A Cook's Diary

My dream coffee shop

From what I’ve read, coffee is not exactly native to the Philippines. It was introduced to the country by the Spaniards and the local coffee industry did not begin until the 1700s. But coffee grows wonderfully in our soil and climate that we began producing high-quality coffee beans.

According to one author, “The plant thrives wonderfully, and its berry has so strongly marked a flavor that the worst Manila coffee commands as high a price as the best Java.”

I’m not going to disagree with that. Barako used to be my favorite and I thought it was the best. Then, I experienced Benguet coffee (related story) and nothing was ever the same. And I wondered… With the ability to produce such great coffee, and considering how we Filipinos love our coffee, I don’t quite get it why our idea of a good coffee shop is as foreign as the fruit cake that many have come to associate with Christmas.

I can understand that in the case of coffee chains that originated abroad, like Starbucks, they merely bring with them the culture of their place of origin.

casaveneracion.com coffee and brownies

But consider Figaro, for instance. It is a local company that spearheaded the creation of a foundation to help revive the languishing coffee industry in the country. Yet, in Figaro’s own website, it proudly announces: “From Espresso to Café Au Lait, Figaro always meticulously prepare their coffees in the proper, classic European traditions, graciously served in real china.”

Okay, let’s just say it’s a matter or broadening the Filipinos’ culinary horizons. Plain old brewed coffee can be boring and cappuccinos and lattes do provide exciting varieties. But does the coffee have to served exclusively with European style cakes and pastries?

That’s when I begin to question the culture of coffee shops like Figaro. It becomes unbelievable that introducing cappuccinos and lattes is something that is merely meant to add more depth to our coffee experience. If we take that together with what else is served in their outlets, the more it appears that the result is to forever equate coffee drinking with something foreign as though the foreign element elevates its status.

I know. We Filipinos are notorious for our colonial mentality. Even in this day and age, so many still think that local is equal to baduy and foreign is equal to class. And, perhaps, establishments like Figaro are merely capitalizing on such twisted way of thinking. The sad part is how it reinforces the mentality.

But if we really want to promote locally-grown coffee beans, then we have to give our coffee a distinct Filipino image. And the best place to start such a campaign is in coffee shops that serve coffee made from locally-grown coffee beans. Imagine enjoying a cup of barako or Benguet cappuccino with suman, maja blanca, ensaymada, pianono, napoleones, piaya or cassava bibingka. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

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