Tuesday, May 26, 2009



The most expensive coffee in the world can be found only in a few countries including the Philippines. Known locally as Alamid coffee, it was discovered in the forests as the wild civet cats leave a trail of droppings with coffee beans in it. The beans from these droppings are picked up by forest dwellers, washed, cleaned, peeled off from its parchment, roasted and consumed. Some claim that this coffee has a distinct flavor or texture that regular coffee does not have.

I just had to know more. I tried and tasted Alamid coffee and I have to say that for me it was no big WOW.

The exotic nature of the Alamid coffee creates a demand from the curious. The high priced beverage and coffee sparks a chain reaction for hunters and pickers to be innovative. The cats are paying a high price, as some farmers have found a way to produce the Alamid coffee en masse to meet the demand for it both for local consumption as well as for export.

First, we have to understand that the alamid or civet cat is omnivorous. It eats fruits and other vegetation, insects and other smaller animals. Coffee is not its only primary diet. Consider too that coffee is seasonal, hence we can conclude that the alamid eats other plants and animals when coffee is not in season. The cat is also nocturnal and prowls at night and would defecate during this time.

While digesting the coffee cherries, the alamid will also be digesting all the other food it has eaten. The physiologic and chemical process that happens inside the digestive track of the alamid will definitely contribute to the unique taste of the coffee bean.

Finally when the coffee bean is excreted on the forest floor, one can expect that the moist excreted waste from the animal will be contaminated by dirt and eventually be covered by molds and flies.

Only when found, picked up, washed and dried again will it have the familiar shape of the coffee bean in parchment.

The alamid does not choose if it is Arabica, Robusta, Excelsa or Liberica. So it is believed that unless the civet cat is eating from a large farm or estate planted to only one type of coffee, the alamid  will be eating different varieties of coffee and the processed alamid coffee should be of multiple variety, shape & size. Thus, something like a premixed blend of varieties prior to roasting.

Each kind coffee will give is own character too. Along with the infusion of what the  alamid digestive process will contribute.

A question to keep in mind is… When each coffee eaten gives its own input and is never the same volume when eaten… is there consistency to this? What would really contributes to the significant unique flavor if any to the cup one would drink?

A process known as wash process can result in a coffee of similar in taste to that of the alamid coffee. Pulping off the cherry at its ripest stage then fermenting it overnig

ht,would be parallel as to the civet eating the cherry and digesting the seed overnight. The seeds are washed again and dried in parchment in the same manner that the seeds in parchment excreted by the civet have to be washed and dried. Similarly, both have to be milled or polished then roasted.

To boost the production of alamid coffee, some people in the coffee business have resorted to keeping civet cats in captivity. One can only imagine what the caged cats go through during captivity- a wild nocturnal animal kept awake during the day as well as night and not wanting to eat as any wild animal would do when captured. Starving and weak, the cats consume anything thrown its way from unripe fruits, rotting vegetables even darak  and to a variety of coffee beans ripe or unripe.

I will not generalize; I only speak of what I have seen. And what I have seen does not fall under fair trade practices. What I can share and recommend is be conscious of what you buy and drink. Get certified animal friendly products.

Lastly, in simple scary words, the civet cats are the carriers of the SARS Virus. These cats in captivity under the watch full eye of its caretaker exposes him most likely to the virus. The risk of another epidemic may be just around the corner. Would these producers and exporters that in one way or another encourage the capturing, culturing, domestication and  caging of these civet cats be accountable for an epidemic should one break out?

Below are links for the curious to read more on Civet cat & SARS.

www.newsgd.com/news/picstories/200410110041.htm - 23k



www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/01/11/health/main592533.shtml - 89

news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3381645.stm - 40k

www.bio-medicine.org/medicine-news/SARS-Transmitted-By-Civet-Cat-- u2013-Say-Scientists-In-Chin-16038-1/ - 33k

     To start my blog I have decided to use the foreword of my book which says what I feel about the coffee life I am deeply involved in.

Another point I wish to share is my passion for photography and travel.

Like the Coffee Journal, it will show the places I have been to in search for great finds and more than the unusual stuff on coffee. You see the are the usual stories and there are the really unusual stories.

In the series of articles to come, I would like to share my experience and anthrophotojournalistic (if there is such a word) stories and gossips ( you wish!!!)

Well here it is I welcome you.

My life with coffee started 15 years ago. Thirteen of those years have been spent on purchasing, roasting, blending and selling coffee to cafes, restaurants and hotels. It all began in my mother’s garage and the first photo to document my coffee business is that of my roaster. To this day, those photos hang on my office wall.


