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Save the Barako Coffee
Flavorful Filipino coffee almost extinct
Tuesday Gutierrez (tuesday74)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2006-06-30 04:16 (KST)   
Unlike most people, my caffeine addiction didn't start with drinking paper to-go cups of American coffee. It started way back when I was young, during summer trips to my parents hometown, Batangas, the coffee capital of the Philippines. Each time we went home to the province, we made the rounds to meet some relatives, and the best afternoon sessions were conducted at the house of my Lola Auring, my grandmother's sister.

Being opera singers when they were teens in the midst of the Japanese occupation in the Philippines, Lola Auring together with her sisters, would first have a belting session in the music room. And after every theatrical display a la Madame Butterfly, Lola Auring would always ask the most awaited question of the day, "Kapeng Barako, anyone?" This was the signal that it was time to go to the garden.

The sacred spot for this caffeine tradition was under the santol tree, where the breeze that blew from the Kalumpang river was gentle and warm, enough to make anybody doze off. While I and the rest of the kids had too much energy to spare to run around the garden, the old people would take their seats under the santol tree, sometimes with their feet up as if to commence a siesta. Stories were abundant, and martial law was almost always the flavor of the day. And for a flavor as strong as the dictatorship, the barako was the fearless companion.

My Lola Auring would take some coal or dry wood and some pages of the newspaper and light a match and roast the crushed dried beans of the barako and like a priestess, she would toss them to the coffee pot. I was too young to drink coffee then but what I remember most about those days was the strong aromatic smell wafting through the air, and I was very sure that I had my early coffee jolt then just by the barako aroma.

Unfortunately, those were the last times I encountered barako.

I grew up and outgrew the tradition of going home to the province. I had become, like any other person in Manila, a city rat with city values. I forgot everything that was nice about coming home to the province, and I forgot the barako. And together with the end of my young years, drinking barako coffee had also ceased to be a family tradition.

Years later, I became a coffee addict like the rest of the Filipinos when the American coffee culture kicked into the Philippines. I've tasted and tried different flavours from all over the world, but I've never found anything equal to the barako coffee. I tried to look for the aroma that once marked a special place in my childhood memory.

Recently I found out that the barako could be far from being resurrected. Because the Philippines had lost its reign in the coffee industry to Brazil over a century ago, farmers have stopped planting barako because it is no longer a viable and marketable commodity. The Philippines has been reduced as a minor player producing roughly .012 percent coffee supply, a mediocre performance considering coffee is the second most profitable industry in the world today.

And just like Lola Auring whose old age has fluttered away any operatic attempt with Madame Butterfly, today, the barako coffee is almost extinct.

Visit Save the Barako by the Figaro Foundation at www.savethebarako.org
Information regarding barako coffee is available at www.savethebarako.org

This article was also posted on the author's personal blog at www.lasolidaridad.com
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Tuesday Gutierrez

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