Smells Like Coffee Spirit

Cabuyao is slowly making a name for itself as a successful coffee producer south of Luzon.

Usually, coffee in the island of Luzon would point you to the regions of Cordillera and CALABARZON. In the latter region, Cavite and Batangas are known as the provinces that produce some of the highest quality coffee in the country. Nowadays, the town known as the "Home of the Golden Bell" might have to rethink how they'd like to be known as the small but proud barangay of Casile in Cabuyao, where the Casile-Guinting Upland Marketing (CGUMC), is raising its cups, giving both Cavite and Batangas a run for its money.

The history of CGUMC dates back to its formation in 2011, with their involvement in coffee starting the following year. Known widely for their famous Café de Cabuyao, the cooperative mainly processes Robusta coffee.

Leading the group of producing quality coffee is their manager of almost seven years (from the time of writing), Michelle dela Cruz, 43. Entering the cooperative as its designated manager in 2015, Michelle has been there to see the ups and downs of the cooperative.
In its early days, coffee production was determined as the main goal of the cooperative due to the number of Robusta-producing coffee trees in their area. With the cooperative focused mainly on coffee production, they rely heavily on their farmers' produce for processing since the cooperative does not have its own plantation. Their cooperative has a combined land production area of 25 hectares from its 119 female and 83 male members.

Traditional methods for coffee processing became the early downfall of the cooperative. Without any formal knowledge on coffee processing and a heavy reliance on what was the "known" method for coffee processing, the cooperative was not producing the kind of coffee it's known for today.


When former cooperative chairperson Juanito Andal saw the potential of coffee in their area, attending training courses on coffee production was the first step he took. It was through these events that he was able to prepare a proposal that would allow them to process the coffee in their area. Upon approval, his coop members started to attend training courses that provided information on coffee processing. The only downside, however, was these were only surface scratchers.

"When the cooperative first started processing coffee, we mostly relied on the knowledge passed down to us. Harvesting is a tedious job and I remember back then, our farmers practiced the stripping method, which was convenient because they did not want to travel to and from their farms, but that meant getting both ripe and unripe coffee berries. The initial idea here was ‘kape naman yan', so we were processing coffee regardless of its condition because we didn't want to waste coffee," Michelle justified.

Drying coffee was another identified problem since their coffee was dried on the pavement or the ground with matting to prevent the coffee berries from directly touching the ground. Yes, harnessing the power of the sun was needed to dry the coffee berries, but this also exposed the coffee berries to other elements such as rain. Pets or stray animals could also contaminate the commodity. Anything that could potentially affect the quality of coffee as early as the drying phase could spoil the product even before it's completely processed.

The lack of resources for coffee processing was also identified as a problem since it was all done manually, leaving inconsistencies with the end result. And when combined, all of these factors resulted in coffee that was far from the expected quality.


Cabuyao farmers knew that their coffee was good, but Dr. Helen F. Martinez of the PHilMech knew that it could be better.

Through an endorsement from then Department of Agriculture High-Value Crops Development Program National (DA-HVCDP) Coordinator Jennifer Remoquillo, Dr. Martinez was able to assess the state of Cabuyao's production and create a solution that would help increase the quality of Cabuyao's coffee production.

Conveniently, Dr. Martinez was working on the Community-Based Coffee Processing Enterprise (CBCPE). As explained by Dr. Martinez, the CBCPE is a strategy that would help coffee farmers produce high quality green coffee beans by adopting the recommended postharvest techniques backed by PHilMech researchers. Coffee farmers may also create a business model that caters to the market that they would like to sell their products at - this is supported by both the public and private sectors.

The CBCPE was researched by former Socio-Economic and Policy Research Division Chief, Dr. Renita Dela Cruz.

Through the recommendation of Dr. Martinez, DA-HVCDP was able to endorse her project to the DA Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR), who funded Dr. Martinez's project on creating CBCPE business models. The recommendation of Dr. Martinez also paved the way for supporting agencies such as DA IV-A and LGU Cabuyao to provide much needed training courses, seedlings, fertilizers and coffee processing equipment to aide in CGUMC's coffee production.

