Guide to Coffee in Iloilo: Coffee, described to be bitter and slightly acidic, is a drink made from coffee beans. It is an in-demand commodity that has cemented a strong consumer following and has built a billion-dollar industry – being the central product behind brand giants Starbucks, Dunkin’, and Tim Hortons, to mention a few.
- Introduction to Coffee
- Coffee in the Philippines
- Coffee in Iloilo
- Coffee Shops in Iloilo
Introduction to Coffee
“Legend says the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans. The story goes that Kaldi discovered coffee after he noticed that after eating the berries from a certain tree, his goats became so energetic that they did not want to sleep at night. Kaldi reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery, who made a drink with the berries and found that it kept him alert through the long hours of evening prayer. The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and knowledge of the energizing berries began to spread,” excerpts from The History of Coffee, published by the National Coffee Association (NCA) in the United States.
According to the National Coffee Association, coffee traces its origin to a genus of plants known as ‘coffea’. Within the genus are over 500 genera and 6,000 species. According to experts, there are anywhere from 25 to 100 species of coffee plants. However, in the commercial industry, only two coffee species are widely recognized – the Arabica and the Robusta.
Coffea Arabica originated from the coffee trees in Ethiopia. The trees produce a fine, mild, and aromatic form of coffee and it accounts for around 70% of the world’s coffee production. Beans are said to be flatter and elongated than their counterpart, Robusta. It is also said to have less caffeine.
Coffea Canephora/Robusta is predominantly grown in Central and Western Africa, Southeast Asia, and Brazil and accounts for 30% of the world’s production. This type of coffee is used for blends and instant coffee and the bean is described to be rounder and smaller than its Arabica counterpart.
Homegrounds.Co added two more to the list – Liberica and Excelsa. Liberica accounts for only 2% of the coffee produced worldwide and is said to have less caffeine compared to both Arabica and Robusta. It is also said to be sweeter than Arabica, with a strong fruit and floral flavor, and full-bodied as that of Robusta. Excelsa, meanwhile, is described as a subtype of Liberica. When grown right, it is said to have a sweet, fruity taste with tart acidity.
Types of Brewed Coffee include Drip Coffee, Pour Over Coffee, Espresso, and Cold Brew. Types of Coffee Drinks include Cappuccino, Espresso, Americano, Cortado, Red Eye, Latte, Macchiato, Flat White, Café Au Lait, Irish Coffee, Turkish Coffee, and Italian Coffee.
Coffee in the Philippines
According to the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., the Philippines produces four varieties of commercially viable Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. The history of coffee in the country dates back to the 1700s with one Franciscan monk introducing ‘three gantas’ (approximately two kilos) of Arabica beans. The beans were planted in his garden and were later on transplanted to other areas in the central island of Luzon. Another historical account came into play when Arab traders or Muslim settlers introduced the beans during trade routes and/or pilgrimages.
By the 1800s, coffee trees were already seen growing in Batangas and Bulacan with its propagation facilitated by Augustinian friars. In the book entitled ‘Twenty Years in the Philippines’, author Paul Proust De La Gironiere described agricultural efforts as well as coffee cultivation during that time. By the 1850s, Batangas began exporting to America and Australia, and by 1876, the first Liberica seedlings were introduced and planted in Amadeo, Cavite. In 1886, the Philippines was said to be the fourth largest exporter of coffee beans.
However, the industry dwindled in 1889 following an infestation of pests and diseases, and coffee plantations were transformed into sugarcane fields. It was later on revived when a resistant variety of coffee was introduced by the Americans. In 1980, the country became an official member of the International Coffee Organization (ICO).
Moreover, support for coffee production was strengthened with the establishment of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc. in 2002. The organization, led by the private sector, was initially formed as the National Coffee Development Board and is composed of members from the coffee sector – growers, millers, roasters, retailers, and the local government, to mention a few.
In 2012, the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics revealed that the country has roughly 119,999 hectares devoted to coffee production with Socsargen having the largest coffee farm area (25,223 hectares), followed by Davao (25,116 hectares), the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (13,746 hectares), Calabarzon (13,563 hectares), and Northern Mindanao (11,837 hectares).
