertains to the profit-driven goal of participants in the coffee industry, where mass production had been the goal for mass consumption.  The second wave is founded on the art of coffee, where coffee gourmands take pleasure in being educated more on the coffee's origin and roasting processes.  At this point, the trend for "specialty coffee" arose. The third wave, refers to the highest culinary appreciation of coffee.  Now, coffee is seen in a higher degree, where coffee is more than a necessity and coffee purveyors keep on improving all the satges of production in coffee making the best coffee gets to the coffee drinking market.

On that note, did you know that the highest coffee consumption comes from developed countries with a high number of  middle/working classes.  Scandinavian countries, United States and of course, Brazil were registered on this category.  These and many other information were shared by Dr. Manuel Diaz, a Mexican Social Anthropologist at the London School of Economics at the recently concluded Coffee Appreciation event dubbed as Assessing Specialty: Arabica and Robusta which was held at Benjarong Restaurant, Dusit Thani Hotel Makati.

All thanks to Equilibrium Intertrade Corporation (EQ) for organizing this enlightening event.  They are one of the top leading distributors of high quality products of coffee, tea and non-coffee beverages sourced from all over the world.

According to Diaz, the key to sourcing out good coffee beans is the altitude.  Nowadays, many have eschewed from the idea of firing up one's own coffee pot to hopping on to different coffee shops popping up on every corners of the streets. With these, many have also been educated on which coffee origin would give them utmost satisfaction for their coffee breaks.  This trend had also lured me in getting specialty coffee from Ethiopia, Australia and even in Italy.  But above all, I learned about the good kind of coffee our country have.

I became in love with homegrown brews and have even dreamed of owning a meager coffee farm on my own someday.  For now, I'll just be sourcing out from our local farmers and in that, helping them grow their business and likewise being provided with a good quality coffee.

However, it is a fact that choosing the right beans can be intimidating, and to do it right you may need to brush up on your high school geography. Most third wave roasters understand that consumers are still learning the ropes, and alongside country of origin, nearly all bags of beans will have tasting notes written on the front. Start with the flavors that seem most appealing to you, and then make associations between different flavors and different production regions. (I even used to save my empty coffee bags so I could reference what I had tried before to build my coffee confidence.)

Eventually, the differences between things like African coffee (brighter) and South American coffee (mellower) will become clearer. And of course, if you need a guide on your journey, talk to the people you’re buying your beans from. If a shop sells top quality beans, especially those they roast themselves, many of the people working there will be passionate about these products—or at the very least they will have tried them themselves.

If you are a die-hard coffee-lover, according to Dr. Diaz, being a coffee connoisseur himself, there are these few coffee varieties you needed to taste in your lifetime.

1. Wet-hulled Indonesian Coffee

It is particularly zesty and pungently grapefruity character with  the spice and herb innuendoes complicating the softly lush, floral and fruity notes.

2. Benguet Coffee

One of the Philippine treasure. Coffee from the highlands has higher anti-oxidant content with bolder and richer flavor.  Benguet-grown coffee is of Arabica and is priced more that other coffee varieties in the low-lands.

Arabica has half the acidity and caffeine levels of Robusta, from which instant coffee is made.

3. Geisha coffee

Known as the most expensive coffee, the flavor profile is delicate and floral, with passionfruit, papaya and bergamot almost always dominant. It also lacks sour and bitter notes. Today it’s variably marketed as Geisha or Gesha (the word carries no meaning). Panama still seems to be the place Geisha grows best, but Costa Rica, Colombia, and even Ethiopia are now experimenting with the coffee and trying to replicate the success experienced in Panama.

Arabica and Robusta differ in taste, growing conditions and of course price. Arabica beans tend to have a sweeter, softer taste, with tones of sugar, fruit, and berries. Their acidity is higher, with that winey taste that characterizes coffee with excellent acidity.

Robusta, however, has a stronger, harsher taste, with a grain-like overtone and peanutty aftertaste. They contain twice as much caffeine as Arabica beans, and they are generally considered to be of inferior quality compared to Arabica. Some robustas, however, are of high quality and valued especially in espressos for their deep flavor and good crema.

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Robustas, however, are easier to grow. They can grow at lower altitudes than Arabicas, and they are less vulnerable to pests and weather conditions. They produce fruit much more quickly than the Arabicas, which need several yet ars to come to maturity, and they yield more crop per tree.

So whether you are Team Arabica or Team Robusta, it is note-worthy to know that our country produces them both along with Liberica (Barako) and Excelsa.

However, our coffee production can't still make up for the global coffee demand, and we still have a long way to go to level with top coffee producers, we still need to learn the ropes, get innovated and well plant more trees.

The event btw, concluded with coffee-tasting and coffee cupping, where Equilibrium coffees were evaluated by the taste, aroma, acidity and texture.



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  2. We tested our coffees over a fortnight using a bean to cup machine to brew espresso with the same strength, grind level and water: coffee ratio here


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