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The business of making coffee in the Philippines has significantly progressed over the years. Everywhere you go, every corner you look at, you’re bound to find either huge establishments of global brands or quaint coffee shops ran and frequented by locals. Its market is practically everyone who’s old enough to drink coffee without ruining his appetite for lunch or young enough not to pass out from coffee palpitations. From college students to corporate executives, coffee has evolved from being a mere breakfast beverage into an anytime- of-the-day drink. Be it a lunch meeting, an afternoon chat, or post-dinner date affair, coffee just seems to be the best companion drink nowadays.
I’m a coffee addict myself, but I take pride in the fact that I’m not a fan of the fancy mixes, big dollops of whipped cream floating over my brew, decorated with syrups and whatnot. I drink coffee because I need the caffeine fix, and I crave the strong flavor. I always stick to either regular brewed coffee or plain latte. My favorite brew, since I am after all a Batangueña, is barako brew. What is this barako brew and how did it start? Well, I recently had the privilege of going back to my hometown Lipa City and watch how coffee goes from being a dried bean to a liquid dessert.
A Brief Barako History
Barako actually means tough or strong in English, and it is most often used in describing Batangas men. Tough guys are generally barako. Lipa City is well-known for its coffee beans, and because of its strength and the fact that it originated from the land of Barako people, the coffee was eventually termed “Barako coffee.” And true to its definition, kapeng barako is strong in taste, in aroma, and in that caffeine “kick.” The best kapeng barako is served in the Lipa City’s top coffee shop, the town name-bearer itself: Cafe de Lipa.
Bryan Mercado, Cafe de Lipa’s Marketing Manager, narrated to me the early beginnings of the family owned coffee company. Cafe de Lipa, the coffee shop more fondly referred to as “CDL” by locals, is relatively young having been established only in 2006. But Cafe de Lipa, the brand, dates farther back into the 1980’s. Bryan told me that they came from the clan of the first coffee planters in the town, the Macasaet family. Cafe de Lipa started out as the brand name of the coffee packaging business that owner Joe Mercado (Bryan’s father) started. At first, the business just involved rationing coffee to markets. But from there, Joe Mercado ventured into packing coffee and branding it Cafe de Lipa.
“Why did you choose that name?” I asked him. It’s usually common for family businesses to make their surname the brand title. Bryan told me that before, during the lifetime of his grandmother, they branded the coffee packs “Batangas Brew.” But later on, the family decided to start a new brand which was Cafe de Lipa. “During the 1800’s, Lipa City ranked number four in the top producers of coffee in the world,” Bryan explained. “People everywhere, especially those from Europe, called the coffee coming from Lipa as Cafe de Lipa. We decided to adopt that name for our new brand.” And so since the 1980’s, the Mercado family carried on a business of packing Barako coffee, branding it Cafe de Lipa, and then selling it. But in 2006, Joe Mercado decided to try out putting a coffee shop as the main façade of their compound. The building back then was being renovated; it was primarily housing a construction supply business and their coffee processing and packing department.
They were a bit hesitant with the idea too. They had qualms as to whether it would have worked out because, as Bryan affirmed, “Lipeños liked drinking coffee at home.” Back then, there weren’t any coffee shops around town. If you wanted to drink coffee, you either brew your own coffee within the comforts of your own home or you get yourself the instant 3-in-1. But like any other business venture, there was a risk to be taken. And for CDL, it was a risk that reaped rewards. The coffee shop became a big hit among locals and tourists alike! From one main coffee shop in San Carlos Drive in Mataas na Lupa, Lipa City, CDL now has four other branches (STAR Tollway, Robinsons Place Lipa, Market! Market!, and SM City Lipa).
The coffee shop has also undergone some rebranding—from the “old crowd” theme of earth colors, CDL has taken steps towards becoming more “hip and happy” with hues of red and white. Today, CDL showcases a bright, modern theme that has been a big hit both for its student patrons and traveling visitors.
From The Tree To The Mug
The Mercados gave me and my photographer Christine Mayor a private tour of the coffee processing plant they had at the back of the compound. As we were several feet away from the plant, Christine and I could already smell the refreshing coffee aroma. I remember telling Bryan that it would be quite nice to live right next to the plant. It would be a literal interpretation of the term, “waking up to smell the coffee.” Barako smells just as excellently as it tastes!
When we got to the plant, it was a bit noisy. The workers have already began roasting the coffee beans. At CDL, they roast from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon. Bryan explained how the process goes—once the fruit has been harvested from the tree, they are set to dry. Drying takes a couple of days. After which, the pod is removed from the fruit. A tube, connected to the machine, sucks in the lightly colored, dried beans for a pre-roasting procedure. They pass through the considerably lengthy tube and down to huge, silver cylinder. You can see from a small glass window that the beans are ground against each other. They are then funneled out and ground further in a huge basin where their color has now become dark brown. From there, the ground coffee beans are packed into bags. This whole process takes about twenty to thirty minutes.