- Cordillera: Red Bourbon, Yellow Bourbon, Typica, Mondo Novo, Caturra
- Northern Luzon: Robusta, Catimor
- Calabarzon: Robusta, Excelsam Liberica
- Mimaropa: Excelsa, Robusta
- Visayas: Arabica, Robusta
- Mindanao: Mysore, Typica, SV-2006, Catimor, Robusta, Excelsa
Coffee in Iloilo
Over the years, the love for coffee in Iloilo has been exponentially growing. Several articles published by national media outfits laud the growing coffee industry in the metro. The city has also hosted several coffee events including ‘Iloilo Coffee Festival’, and ‘Timpla Ta: Coffee Fair’, to mention a few. The city also became the venue of choice for the recently concluded Coffee Cacao Coconut (Cocanut) National Congress held last November 2022.
“Coffee culture is alive and well in Iloilo. The proliferation in the past few months of those little coffee carts all over is like a rebirth of coffee after 2020. There is now more appreciation for local. People are not afraid to shell out money for very good coffee,” states Natalie Lim, General Manager of Richmonde Hotel Iloilo and Board of Director of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Iloilo Chapter.
“There’s a lot of Filipinos already into coffee, unlike before,” states Engr Fulbert Woo, President of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Iloilo Chapter, “If you purchase one kilo of coffee beans, there’s a certain number of people who can drink. Subong ya, our farmers are almost the same sa gihapon, but nagadamo na naga inom. So it also gives us the idea why we need to invest in the farming of coffee,” he adds.
Jerduen ‘Noi’ Dongor, President of the Iloilo Coffee Board and one of the prominent figures in the Iloilo coffee scene, bared his thoughts on coffee and the coffee industry in Iloilo.
“In terms of production and quality, the Iloilo coffee industry is growing. The good thing is damo intervention. In terms of production, the DA (Department of Agriculture) is there para tudluan mga farmers paano nila ma improve ila production. In terms of quality, damo man naga train sa mga farmers naton para kay-uhon ang ila processing and in return, kung naganami ang quality, ang buying power and price sang coffee nagataas,” he begins.
“In terms of coffee shops, I think mas grabi ang pagdako niya, right after the pandemic. And, unlike before nga coffee shop naga focus lang sa mga urban centers like Iloilo City, currently nagaguwa na. Kung na notice niyo iban sa mga banwa na,” he continues.
Dongor acknowledges that the metro now has a variety of quality beans, both local and specialty grade, expert baristas, and advanced equipment that can cope with the growing demand for coffee. He added that there are now big brands entering the local scene.
In terms of local, Dongor enumerates notable coffee farmers and sources in the province.
“In terms of quality, ang nami sa gihapon nga quality ang Igbaras. Last year, nag qualify sila as ‘Fine Robusta’ sa Philippine Coffee Quality Competition, the highest competition in the Philippines in terms of coffee quality. And, I think, 2023 is their third year as ‘Fine Robusta,” Dongor states.
“On a regional level, nami naman subong ang result sang Leon. Ang duha ka areas nga nami is Leon and Igbaras. For Igbaras, specifically ang Buyu-an, Igbaras. Ang sekreto nila da is ang association nila. Other producing towns, damo man: Barotac Viejo, Barotac Nuevo, Central Iloilo like Calinog, Janiuay, Lambunao. Sa part sang coastline, Miagao, San Joaquin, Igabras. May gagmay pa gid nga players like San Enrique kag Duenas,” he adds.
Apart from this, specialty coffee is also on the rise.
Specialty Coffee in Iloilo
Currently on the rise is specialty coffee. According to the Specialty Coffee Association, an international organization, specialty coffee is not solely the work of one person, but a collaboration of all those involved in the coffee value chain. Specialty coffee is often used to describe the highest grade of coffee. In Iloilo, La Roasteria is the first specialty coffee roaster, led by head roaster Salvador ‘Bodi’ Mijares.
“We exist to find and help elevate Philippine Arabica to the world stage of Specialty Coffees. We are La Roasteria,” states Mijares in ‘My Road to Specialty Coffee’, published on the La Roasteria website.
Mijares describes the ‘different waves of coffee’ that swept the country and turned Filipinos into avid coffee drinkers. The first wave was the rise of instant coffee, brought by the global brand Nescafe.
