Tokyo, Japan – The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) field office in Japan achieved a milestone for the Philippine coffee industry by spearheading a trilogy of events that introduced Philippine specialty coffee, specifically Barako and Pea berries to VIPs, industry players (large and small), coffee experts and the general beverage drinking public.
Commercial Counselor Dita Angara-Mathay and her team at DTI Tokyo organized these three events envisioned to help Philippine specialty coffee penetrate the Japanese market: the Independence Day Celebration hosted by the Philippine Embassy at Imperial Hotel last June 10, 2022, which gathered over 300 VIP guests from the Japanese government, business community and diplomatic corps; the Philippine Expo at the Ueno Park last June 11 and 12, 2022; and a Philippine Specialty Coffee Tasting Event at the Siazon Hall of the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo last June 14, 2022.
The last event brought together about 41 industry players from key brand name industry players to coffee roasters, coffee shop owners, importers including an expert from a coffee academy and an entrepreneur to be hobbyist currently working at Starbucks.
Mathay said she got her inspiration from an article she read in Nikkei Asia entitled Coffee Revolution when she conceptualized and organized the DTI field office in Japan’s first ever Pour Over Philippine Specialty Coffee Tasting Event. She quoted Mr. Masahiro Kanno, former President of the Specialty Coffee Association of Japan, “Tea consumption has been the mainstream in Asia so far, but I think that the number of people who drink coffee will increase, as we have seen in Japan. Since Japan originally has a culture of drinking tea, we already have a custom of boiling water. I think it is easy to establish a culture of drinking sophisticated coffee, such as brewing pour-over coffee.”
“For the specialty coffee tasting activity, we wanted to focus on Barako from Southern Luzon and Benguet Peaberry Coffee from the Cordillera highlands in the North, and Davao del Sur Peaberry from Mount Apo in the South. These are rare and exotic coffee beans that we hope will satisfy the discriminating tastes of coffee drinkers on the lookout for specialty coffee. Mount Apo is the highest mountain in the Philippines and Cordillera in Benguet is described as the 8th wonder of the World. Both places are must visit tourist spots,” Mathay said. She added, “We want to push it in Japan, Asia’s largest coffee market as a niche gourmet product. We are confident a few Japanese coffee shops will feature it among their small-lot coffee lines”.
The Philippine Barako, considered to be a rare exotic coffee that has just come out from the brink of extinction until efforts were made to preserve it, is also known as the Philippine Liberica, a rare type of coffee bean that comprises only 2% of the world’s coffee production. On the back of growing global interest and awareness to revive and conserve rare coffee beans, the Philippine government, in partnership with the private sector, has actively been helping Filipino farmers and entrepreneurs promote their products in the global market. The Philippine Coffee Industry Roadmap plans to increase coffee production in the Philippines to attain par position with other coffee-producing countries.
“Very few people are aware that the Philippines was one of the top producers of coffee in the world in the 1880s. Fast forward to today, opportunities abound in the rising wave of coffee consumption and increasing number of peoplee who actively search and prepare specialty coffee in their homes or pursue it as a business”. The Internet notes the following, “the taste of Barako coffee as superior to Robusta. Local coffee aficionados prefer Barako to Arabica. Barako blended with Arabica and Excelsa produces a wide flavor range”.
During the coffee tasting event, Chit Juan, President of the Philippine Coffee Board, delivered a talk on Specialty coffee from the Philippines, highlighting among others Peaberry coffee, a rare type of bean that comprises only 5% of the total harvest. Peaberries are the “four-leaf clover” of coffee beans because it is a natural mutation. The usual coffee cherries would contain two beans, but Peaberries have a single bean, which yield a brighter and more pronounced flavor”. Juan encouraged Japanese coffee connoisseurs to try the exotic beans from the Philippines – the Barako, which she called the “big bean” and the pea berries, which she called the “one bean.”
The coffee tasting event was attended by big names in the Japanese coffee industry such as UCC, Doutor and AGF Ajinomoto; large importers of Philippine products such as Marubeni Foods and Sojitz, major retailers like Don Quijote, regular importers of Philippine agri-based products like Aoyama Tsusho and CocoCures; and other specialty coffee shops, roasters and brewers like Horiguchi, Cerrad, Mobius, Tailwinds and Woodberry. Lastly, Fumiya Sankai, a Japanese influencer who counts 5 million followers on his various social media platforms who will soon be opening a coffee shop in Roppongi near the Philippine Embassy said he is interested in procuring Philippine Mount Apo Peaberry which he said was his favorite among the lot of three.
Specialty beans were provided by VerraCoffee, a social enterprise that is currently exporting Philippine coffee in small quantities to Filipino entrepreneurs in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and the United States. And through these series of events, the company is now able to reach the Japanese market.
The event opened up much interest in Filipino coffee among those in the Japanese coffee industry. There are now talks between Japanese importers and Philippine coffee exporters for trial orders ranging from 1000 kilos of green beans to 25 kilos of roasted specialty beans. If the trial orders go well, the importers committed to have repeat orders in larger amounts.
Many Japanese attendees remarked that this was a refreshing and well-organized event. Many requested that this be organized regularly. Guests shared that they are eager to taste more coffee beans from other areas. Mathay responded, “This is something we can definitely work on. The Philippines is an archipelagic nation with more than 7000 islands. The topography and microclimate have enabled the country to grow a wide range of interesting coffee varieties”.
The founder of VerraCoffee, Vanessa Velasco is a strong advocate of social entrepreneurship, and has pledged a portion of the company’s profits into educating tribal children in the Philippines. She said “I have seen how the Philippine government is working hard to help MSMEs reach a wider and global market. This is indeed good news for our farmers, and the indigenous children that we support. They now have a brighter future ahead of them.”