The most significant provision by the DA-HVCDP was CGUMC's own Coffee Processing Facility. The Php 1.5 million facility situated on a 1000 square-meter land would be the site where members would process their coffee to produce coffee that would be of the same quality because according to Dr. Martinez, the CBCPE would only be successful if the cooperative and its members pool their resources. She also advised coffee cooperatives to determine who their target market is, so they would know what they need to produce.

The provision of the Coffee Processing Facility also allowed Michelle to provide work to fellow cooperative members. As of writing, five (including Michelle) women are working at the facility.

It took some time, but Michelle and the cooperative's members were able to follow the postharvest system that PHilMech recommended to them.

For starters, Michelle had to convince her fellow members that processing ripe coffee berries was the way to go. While it was highly inconvenient for their farmers to travel to and from their farms to collect only the ripe coffee berries, they eventually understood how important the processing of ripe coffee berries were to overall quality of the produce. While the members originally opposed the idea of selective harvesting (harvesting only the ripe berries), CGUMC's promise of buying only ripe berries at a higher price sealed the deal for its farmers.

Depending on the variety of the coffee, there are various ways one may process their coffee before it is dried. Since CGUMC processes mainly Robusta coffee, Michelle's team practiced the recommended dry method for processing the cooperative's coffee. In this method, unpulped coffee berries went straight to the dryer after harvesting.

The cooperative moved on from drying coffee berries on roads, pavements or soil, as the they now dry their berries using the PHilMech-provided Multi-Commodity Solar Tunnel Dryer and the Greenhouse Solar Tunnel Dryer. Apart from protecting the commodity from rain and other external factors, the elevation that these dryers provide for drying coffee is ideal because coffee is hygroscopic. This is also the method recommended and backed by research.

Using a steel huller would remove the husk from the dried berries. This would then allow the coffee processor to use a PHilMech-developed Coffee Moisture Meter to determine the moisture content of the green beans. An 11 to 12 percent moisture content (for Robusta) must be achieved before it can be stored.

In order to maintain the quality of the coffee that is produced on a commercial scale, it is important to practice sorting the coffee beans. By removing coffee beans that are with damage, defect or doesn't meet the quality check, the coffee processor can maintain high quality coffee beans.

The main idea of the CBCPE was to create quality coffee beans through PHilMech's recommended postharvest system. This is one version of the CBCPE's business model that targeted coffee shops who preferred to roast their own beans. However, the flexibility of the CBCPE also allowed coffee producers to take it a step further by selling their coffee as a ready-to-drink product - roasted, grounded, and packed.

Roasting is also easier for Michelle's team with the provision of a roasting machine. To put into context, Michelle's team would previously roast their coffee using a kawa or kawali, which were done by batches due to size limitations. The roasting machine allows big batches of coffee to be roasted uniformly, with its desired outcome determined by its user.

Grinding has also become mechanized with the provision of an electric grinder, as opposed to manual grinding using a mortar and pestle. The final product is then packed with their DTI-improved signature packaging, which is then sealed using a sealer.

The improvement of their coffee processing system earned them the award of Most Outstanding Community-Based Cooperative in 2017, awarded by the City Cooperative and Livelihood Development Office of the LGU.

Out of all the newly adopted processing techniques, Michelle says that sorting has to be her favorite because it provides a job opportunity to its members.
Plus, the added presence of people in the facility is a welcome sight to her. In terms of machines, the roasting machine is her favorite as it brings out the flavor of the coffee. Overall, Michelle is glad that all of the technologies provided to them are gender-friendly, making it very accessible to the women working at the cooperative.

The influence that these machines and technologies have brought on the coffee farmers of Cabuyao have also been very evident. Through assistance of the City Agriculture office, farmers have been able to create their own versions of the solar dryer and pulper – both effectively working.

Their newly adopted processing techniques have also reflected in the cooperative's income. Michelle said that prior to the provisions of PHilMech and DA IV-A, on a monthly basis, they would earn only Php 15,000. Nowadays, they can comfortably earn Php 100,000 to Php 200,000 per month. Bringing their yearly financial statement in the million-peso range.