“Most Filipinos grew up drinking Nescafe not realizing that the Philippines produces some of the very best coffee in the world. From post WWII up until the turn of the millennium, instant coffee represented the first wave of coffee products and we all thought this is how coffee tasted like”, he describes.
The second wave of coffee, according to him, was the rise of coffee shops. Then the third wave, represented by artisanal coffee roasters such as La Roasteria. La Roasteria takes pride in ‘Specialty-Grade’ Arabica.
“We roast coffees relatively lightly, in small batches, to highlight origin flavors – but also expect you to brew coffee properly! This means you have to grind the coffee before brewing, then make sure you control the temperature so as not to burn the grinds whether using a pour-over, french press, siphon, or other method,” Mijares adds.
He recommends brewing La Roasteria coffee two weeks to a maximum of one month after roasting. Moreover, the company specifies the exact origin of coffee beans for consumers to ‘taste the best possible flavor profile a particular region has to offer’.
Coffee Shops in Iloilo
Listed below are forerunner and budding coffee shops that nurtured Iloilo’s love for coffee.
Originally situated inside the La Paz Public Market, Madge Cafe is one of Iloilo’s cultural gems, established in 1940 by Vicente Dela Cruz. The coffee shop was named after Magdalena Dela Cruz, the owner’s wife, fondly called ‘Madge’. The coffee shop is known for its unique method of traditional ‘pour over’ brewing. Notable beverages include puro (regular black coffee), puro tab-ang (mild black coffee), media puro (strong black coffee), media tab-ang (mild coffee with milk), choco caliente, and nai cha, to mention a few. As of date, the coffee shop is located at The Shops at Atria, Atria Park District, Mandurriao, Iloilo. Related: District of La Paz, Iloilo
Glory’s Café 3rd Gen
Glory’s Cafe 3rd Gen, said to be home of the original barako coffee, was established in 1948 by Sixto Nonoy Pedring Alloso Chua Sr and managed by Gloria Serania. The family-owned business, then called Glory’s Cafeteria and Carinderia, was originally located at the Iloilo Central Market and served native coffee using traditional methods. The business catered to vendors, jeepney drivers, policemen, and politicians.
To date, Glory’s Cafe serve a variety of coffee and non-coffee beverages, including meals. Notable coffee-based beverages include strong black (100% coffee), average black, mild black, strong with milk, and mild with milk, to mention a few. The cafe also serves flavored coffee. Glory’s Cafe 3rd Gen is now located at the Avancena Sayson Heritage House along Quezon Street in Villa Arevalo.
Coffee Brewtherhood, one of the blossoming coffee businesses in the metro, started at the coffee counter of owner Andrew Canamo intending to form a ‘brewtherhood’ of baristas. As of date, the brand has several branches in Iloilo (E Lopez Jaro, SM City Iloilo, Robinsons Place Pavia) and has even expanded to Roxas (SM City Roxas).
“We love coffee. We are passionate and dedicated about what makes a good coffee distinctive and special. It all started years back when we couldn’t find here in Iloilo a decent local coffee shop that could serve good coffee – rich, strong espresso and creamy milk – so when the opportunity came we took over a small coffee shop,” excerpts from the Coffee Brewtherhood website.
Iloilo Coffee House
‘Crafting liquid poetry, one cup at a time’ – Iloilo Coffee House, on its social media page, describes itself as a ‘purveyor of specialty coffee since 2017’. The business takes pride in promoting quality, traceability, and sustainability with the Iloilo Specialty Coffee community. Located in Arevalo, Iloilo Coffee House offers a wide range of coffee and non coffee beverages – espresso, cold brew, Spanish latte, signature Vietnamese, to mention a few.
With the number of coffee shops growing day by day, it is often difficult to track all players. Here, this website (via Feature Iloilo) surveyed netizens to comment their favorite coffee shop. Out of the 144 responses and 60 plus recommended coffee shops, the list was narrowed down to the following:
Green Granny Yummy Bites
Green Granny Yummy Bites, with locations in Plazuela de Iloilo and Festive Walk Iloilo, is a one-stop coffee and pasalubong shop owned and managed by Evangeline Nunal. According to Nunal, the shop uses ‘Ongyod Highlands Coffee’, a product of Miagao, to create their coffee beverages.