In every trip to a farm or to see a client, I would take snapshots of anything related to coffee, and before I knew it I had amassed a huge number of photos. Of course there were the requisite shots of coffee machine installations, training sessions, conventions and seminars. These comprised the bulk of the photos I took. In the midst of that stack of photos and as I went on with my coffee journeys, I realized that I had something more valuable and far more interesting to show than those typical remembrances of seminars. These are photos of which on their own t

ell a story, and, when brought together to form a continuous flow, become a complete visual narrative of coffee life in the Philippines. From there, and as I went on with my coffee journeys, the idea of a book started to brew in my mind.


My laboratory, showroom and company factory store located in the office warehouse provided me a more pressing reason to come up with a book. You see, on the walls of this room hung a series of black and white photos that trace the route of coffee from flowering to the cup. These photos inevitably elicit curiosity from my clients and the others who see them and prompt them to ask questions, the answers to which I would readily supply.


By looking at the photo sequence and with a little explanation, people learn about the stages of coffee making, and other fascinating stories connected to the coffee. So one day, I thought of sharing this story about coffee with an audience bigger than those in the regular coffee seminars and lectures that I conduct.


And so began my deeper search for information on coffee in the Philippines to add to the knowledge I had already accumulated the past years. I started to write down all the information related to coffee, from seed to cup, which I could gather in all the places I visited. I also decided to look into how coffee in the country was in the past.


The research brought me to a sad realization that there are few existing documents on the history of coffee in the Philippines. I read a short article about Franciscan friars who came to the Philippines in 1740 and planted a few gantas of coffee seeds in Batangas. I also read that the Philippines was one of the first countries in Asia who supplied coffee to Europe and that for a short period 1880’s the Philippines had the monopoly of the market because a virus known as coffee rust swept across Asia and wiped out practically all the coffee farms in its wake. The Philippines was spared for some time but eventually the virus reached the islands and the coffee trees succumbed to the disease.


All we have to show of the past centuries in the life and times of Philippine coffee is condensed in a few paragraphs. This unfortunate revelation sealed my resolve to go ahead, compile and share what I know about coffee today so that the coffee culture of today does not suffer the same fate as that of the past.


While documenting the present, I decided to dig into the elusive history of the past by searching for living persons, as elderly as possible who might be able to recount for me what coffee was during their earlier years. Many can no longer even trace the beginning of some terms related to coffee. Some have vague ideas on how their family got into coffee. In many instances, it was easy to substitute facts with speculations and theories, which behooved me to try even harder, and go farther before the remaining coffee traditions are left unrecorded and disappear altogether.


This Journal turned out to be an array of the fundamental knowledge about coffee as told to me by the farmers, the harvesters, the roasters, the traders, the retailers, and of course, the coffee drinkers. It is a photo excursion to the varied subcultures and traditions of the coffee provinces I have visited. It is a tribute to the individuals involved in every stage of coffee making whose hard work and innovation make it possible for us to enjoy a cup of coffee.

From the beginning until halfway through the end, the manifold of reasons to complete this book presented themselves. Not the least of those reasons is my sincere hope that we can finally showcase our very own coffee culture, or that hopefully we will begin to bridge the gap between our incomplete past and our abundant present; or that we will have a solid material to guide us through a better appreciation of the coffee experience. With multinationals in coffee rapidly inching their way into the Filipino lifestyle particularly in the urban areas, I felt the need to highlight the story of Philippine coffee even more.



A Coffee Journal, as I call this book, documents the coffee story from coffee seedling to the beverage we drink today. In every stage or segment of the coffee production, the journal will show places from north to south and the similarities or differences in their processing of coffee. Featured in this book are selected individuals and farmers from the Mountain Province, Cavite, Lipa, Mindoro, Negros and Miarayon, Bukidnon. I have also included some snippets of the history of coffee to show how coffee has been a part of Philippine life from centuries past.


I wish that in the near future, someone else will pick up where I leave off, fill in the missing links in the story of coffee in our country, and enhance our attempts to preserve our coffee culture. I also hope that this book reaches other lands across the seas and earn for the Philippines the recognition it deserves for its rich coffee culture and its role as a market player in the world of coffee, however far behind it has now trailed.


Here then, is my very personal experience of the Philippine coffee culture from the north to the south, from the farm to the cup, from me to you. 

Roberto Francisco

Books are available at Boyds Coffee, Fully Booked, Filipinas Heritage Library, Museum Cafe library, Lopez Museum. 

Call 746-CAFE or 746-BOYD