Drink And Be Moody
Now that the main ingredient for that hot cup of caffeine goodness is ready, packs and bags of CDL’s barako coffee are then sold at their stores. They are also, of course, the base for all of CDL’s beverage offerings, may it be perfezza hot, perfezza cold, celleto, or simply barako.
The Barako Joe (Batangas coffee drink aptly named after owner Joe Mercado), although it is the house specialty and bestseller, is not the only unique blend that CDL serves. JP Receno, their officer in charge of beverage and training, told me all about their “Mood Coffee.”
“Mood Coffee is a new way not only of making coffee but also enjoying coffee,” JP explained. They have decided to reinvent the face of coffee preparation AND consumption by making blends that would suit the customer’s moods at the time they are actually drinking the coffee. CDL offers six “mood coffee”- –all of which were carefully designed and prepared to match six different moods of coffee drinkers.
The Happy Cup, as JP discussed, is recommended for the coffee drinker who’s already starting the day on a happy note. Mixing espresso, milk, and white chocolate ingredients that help the body release more serotonin, the Happy mood coffee is a sweet coffee blend that will get you smiling at first sip. Best drank hot, you can really detect the chocolate aftertaste. And we all know that chocolate gets most of us smiling at first bite! For those who are feeling sleepy, CDL suggests their Perk Up mood coffee. It combines espresso and milk again, this time with two types of chocolate that gives the drinker an energy boost and a stimulating effect. A hint of chocolate truffle is present in the aftertaste. The Mischievous Cup blends cream and wild berries with the house brew. It’s supposed to match that curious behavior, when you want to explore something and be a little daring. If you’re in this mood, you better try the Mischievous Cup. It is also the only Mood Coffee that’s available as celleto (ice blended). For those who are sporting a leave-me-alone attitude, JP recommends the Companion Cup. I thought this was the best mood coffee for me, since I usually go to CDL to read a book by my lonesome. It combines the usual espresso with mocha and nut essences to help you focus. The Zen Cup, which both JP and Bryan jokingly prescribe for ninjas, is a brew recommended for those who want to relax. They want to do away with the connotation that coffee will not help you relax, and so they mixed the brew with caramel and a type of chocolate that gets you feeling energized without compromising relaxation. And lastly, their Barako mood is blended for those who feel exceptionally sleepy and idle that one cup of their house drink just won’t cut it. Mixing espresso with the unique barako blend and topped with barako whipped cream, this mood coffee will certainly give you that caffeine boost you’re craving (and probably have you on it for the next couple of days). For those who are looking for something new to try, I suggest you order their Barako mood coffee and specifically request that it be topped with Barako whipped cream. I didn’t know you can make whipped cream by using barako blend, but CDL has accomplished that feat and they did so quite well! The mood coffee had a new and surprisingly pleasant effect on my palate, that I vowed I’ll come back for more—but perhaps on the next day as I might not be able to sleep for days as it is.
Although CDL is primarily a place to get your coffee fix, they also offer a wide range of pastries and cakes that are incredibly superb! The barako and tableya brownie and revel bars are a must try. They’re chewy and crunchy and soft all at the same time, and you can readily taste the sweet yet strong barako coffee and chocolate flavors as you bite into the brownies, your taste buds relishing the added fl avor of roasted cashew nuts. Baked and distributed by The Artisan, a sister company of CDL, the pastry and cake line of the coffee shop has grown steadily since its inception. At fi rst, there were only a few blueberry cheesecakes and sandwiches and the signature product of tinapa paté. Today, they now offer dulce de leche squares, oatmeal cookies (with chocolate chips and dried camias), pork asado pan de sal, banana muffins, and cakes (mango sans rival, chocolate pistachio sansrival, and triple chocolate cake).
Indeed, the Lipa coffee industry has blossomed as quickly as the coffee beans have grown, been roasted, ground, and brewed. And, in light of local businesses like Cafe de Lipa, the industry continues to grow. I’m thankful that in the advent of commercial establishments that capitalize on international coffee recipes and introduce new innovations of coffee fl avors, there are coffee shops like Cafe de Lipa which are still able to preserve the uniqueness of a locally-grown and brewed coffee, that of kapeng barako. Whenever I go home to Lipa, I make it a point to visit CDL—it just gives me that familiar feeling, as though I’m having coffee in my second home. I also keep a safe stash of CDL’s ground coffee ready for brewing when I’m back in the Metro. The fi rst whiff of its barako aroma and the fi rst taste of its strong fl avor reminds me so much of home, and in that brief moment of savoring my cup of coffee, I feel that I actually am back in my hometown.
So the next time you pass by Lipa, Batangas, do drop by Cafe de Lipa and try out their bestselling drink, Barako Joe. But be sure to also try out the mood coffee—and here’s hoping that the first mood blend you’ll opt for is the Happy Cup.