Third wave coffee happened—what’s next?
According to studies, the average Filipino consumes about 3.78 kilos of coffee per year. The Philippines ranks just after the top 10 countries with the most Starbucks locations in the world, at over 400 locations.
Besides being large consumers, we are also a coffee producer, and have been since the 1700s. Our country actually falls under the “Bean Belt,” an equatorial zone that houses the world’s biggest coffee-growing countries. The Philippines is also one of the few that produces all four commercially viable types of coffee including Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa.
At one point when coffee rust hit the major coffee countries like Brazil and Africa, the Philippines temporarily became the world’s only source of beans. Despite this, our local coffee scene has only really started to flourish in the past. Though a Starbucks was never more than a few street corners away, it was rare to spot specialty coffee shops and independent cafes before 2012.
Nowadays, the country is well on its way to firmly establishing its own coffee culture. New roasters and independent cafes are opening left and right, even more so during the pandemic when many other industries struggled to keep afloat. So now that third-wave coffee is upon us, what’s next for the local cuppa scene?
Three industry purveyors tell us what they think will be the future of Philippine coffee.
Batch-Brewing To Reach New Audiences
Yardstick Coffee does everything from supplying your early morning coffee to roasting beans, hosting workshops, and supplying equipment. And none of these would have been possible without Andre Chanco, Yardstick’s co-founder. He compares what he has seen in the past three years with regard to local coffee culture to the Great Recession in 2007.
Chanco explains that people lost their work or no longer wanted to be in corporate jobs, resulting in a new set of entrepreneurs looking to get into alternative businesses, like coffee. He recalls that specialty coffee in particular was booming because of the low entry barrier for first-time entrepreneurs.
The same thing seems to have happened during the pandemic when a whole wave of independent cafes with their own unique concepts emerged. Chanco doesn’t view these startups as competitors. On the contrary, he says that “it’s encouraging, early on, we realized it’s going to take more than one company or person to effect change and revolutionize the local industry.”
As for what’s next, Yardstick’s proprietor has a unique take on the prediction. From his observation, coffee is cyclical. With second-wave coffee, big chains like Starbucks were all about batch brewing. Third-wave was all about the idea that each cup is special, hence the preference for pour-overs and other single-serve brewing methods.
The next wave, for Chanco, would be making quality coffee more accessible.
Coffee shops might eventually get to the point where the quality of batch-brewing becomes just as good as single-serve. As a result, we might see a rise in canned, capsule, or bottled coffee. Chanco thinks these formats are interesting because they allow a customer to have cafe-level quality while bridging the gap to a new target audience.
Experimental Coffee Production
The Den Coffee and Contemporary Culture is an independent cafe located in the HUB: Make Lab at the heart of Escolta. Besides its regular coffee service, it is also a space for contemporary culture and arts programming.
Pushing the boundaries of a typical cafe, the Den holds exhibitions and events that feature the work of local artists and Philippine heritage. The cafe also exclusively uses local beans from the local roaster Kalsada Coffee as an ode to the hard work being done to develop coffee agriculture in the country.
Gabriel “Gab” Villegas, The Den’s founder, laments how it wasn’t easy to enter into specialty coffee. He tells Vogue Philippines that when he started in 2016, it was still hard to teach people about good quality coffee and why a cup of brew had to cost so much. “There was that challenge of breaking the notion that Philippine coffee isn’t as good as imported coffee,” Villegas remarks.
He does note that, thankfully, more people understand what goes into making a cup of coffee these days. What the third wave did was highlight the story and origins of coffee, plus bring more attention to the nuances of different beans.
As for what’s next, Villegas thinks inklings of the “fourth wave” of coffee might already be around. People are becoming more technical and scientific with the way that they brew. This can come in the form of being detailed in the approach to coffee production, the use of sustainably sourced coffee and what Villegas describes as “experimental methods of processing coffee cherries.” Some even create their own recipes for water with the hopes of highlighting different flavor characteristics along the way.
According to Villegas, major considerations for the third wave, include how it was “brewed and the story behind the coffee that you’re drinking. Now, equal weight is put on how coffee is processed and prepared. It doesn’t just begin and end with the cup that you’re drinking—you really go back in the supply chain.”
Home Brewing To Boost The Local Industry
In 2019, the Philippine Coffee Guild was established to help unify our local production, jumpstarting a new era of consistent, high-quality beans. Silvester Dan Samonte, whose other projects include Islas Makinas, Lost Islands Center for Kape, and El Union Coffee, now serves as the Guild’s director.
With local coffee culture solidifying itself in the Philippines over recent years, Samonte thinks “it’s been a dream come true,” and notes that it’s only just beginning. “It’s a sign that the Philippine palate has grown up in coffee,” he says. “That means we can appreciate our place as a country in the coffee world much better.”
The Coffee Guild returned from a coffee expo in Thailand with rave reviews. Tasters sampled rare Arabica varieties from Bukidnon, Liberica from Laguna, and Robusta from Sultan Kudarat. Samonte shares how expo visitors compared our beans to the likes of world-class Geisha and Ethiopian coffees, a reaction that brought him to tears. With invites to expos in Milan and Boston, local beans are expected to gain even more attention.
Samonte predicts future tastes are set to move beyond typical Arabica beans into more unusual varieties.
He thinks that the future could be found inside our own homes. “Everyone was brewing during the lockdown and everyone appreciated a wide variety of coffees,” Samonte explains. Because of this, coffee grounds and equipment became more accessible to people. Rather than seeing it as competition for coffee shops, home brewing has become a complement to them, further boosting the local coffee industry.
“Philippine coffee and coffee people are world-class. The world knows us as champion baristas [in] many countries and [they’re] starting to be curious about the coffee grown in our country,” Samonte says. Though [the] third wave happened, our potential is just being tapped—and it’s an exciting time for everyone to witness what will come next.