Basking in the Locale Coffee Scene
Text and Photos by Vie Reyes
Local coffee businesses have been moving fast in the country, with names that have been made available in local supermarkets and stores. One of the newcomers in the industry is Basilio Coffee, under Bote Central, Inc., a family-owned corporation established in March 22, 2002. The company aims to clean and save the environment by using agro-forest products for livelihood. At present, the company is focused on the joint production and consumption program of Philippine coffee, rationalizing the supply chain and embedding Fair Trade principles to promote the industry’s sustainability. Chief Operating Officer Vie Reyes of Bote Central Inc., talks about their business and Basilio coffee.
Taste, Travel and Trends (TTT): How did you get into the coffee business? How long did it take you? How did you develop your logo and packaging?
Vie Reyes (VR): We got into the coffee business by choice. At that time, with our limited resources in business, we had to choose between producing Arengga vinegar (the first certified Philippine organic vinegar and the first Filipino product to win recognition in Taste-03 Forum in the Anuga 2003 in Cologne, Germany) or Alamid coffee, the world renowned Philippine civet coffee brand, which from the start, advocated the wild gathering of civet coffee droppings from the natural habitat of the civets that freely roam the Philippine forests. In 2004, the international recognition was accorded to Alamid coffee, which thus gave the much needed financial returns.
Not long after, with all the trips to the mountains and the different coffee producing communities,as well as the friendships developed with the pickers and farmers, we realized that our own coffee industry was being threatened by extinction. Farmers were not getting paid the right price for their coffee produce. Production was decreasing every year. In 2006, we strategized for a positive make-over of the Philippine coffee industry by coming up with a business plan wherein the coffee farmers would be made to earn more, so that they would plant more.
In 2007, as entrepreneurs contemplated on our business plan to mainstream Philippine coffee and sustain earnings from the business of coffee, we had to make the farmers a strong player in the value chain of coffee. We drew up our business plan and initially called it “chain of happiness”, and in fact, submitted the business plan to the Business in Development competition sponsored by an international non-government agency together with their local counterpart, the Philippine Business for Social Progress. It was one of the top 10 finalists.
We were the first crazy buyers of Philippine coffee to raise the buying prices of green coffee beans from a mere Php 50 to 60 per kilo to a whopping Php 100 to 120 per kilo for the Arabica in the Cordillera regions. With the very good price we were paying the farmers, expectedly, we were able to secure the coffee beans from the ground. We also got a lot of enemies from the traders.
That was the start of the new era of Philippine coffee. Prices for green beans never looked any better and continued to rise through the years. Presently, farmgate prices now for Arabica in the Cordillera could fetch a selling price range of Php 200 to 300 per kilo, depending on quality.
We always had high regard and passion for the environment, being mountain climbers and scuba divers when we are not inside our offices. That is why our business is anchored on a vision: “working to clean and save the environment”.
Our Basilio coffee packaging is based on the branding image we wish to project and the message we want to convey: Filipino coffee is at par with the best in the world, and that the Filipino coffee farmers are happy with their coffee trees and that their children will proudly continue the legacy of farming so they can also protect their ancestral lands and have a secure future for the next generations.
TTT: What makes Basilio coffee different from its competition? How do you practice and apply fair trade coffee production? How do you help Philippine coffee farmers you work with? Where do you harvest your coffee beans? What is your roasting and blending process?
VR: Basilio coffee is Filipino through and through. Coffee contained inside each Basilio coffee pack is Filipino traceable, up to who planted and grows the coffee. It is easy to say and claim that a particular brand of coffee is Philippine made and processed. But does it contain coffee that is truly grown by a Filipino farmer in the Philippines?
We go beyond the practice of fair trade in our supply chain. Our business model is called many names – inclusive business framework, social enterprise, fair trade, creating shared value, even climate change resilient.
We go by the simple rule in our business and advocacy for Philippine coffee. “When coffee farmers earn more from coffee, they will plant more. Technology should be used by the people who need it most, otherwise, they will be left behind.”
