A new al fresco cafe set amidst pine trees in Benguet is highlighting the local coffee industry with a do-it-yourself brew bar.
Farm to Cup Benguet, in the town of La Trinidad near Baguio City, is encouraging customers to brew their own coffee while learning the inner workings of coffee production.
The unique al fresco concept is run by Filipino coffee expert Eli Toledo Natividad, 46, who used to maintain another cafe and was a former instructor at the University of the Philippines-Baguio.
But after the cafe he worked in closed its doors to the public during the pandemic, he decided to partner with Philippine Nazarene College (PNC) at Pico, La Trinidad in Benguet and proposed that the 4.5-hectare property of PNC be used for coffee planting and a brew bar.
“Na-conceive yung idea [dahil sa] availability sa space. Wala namang magawa at that time. It was just an ambition and we were able to do it naman,” he said.
In an interview with PhilSTAR L!fe, Natividad said they started planting Arabica in August 2020, followed by the establishment of the brew bar called D.I.Y. Brew Bar Farm to Cup which opened in March 2021 and included a coffee nursery and a coffee plantation.
Farm to Cup serves both caffeinated and non-caffeinated drinks, fruit drinks, pastries, and provides customers with the hands-on farm to cup experience where customers can brew their own coffee. Instead of just being served prepared drinks, customers get to select the beans and their brewing method, and the staff guides them how to prepare the best cup of coffee using different methods such as pour over, espresso machine, or a coffee press.
Unlike the cafes usually frequented by the Manila coffee crowd, the chilly spot is surrounded by pine trees where visitors can relax under trees accompanied by the warm welcome of the staff and quality coffee. Farm to Cup is open every Monday to Saturday from 8:00 A.M to 8:00 P.M. The cafe and grounds are also available for whole day (P10,000) and half day (P5,000) bookings for clients’ private events, parties, and get-togethers.
Farm to Cup is not your ordinary brew bar as it's rooted from a program that covers all the stages of coffee production.
Natividad pointed out that each stage of the coffee production has a corresponding program as they are a coffee education hub partnered with Technical Education And Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Central Office and Baguio, Benguet.
Gintong Aral Skills Development Academy which Natividad is a part of, also partnered with PNC called Philippine Nazarene College TechVoc Institute (PNC-TVI) that pushed the establishment of coffee TESDA courses.
“Since the program is Farm to Cup, it means i-cocover niya lahat ‘yong processes ng coffee production from nursery, sa pag-gogrow ng seedlings hanggang sa cafe operations and management,” Natividad told PhilSTAR L!fe.
He added that he manages Farm to Cup’s operations as well as the certification for each of the programs. Some of these are the nursery operations, courses on coffee processing and coffee roasting under coffee production, barista training, and cafe operations and management.
According to Natividad, the Farm to Cup program has inspired 60 to 70 percent of its graduates to pursue their own coffee shops and small-scale coffee farms. He also shared that the brew bar’s staff and employees consist of people who used to work in other cafes and establishments that closed down during the pandemic, while the farmers and those who are engaged with the coffee processing are products of their very own Farm to Cup program after they received their certification as coffee mentors.
Natividad credits their international partner ACDI/VOCA through its Philippine Coffee Advancement and Farm Enterprise (PhilCAFE) program for giving Farm to Cup training and helping with the organization’s capacity building and Benguet State University for equipping them with skills in coffee farming.
“Lahat ng staff namin sa Farm to Cup ay coffee mentors [so] knowledgeable sila sa coffee farming and other aspects of coffee– sa processing, sa growing, hanggang sa cafe operations and management,” he said.
Farm to Cup’s advocacy on sustainable coffee production has reached different parts of the country. Aside from the Cordillera region, some of the places they have partnered with are San Clemente in Tarlac, San Nicolas in Pangasinan, Iligan City, Jala-Jala in Rizal, and Bansalan, Davao del Sur, which is their biggest project as they aspire to establish a Farm to Cup cafe at the foot of Mount Apo.
“We hope that we can register na the umbrella organization which is Farm to Cup Philippines na mag-ooversee, magli-link, magiging kumbaga network ng iba’t ibang Farm to Cup provinces,” Natividad told PhilSTAR L!fe.
He also believes that the country is still engaged with the traditional farming practices unlike other coffee producer countries, but he is pleased that Cordillera is “blessed with a very wonderful climate” allowing the development of the “very aromatic and delicious” Arabica coffee.
The Farm to Cup program aims to involve the youth in coffee planting because of the aging farming population. Farm to Cup was recently a part of a fundraising campaign, #Youth4DEnvironment: Helping the youth through educational sponsorship, last June 18 at Silverland Homes Subdivision, Masalat Road in Barangay Sampaloc, Tanay, Rizal. 83 Youth and adult advocates recently attended the coffee tree planting activity and were able to support the Dumagat college students of Tanay.
Today, Farm to Cup is in talks with Saint Louis University (SLU) in Baguio as they are establishing their coffee farm tourism. But despite the efforts of the Cordillera, particularly SLU Baguio as one of the largest universities up north, Natividad calls for more support in coffee production to “cultivate a culture of abundance.”
“Ngayon wala na kaming mabiling green coffee beans for us to brew. Wala na, naubos na. Wala pa kami sa Ber months. Ganoon [kakaunti] ang supply so we should be more aggressive in planting more coffee and be more creative in producing more coffee with the resources that we have right now,” Natividad shared.
Majority of Filipinos start their day with a cup of coffee. However, Filipinos should be critical of mislabelled coffee. Natividad also encourages everyone to support local coffee by educating themselves about the production process because it “directly helps coffee farmers.”
”We have a lot of struggling coffee farmers [who] need help. There’s a huge gap in our demand for coffee and the supplies that we are producing and we have to do something about it. Instead of buying coffee from Vietnam, Indonesia and other countries, we should really focus on growing [and] producing more coffee in the Philippines,” he said.