I joined Cordillera Green Network’s Coffee Harvest Tour last December 10, 2016 in Benguet. And yes, I could say that it was a life-changing experience.
Since the tour was set to begin early, I decided to travel to Baguio the night before the event. I booked a room at TALA Share & Guest House, managed by the same NGO. I arrived at around 10pm on December 9 and was welcomed by Kanami and Iuko, whom I became friends with immediately. They were so helpful and friendly.
They even offered me coffee, which I learned was free for guests. Then we started talking about a lot of things right away. It was a great surprise, since I am an introvert and I usually find it hard to feel comfortable with people I have just met. I also fell in love with Tala and was sure that it would be my new home in the City of Pines.
I decided to sleep around 1am, excited for the following day’s activities. I loved how cozy my room was and I was sure I would get a good night’s sleep.
I woke up around 6am the next day feeling recharged, even though I only had five hours of sleep. Perhaps part of the reason was the idea that I was in Baguio City, my happy place. I was so happy to wake up to the lovely view outside my window, too.
That time, I could already hear other people’s voices outside the room. That gave me a clue that other participants had already arrived. (TALA was the meeting place for the activity.) So, I hurried and prepared, then joined the other participants after.
We had a short gathering first, during which each participant was given time for a brief introduction. Kanami and Sevy, our leaders for that day, also introduced themselves and gave us an overview of what would take place in the next hours. After that, we took the jeepney that would take us to Tublay, Benguet, where the coffee farms we were set to visit were located.
Yet, before going to the farms, we had a stopover in La Trinidad first to buy snacks, plus some ingredients for our lunch.
Having bought everything we needed, we hit the road again. We arrived in Tublay, Benguet around 9am.
The first part of the tour proper was a lecture about coffee. Our speaker was Renato and he explained to us the different parts of a coffee cherry, as well as the processes that coffee has to go through before it reaches the cup. Through this lecture, I also learned that it usually takes around 90 coffee cherries to make a cup of coffee. Now I could feel the guilt for having wasted coffee in the past.
We were divided into three groups as soon as the lecture was over. Then, we were led to the designated coffee farms to start harvesting coffee.
While we had a lot of fun, we also realized how difficult the entire process was. Each coffee cherry should be assessed before picking, so just imagine how time-consuming it would be to harvest several kilograms of them. Going around the plantation could also be difficult, especially during the rainy season.
Since the farmers have adapted agroforestry, coffee shrubs were mixed with different types of plants and trees. And so going around the plantation was like getting lost in a forest.
After a couple of hours, our team was finally able to harvest enough coffee cherries. Ready for the rest of the processes! But first, we had to take a break for lunch. We had Pinikpikan, which was cooked by the members of the community we were visiting.
We started processing the coffee cherries we harvested right after. We began with floating. Bad coffee berries were separated from the good ones during this process. Then, there was pulping, a process where the pulp or the outermost layer each cherry would be removed. We did the wet method, meaning cherries were soaked in water before the procedure.
Because of the limitations of the machines used, some pulps just would not separate from the cherries. And so, we had to remove these remaining pulps manually, one by one. It was a tedious process, indeed. Yet we had fun because everyone was willing to help. Of course, while we were doing this, some participants kept themselves busy operating the pulping machine.
After that was drying. The process would take a couple of days, according to them, which just meant we would simply have to leave the batch of coffee we harvested to dry. But since they wanted us to experience the other processes, we were allowed to use a different set of dried coffee beans.
The next process we tried was hulling, which we did by manually pounding. We had to be careful not to break the coffee beans. Then, to separate the husks and other impurities with the beans, a winower was used.
Sorting came after that. It was another tedious process; defected beans had to be removed. According to Renato, this process was crucial to ensure the quality of the coffee. Besides taking out beans that weren’t good for human consumption, it was also where beans were grouped based on their sizes.
The beans were ready for roasting, finally! That time, we used only a wok and a wooden spoon.
Several minutes passed and our coffee was done roasting. The beans were ground immediately, so we could drink coffee.
Yes, the beans that were used for that afternoon’s coffee weren’t the ones we harvested earlier, but we still could not feel but be amazed by ourselves. We did a great job; we were able to try processing coffee.
Our realization? What coffee has to go through before reaching the cup isn’t a joke at all. Also, kudos to the farmers who do all these things on a regular basis. They deserve respect.
Actually, that was just one of our many realizations. It was a life-changing experience, so we had a meaningful sharing session when we returned to TALA.
It was during this session when I committed to do my best in supporting local coffee shops that source their beans from different Philippine provinces. And of course, all of us also agreed to be more mindful when it comes to consuming coffee. Like what I said during my turn to speak, “I’d never get a large cup of coffee again, unless I’m really sure that I could finish it to the last drop.”