Kalsada: Giving PH Coffee an Avenue for Export

January 7, 2017 7:00 pm by Gabriella Galvez

It took one photograph for Carmel Laurino to begin plying an unpaved road in search of answers regarding the export of Philippine coffee. The photograph, found during Laurino’s undergrad years in the University of Washington, was of the Filipino Coffee Co. at Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market, taken sixty two years before the first Starbucks opened its doors in 1909. I can only imagine the questions forming in her mind upon coming across such a photo: “How did kapeng Barako manage to make it all the way to Seattle? Why isn’t it being sold here now?”taste-kalsadacoffee2

The image that started Carmel on the road to starting Kalsada (Photo courtesy of Kalsada.com)

That was in 2006. Today in 2016, the local coffee scene is thriving, thanks to small third-wave coffee shops owned by younger proprietors who are following a global movement that aims to make a scientific art out of the process that produces you a good cuppa Joe.

It’s a great movement headed by some real passionate minds, but Kalsada wishes to take things a step further. Kalsada tasks itself with improving local coffee standards by starting at the very bottom — by working on their relationship with local coffee farmers — and thus getting closer to reaching their goal of enabling Filipino coffee producers to participate in and contribute to answering the increased demand for artisanal coffee worldwide.

Kalsada’s logo speaks for its lofty goals (Photo credit courtesy of Kalsada.com)

This is Kalsada’s farm-to-cup movement: “…from training and listening to their needs and also of the market’s needs and demands, we provide technical advice, machinery, and equipment to elevate post-harvesting processes. Our projects in Benguet are two small community-based washing stations.  During harvest, we work hand-in-hand with the producers in the harvest and drying soon process. After the resting period, the coffees are then hulled, sorted, and then bagged. Then they are sent to Manila to be roasted, or, shipped as green bean to Seattle, for our US customers. In Manila we roast once a week to ensure freshness and then ship to our wholesale partners in and around the metro, as well as directly to home consumers through our online shop.” – Laurino

The rest of Kalsada’s mötley krew (4/6 are Filipino locals) consist of an apprentice roaster, technical lead, customer relations & social media manager, field officer, and community relations.

Side-by-side with Lacy Audry, the Seattle-based coffee roaster who co-founded Kalsada with Laurino, they formed a #kalsadakrew who has spent the last decade paving the kalsada (road) that they themselves tread slowly yet surely, in an effort to raise and keep Philippine coffee standards high, and hopefully, high enough to be at par with Brazil’s and Vietnam’s.taste-kalsadacoffee3

From Kalsada Coffee’s Instagram (@kalsadacoffee): “Meet kalsada’s triumvirate: These women have been running around the Philippines in search of better, if not the best, coffee.”

Laurino has travelled through Bukidnon, Negros Occidental, Ifugao, the Mountain Province, and Benguet, in the search of which coffee best represents the nation.

“Each community was unique and beautiful in its own way. There’s still so much to explore in terms of the Philippine flavor profile.  We’ve found notes that are indicative of African coffee—floral and tropical and red fruit character.  And we’ve also tasted nuts and the chocolatey richness you would associate with coffees from South America. The Philippines has its own unique terrain and we’re excited to continue experimenting and refining the processes to bring out more flavors.” – Laurino

As a result of these travels, Kalsada has come up with Reserve Collections that have been sourced exclusively from Benguet. However, Laurino tells me that they will soon be selling coffee from farms found down south, in Bukidnon: “We’re working with a new community in Mindanao this harvest so look out for new coffees from the south in the new year!”

The variation that can be expected from the differing altitudes, elevation, soil, and coffee varietals should affect the coffee’s flavor in ways that will distinguish them from one another, much like wines.

The Reserve Collection consists of micro-lot coffees from individual farmers that Kalsada supports in Benguet. Knowing that they produce less than 100 kilos of coffee a year, Laurino knows that maintaining a good relationship with these farmers is essential to make sure they keep producing coffee in favor of other crops.

taste-kalsadacoffee4Mang Jose, named after the Ifugao farmer who himself grows and harvests the beans in these bags (Photo courtesy of @kalsadacoffee)

“The reserve collection consists of coffees that we want to highlight: to honor their dedication and craftsmanship that we’ve found to be enjoyable in the cup as well.  Auntie Lydia’s coffee is one of my favorites; look out for it in the reserve collection in the New Year.  Mang has always been popular, as well as our Sitio Belis honey-processed coffee, which you can find at The Den in Escolta.”  taste-kalsadacoffee5

Sitio Belis (Photo courtesy of @ms_l_luke)

Most of Kalsada’s customers are wholesale partners, both in the Philippines and in the US.  Some are legitimate coffee shops, like Brown Paper Project Café (Katipunan), Cafe 2.0 (Kapitolyo), The Den (Escolta), and Habitual Coffee (Makati & BGC), while others are restaurants who know the importance of serving a good (local) brew, i.e. Purple Yam (Manila) and The Girl + The Bull (c/o Habitual, in Makati). Mountain Province Espresso in NY and Brewpoint Coffee in Elmhurst (right outside Chicago) serve Kalsada’s roasts to stateside caffeine fiends.

You can also order Kalsada’s beans online (or better yet, sign up for a 3-month subscription) and have their Reserve Collection delivered right to your doorstep after the holidays, starting January 7th 2017.

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