I HAVE not been to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) annual show for about 15 years now. Since I got into coffee franchising, and eventually concentrating instead on coffee production as an advocacy, I left the “third wave” coffee culture to the younger generation, and sat content with my usual black drip coffee, without the description of acidity or “brightness”.
So it was an enriching albeit tiring experience to have to walk the floor seeing new coffee products and seeing the trade evolve right before my eyes.
This time though, my frame of mind became that of a producer of coffee, and I’m looking at every product from a country perspective. Indonesia, our neighbor of 17,000 islands was this year’s Portrait country—featured as an “origin” (where coffee comes from) and deserving this space in the specialty coffee industry. It had the tag “Remarkable Indonesia” and its government has fervently supported the promotion of all Indonesian coffee origins—like Bali, Sumatra, Sulawesi Flores and Aceh.
Another country worth noticing is China. Yunnan China is now an origin doing the rounds of specialty roasters in the USA and producing a record of 170,000 MT compared to our measly 22,000 MT. More incredibly, that figure was from almost zero 15 years ago, as China started as a tea-drinking nation. But with political will and a firm resolve to be self-sufficient in coffee, the country is now taking coffee production seriously.
I was green with envy seeing Myanmar now being marketed as “Asia’s newest coffee origin,” and Myanmar cupping sessions being held at the SCAA show. I thought to myself ‘when will the Philippines be the portrait country at SCAA? When will we have a Coffee Exchange? When will we be the toast of Asean coffee producers?’ We really have a lot of work to do, and this show opened my eyes to the rest of what the world does to keep its coffee industry alive.
Many years ago, the popular origins were the usual predictable South and Central Americas—Brazil, Colombia, Gautemala and Mexico; Panama for Geisha and Costa Rica too. The Africas are also known because of Ethiopia and Kenya. Uganda is known for even washed Robusta.
The three-day expo is a coffee shop owner’s Disneyland. There are new third wave accessories, new flavors, new geekery for “slow brew” and a lot of inspiration to keep one’s interest high in the specialty trade.
For me, it was a natural caffeine high and a reality check. While I had some inquiries from Filipinos and half-Pinoys wanting our coffee to be sold by them for the café trade or for specialty roasters, the show for me was a reminder of the work that needs to be done back home. I brought my green coffee samples for an honest inspection by experts. I brought the hope that maybe someday we could be a Portrait country, or the newest Asian coffee origin.
It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get down to work. We need to educate our farmers, we need to develop younger farmers, and we need the government to back us up in this new wave of coffee production. The world is waiting for the next best origin and we could be it. Those are the simple secrets of Indonesia, China and little Myanmar. And we can do it, too.
And like what SCAA says, “Great coffee does not just happen.” A lot of work and passion goes into coming up with a good cup of coffee. The work, our work, has just begun.
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium, Centris QC mall, Davao, Cebu City, Antipolo and Iloilo City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates and NGOs on sustainability, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org