Philippine Coffee - Barako (Coffea arabica)

About Coffee
Coffee has two main varieties or species, Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora or more popularly known as Robusta. Arabica (Coffea arabica) was originally cultivated in the Arabian Peninsula, hence its name. While Robusta (Coffea canephora) is grown in many regions where Arabica would not grow but Robusta has less flavor and contains more caffeine than the Arabica. However, Robusta contains more antioxidants than Arabica coffee. Today, coffee is the second largest traded commodity in the world, second only to oil and the largest exporter of coffee is Brazil. Most espressos blends use good quality Robusta beans because it produces more foamy heads and are cheaper than Arabica coffee beans. Aside from two main varieties of coffee (Arabica and Robusta), there are lesser grown and exotic varieties of coffee e.g. Liberica (where the Philippine Barako comes from) and Exelsa.

A specie of coffee grown on one region will have distinct characteristics from the same specie grown on another region. This is due to the the climate, soil and the processing of the beans. Coffee characteristics is defined by it’s flavour (e.g. citrus-like, earthy), body, acidity and caffeine content. As a rule, the higher the altitude the coffee is grown, the higher the quality.

Health Benefits of Drinking Coffee
There are many conflicting and inconclusive studies on the health benefits of drinking coffee. Initial studies are encouraging and show that drinking coffee indeed have some health benefits. Here are the result of some recent research findings:

Type 2 Diabetes - Of all the studies conducted on the benefits of coffee, the most consistent is the lowered risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes or “adult-onset” diabetes among coffee drinkers. Studies show that the more coffee is consumed the lower the risk. Men who drank 6 cups or more a day cut their diabetes risk in half while women who drank the same amount of coffee, cut their risk to 30%. It seems men benefit more than women.

Antioxidant - coffee is a good source of antioxidants. Green coffee beans contains about 1,000 antioxidants and is increased during brewing. The roasting process also creates it own set of compounds that are beneficial to health and are unique only to coffee. Coffee contains more antioxidants than cocoa, red wine and 4 times more than green tea. Initial findings show that even 1 to 2 cups of coffee a day has beneficial effects and it seems both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee increases the body’s antioxidant levels.

Parkinson’s Disease - independent studies have shown that drinking coffee daily reduces the risk of Parkinson’s Disease by as much as 80%. It also appears that the more the consumption, the lower the risk. Aside from reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease, coffee has positive functional effect on daily activities like concentration, alertness, body endurance and increased male fertility. This is attributed to caffeine’s effect on brain receptors which enhances energy uptake.

There are also recent studies that show that drinking coffee does not raise the risk of heart disease - the old belief now seem to be untrue. Research continues on the benefits of coffee, other benefits include: reduction of asthma attacks, cuts the risk of liver cirrhosis, reduces the risk of colon cancer, reduces headaches, prevents tooth cavities and even offsets the damage of heavy alcohol intake and smoking.

Philippine Coffee & Barako Coffee History
Coffee was brought in the Philippines centuries ago by the Spaniards while the country was a colony. They planted coffee trees on the highlands. And because of good combination of humidity, cold, soil and the tropical climate, these plantation flourished. By the 19th century, the Philippines was the 4th largest coffee producing country in the world.

Barako coffee is the Philippine term for coffee produced in Batangas. This Philippine coffee is of the Liberica variety. Liberica is rare and exotic, grown only in 3 countries out of about 70 coffee producing countries in the world. The first Barako tree was a a cutting from Brazil planted in the 1800s in Barangay Pinagtung-Ulan, Batangas by the Macasaet family. Barako coffee has strong taste, flavor, and has a distinctively pungent aroma. All coffee grown in Batangas is generically called Barako.

During this golden times of coffee production in the Philippines, the town of Lipa in Batangas flourished and many plantation owners became millionaires. In 1887, Spain’s Queen Isabella elevated the town of Lipa into a city named it Villa de Lipa owing to its prosperity. Lipa became one of the richest cities in the Philippines during the coffee boom.

Today, there are only a handful of Barako trees and is in the brink of extinction. The title “coffee capital” of the Philippines has also shifted from Batangas to the town of Amadeo in Cavite province. The decline of coffee industry in the Philippines stated when crops were plagued by “Coffee Rust” an infestation the almost wiped out the Philippine coffee industry. And South American countries took over to satisfy the world demand for coffee. In recent years, this was aggravated by the flooding of Vietnam with cheap coffee which made the world prices collapse even further. Even today, world prices of coffee is a fraction of the prices during the boom years.

The recent world wide popularity of special brews and exotic blends of coffee gives a sliver of hope to the Philippine coffee industry. This new trend might be the breath of life that the Philippine coffee industry needs to savour once again the taste of Barako coffee’s golden years.