Producing coffee that was now up to the market standard, allowed the LGU of Cabuyao to start the "Pistang Kapihan ng Cabuyao" or the Coffee Festival of Cabuyao in 2018, with CGUMC leading the festival. The festival showcased the cooperative's main product called "Café de Cabuyao", which is a coffee blend mix of Arabica, Liberica and Robusta coffee, while also featuring other coffee-based products developed by the Cabuyao Young Entrepreneurs Society, painting display, barista training and demonstration of coffee-products.

With the success of the festival scoring a sequel the following year, the festival, which was supposed to be an annual event, came to an abrupt stop in 2020.


When the Taal volcano erupted in early 2020 after 43 years of dormancy, Cabuyao was one of the hardest hit cities given its close proximity to the volcano. The ash that swept neighboring towns and provinces amounted to Php 113 billion in damages, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). The once green scenery of Tagaytay, Batangas and Laguna were suddenly white from the ash fall. With no rainfall in sight, the acidity killed the agriculture of these neighboring towns, with an estimated cost of Php 3.06 billion in damage, according to a DA report.

While the neighboring towns and provinces were picking up their losses, just a couple of months after Taal's eruption came the start of the COVID-19 lockdown in the country. For months, people weren't allowed to step outside of their homes (though they didn't even dare to) in the hopes of avoiding the unseen virus.

"Wala kaming kita noon," Michelle said. Given the location of their barangay, they were permitted to work. However, since lockdowns were imposed, no customers visited their store during the early days of the pandemic despite the cooperative being able to work and process coffee.

Working hand in hand, both DA IV-A and Cabuyao's LGU were quick to offer assistance to the farmers and people of Cabuyao. CGUMC, too, offered a helping hand to its members. DA IV-A started off by providing Cabuyao's LGU with new planting materials in a bid to "start new".

According to Michelle, coffee of the Liberica variety were provided to them, so they are expecting to see a rise in their Liberica coffee in a few years. The fertilizer that DA IV-A also provided CGUMC were used to rejuvenate the soil, which they used to grow vegetables. The vegetables that Cabuyao produced would then be bought by its LGU as part of the "ayuda" package given to its residence.

Apart from that, Cabuyao's mayor would buy more than Php 1 million worth of coffee products from the cooperative as a form of assistance, while also serving as tokens for the visitors of Cabuyao. This allowed the cooperative to purchase the rented land that their facility was constructed on, which was worth Php 2 million.

CGUMC, on the other hand, was shelling out funds to provide essential goods to its members. It was also during this time that the cooperative was creating job opportunities to its members in order to provide them with a source of income.

"It's always ideal to have a plan B during these situations. You cannot be limited by the restrictions brought by the first plan, so you need to have a backup plan in case your original plan doesn't work. For us, our plan was to hire people to work at the facility so that both
the cooperative and the workers can earn during these times of uncertainty," Michelle explained.


Michelle, her team, and their customers have seen how the correct practices taken for coffee processing can greatly affect the quality of their coffee. At this point, Michelle is confident that the quality of coffee that their cooperative produces can compete with those produced in Cavite and Batangas.

"Baka hindi ko ma-meet yung expectation kasi masyadong mataas yung pagtingin sa aming kooperatiba. Kaya lang po, kami ay ginagawa lang namin kung ano natutunan namin sa mga training. Kung ano po yung binabahagi po sa amin, amin lang pong ginagampanan. Nandun pa rin po kami sa stage ng learning and we are improving," Michelle responded after mentioning that CGUMC was the model farm for Robusta coffee.

Dr. Martinez lauded the farmers of Cabuyao for their persistence. With lockdowns and quarantines eased due to the availability of vaccines, as well as the slow (but expected) recovery from the effects of the Taal eruption, CGUMC is sure that they will be back stronger, knowing well and truly that they are equipped with the proper machines and best practices to ensure that they will be back to producing high-quality coffee soon that will put them up there with the likes of Cavite and Batangas.
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