We buy solely Filipino coffee and pay the farmers higher than world market prices.
Next is we talk to government officials and find ways and means for the farmers to have a complete set of equipment including the coffee roaster which will enable the farmers to roast their own coffee, drink their coffee, and sell retail roasted coffee and the brewed coffee cup.
The farmers now do not just earn from the green coffee beans, which is the normal form of raw material bought by traders. They have added income from selling roasted coffee and the cup in their own local communities. Anyway, Filipinos love to drink coffee, from the most sophisticated urban joints to the remotest rural areas across the country.
What is most peculiar though, and probably is the same for all coffee farmers all over the world, is that farmers grow coffee, but they do not drink coffee from their harvest. Farmers still drink instant coffee.
With this shared technology and systems with the farmers, they are now empowered producers or more aptly called, farmer entrepreneurs.
The makers of Basilio coffee staunchly support only Philippine coffee and source beans from up north, in the Cordilleras to down south, in Sultan Kudarat. The empowered farmer entrepreneurs are found across the nation, numbering at least 50 community-based coffee enterprises.
The Philippines has all four varieties of coffee namely: Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Exelsa. We buy all four varieties. The beans are selected and sorted before roasting. Roasting is also a process we take pride in.
Basilio coffee is air-roasted, using a Filipino patented invention, making sure that the inherent flavors and aroma of the coffee come out with every smell and sip. In the same fashion as the selection of beans, roasting is also a technique and art which is meant to satisfy each customer preference either for a light, medium, or dark roast.
Basilio coffee currently offers three standard blends: Tinatangi (Special) blend: 60% Arabica, 30% Robusta, and 10% Exelsa, with each bean variety roasted according to market preference. The blend of three beans gives it distinction and turns an ordinary occasion of drinking coffee into something unique. Muni-muni (Deep in Thought) blend is 90% Robusta, 10% Arabica. Robusta has the highest caffeine content. Dalisay (Pure) blend is 100% Arabica with two roast profiles of medium and medium dark. Arabica is flavorful and aromatic.
TTT: How do you position your coffee brand? Where do you see your growth potential is?
VR: Basilio coffee’s Dalisay blend is priced just a little above the leading brand, while the Muni-muni is a little bit lower than the most popular inexpensive brand. Tinatangi is priced mid-range.
We are both delighted and excited to see that Basilio coffee in the supermarkets is showing very encouraging signs that Basilio coffee can be your coffee of choice. We envision Filipinos to have more awareness, passion, and love for coffee grown by our farmers, whether one is at a quiet moment in a secluded beach; needs a boost before an important meeting or preparing for a thesis; enjoying with friends and family – for the right reasons. Filipino coffee tastes great and has the Filipino DNA stamped in every smell and sip.
Despite being a coffee producing country, we are actually a net importer of coffee. We intend to change this landscape – not necessarily to become like Vietnam or Brazil, but for the Philippines to be known as a place where coffee farmers are committed, happy and passionate about their coffee, making Filipino coffee known as a special origins coffee.
TTT: You recently showed at CITEM’s FAME show, how was that for you?
VR: CITEM proved that Basilio Coffee, which stands for Filipino coffee, is world class. Indeed, given the right maturity both for the farmers and the market, the Philippines can be known for special origins coffee. That wherever one goes around the Philippine archipelago, one can savor freshly roasted, exquisite quality, Philippine brewed coffee. The experience of Basilio coffee at CITEM and APEC unquestionably gave above average marks for Filipino coffee.
TTT: Why promote Philippine coffee?
VR: We should drink Filipino coffee because the children of our farmers will continue the legacy of coffee farming because they are witness to a better quality of life from their coffee agribusiness. Also, as with our vision, the next generation will still enjoy the presence of healthier mountains and forests, and we will be able to secure a supply of Philippine coffee and always have that great smelling, good tasting, freshly roasted coffee at the start of every morning, here in the Philippines or elsewhere in the world.