The Tale of My First Pick Coffee

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Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino, a television host and a noted personality, tells the tale of coffee as he knows it.

Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino

The coffee farmers I've spoken to treat their coffee beans and their coffee farms with reverence. Coffee is not just a source of income, but a passion.

Coffee, these days, is everywhere. Households stock up on it; it's one of the top sellers in your neighborhood sari-sari store; and it's available in restaurants and office pantries in almost every corner of the metro. And yet as ubiquitous as coffee is, what do we really know about it? Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino, a television host and a noted personality, tells the tale of coffee as he knows it.

What we do know is how we want it, when we take it, how many times a day we have it, even who we take it with. Everyone, seemingly, has got a coffee story; but few seem to know the story of coffee itself.

On a day to day basis, Filipinos prefer to take instant coffee in their homes and most likely, NESCAFÉ is their choice. The likelihood is that the coffee they're drinking comes from provinces like Cavite, Batangas, Bohol, Romblon, South Cotabato, Saranggani, General Santos, Davao or Bukidnon, among others. Although most of the coffee is sourced locally, the sad reality is that the coffee industry still imports coffee from other countries to meet the growing demands of the Philippine market.

But it wasn't always this way. Once upon a time, the Philippines was a coffee power. About 200 years ago, the Philippines was the fourth largest coffee exporter in the world. There was even a time, around 1880, when the Philippines became the only source of coffee in the world—when coffee rust hit the plantations of Brazil, Africa and Java. In fact, it was only in recent history, around 1989, that Philippine coffee production dropped to an all-time low owing to a global surplus of coffee.

Since 1989, Philippine coffee production has never been able to retake its former glory. From a coffee-exporting country, we steadily became the coffee-importing country that we are today. One can dwell on the former glories of the coffee industry, but many industry experts will highlight the potential of coffee in our country instead -- we're a country of coffee drinkers in a country suited for the growth of coffee beans.

Most coffee beans produced in the Philippines are of the Robusta variety. Coffee connoisseurs debate about which bean is best, but undoubtedly, it is the Robusta bean that is most widely spread in the country.

There's a ready market of coffee drinkers in our country for the entrepreneurs that wish to fill our coffee demand gap. NESCAFE, the largest coffee brand in the Philippines, has even set up satellite coffee bean buying stations in 11 provinces that will readily buy quality coffee beans at world prices.

Aside from this, both nature and technology are on the Filipinos' side. In each of the major islands in the country, an area exists which is suitable for growing coffee beans.

With regard to technology, training is readily available through the Nestle Experimental and Demonstration Farm (NEDF). This institution provides free training for coffee farmers and would-be coffee farmers that want to improve their craft. As coffee is harvested only twice a year, the NEDF trains coffee farmers to make better economic use of their land and cultivate the coffee beans for higher yields. In the past 13 years, the NEDF has trained around 12,000 farmers.

There are currently 30,000 coffee farmers in the country, with another 100,000 Filipinos reliant on the coffee industry for their livelihood.

"The coffee farmers I've spoken to treat their coffee beans and their coffee farms with reverence. For the ones I've spoken to and read about, coffee is not just a source of income, but a passion. They tend to their farms with dedication and determination, and this extra care translates through to the coffee we take every day," Bam Aquino recalled his memories.

Will all of this knowledge make my coffee taste better? Probably not. But certainly, knowing all of these adds a layer of significance to this essential part of our mornings. It certainly did for me. The Philippine coffee story is still being written; and every time we slowly and gingerly take that first sip of coffee in the morning, we become part of this coffee story as well.

It is this coffee story that NESCAFÉ Classic First Pick wants to tell. With the first pick of the coffee bean harvest as its main medium, NESCAFÉ Classic First Pick celebrates the best of what the Filipino coffee farmer has to offer and reminds us of the potential of the coffee industry that has yet to be reached. It is a reminder that there is a story behind every cup of coffee and every coffee bean and a promise that one day, this potential will be a reality.

NESCAFÉ Classic First Pick is a limited edition coffee available during the first quarter of the year only. It is made from coffee berries handpicked with care by Filipino farmers during the beginning of the harvest season. The beans are then roasted to a deep, dark color for a unique and intense cup that you'd love to savor.

Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV is a television host and a noted personality. He graduated summa cum laude in Ateneo de Manila University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Engineering. In 2006, he co-founded and is currently the President of Microventures, Inc., a social business enterprise that services micro financing organizations and in 2007, joined the board of Rags2Riches, Inc., another social business enterprise that helps underprivileged women. He was also named Chairman of the National Youth Commission, the government's main youth policy-making arm and was the youngest person in Philippine history to head a government agency. He is also President of the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations (TAYO) Awards Foundation, the country’s premier youth award-giving body from 2003-2006. He hosted "Breakfast" and "Yspeak" for several years, two shows that focused on the youth and was aired on ABS-CBN's Studio 23. He is currently hosting "Start-Up," a show for budding entrepreneurs, currently airing on the ABS-CBN News Channel. He also published his first book, "Young Southeast Asia," which focuses on young achievers in the region and commissioned by ASEAN.

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