“Their ambiance is very much relaxing and their staff is very friendly. Highly recommended for locals and tourists,” states netizen Emily Joy. “Namit ila kape! Kanami pagd sang ambiance,” adds in Jessie, another netizen.
Cafe 9:04, located on the 2F of Ana Ros Building along Simeon Ledesma Street in Jaro, shares a space with 9 and Beyond and is managed by one of the center’s founders, Atty Jomele Gangoso – Caceres. The cafe offers a wide range of coffee beverages – espresso, cappuccino, latte, caramel macchiato, and mocha latte, to mention a few. They also offer crafted coffee such as Spanish latte, terra matcha (espresso with matcha), black sugar espresso latte, salted honey butter latte, and maple cinnamon latte, among others.
“Great coffee, good food, friendly staff, and an amazing afternoon sunset view,” says netizen Ivy. “Namit ila kape, tawhay ang lugar, permi may bag-o sa menu”, adds in Maria Vic. Evangeline, another netizen, describes Cafe 9:04 as a “coffee place with a heart.”
LoCo, short for local coffee, is the brainchild of three entrepreneurs – Dr Ayn Bedonia, Mica Cruz, and Achilles Tan. Started as a backyard business, LoCo is now a successful brand entity with branches around Iloilo. LoCo, in a bid to support local farmers, sources their coffee beans from Leon, Calinog, Miagao, and Igbaras, to mention a few.
“LoCo sources its beans exclusively from small farms in Iloilo – namit!” says Ayn. “LoCo other than having awesome coffee, especially their “bugtaw” coffee, they are helping the planters by giving premium to their produce,” adds netizen Francis. “Beans are sourced locally. Coffee smells and tastes so good!” comments Evangeline.
Barista Mama, owned and managed by Asiel Floner Fernandez, is a multi-awarded coffee shop. The owner was hailed Aeropress Throwdown Champion during the Iloilo Specialty Coffee Fair in 2022 and Brewdown Champion in the 2022 Iloilo Coffee Festival. According to Fernandez, in an article published in The Inquirer, her original coffee blends are what attract customers to Barista Mama. Some of her concoctions include purple mud latte (taro and coffee), red sand (Thai tea, full cream milk, and espresso), and her bestseller Mama’s blend (Arabica and Robusta with milk and sweet cream). To date, Barista Mama is located at Cubix, inside Gaisano Iloilo City Center.
“She serves one of the best coffees in town. Just try and you will know!” says netizen Aresh. “One of the best coffees in the Philippines, you must try!,” adds Nic. “One of the best specialty coffees in town! Syempre ang barista and owner is the first ever Iloilo Brewdown and Aeropress Champion!,” Oh Mara adds.
Brews and Cons
Brews and Cons, located in Tacas Jaro, takes pride in its coffee beans sourced from Batangas (barako beans), Benguet (Arabica beans), and Sagada. The coffee shop serves black coffee, white coffee, cafe latte, mocha, and Spanish latte, to mention a few.
“Brews & Cons forever!” says netizen Hermz.
Saigon Brewers, located in San Rafael Mandurriao, offers authentic Vietnamese coffee as well as coffee beans from Vietnam. The cafe gives a glimpse of Vietnam through its food and coffee selections. Cà phê đen (black coffee), for example, can be served fine (Robusta, medium roast), premium Arabica (bright roast or medium roast), and Vietnamese blend (Arabica and Robusta). Other coffee combinations include black coffee with matcha, black coffee with egg yolk, and black coffee with strawberry, to mention a few.
“The best traditional Vietnamese coffee in town. Also, they serve pour-over coffee using beans from Vietnam and local beans here,” states netizen John Christopher. “Top tier! Nice food for the health-conscious too,” adds in Rosebelle.
Special thanks to Mr Noi Dongor of the Iloilo Coffee Board, Mr Bodi Mijares of La Roasteria, and Engr Fulbert Woo and Ms Natalie Lim of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce & Industry – Iloilo Chapter for making this article possible. Special thanks also to Mr Nonoy Taclino, Ms Sheila Mae Gomez, and Mr Geramar Sazon of the Iloilo Bloggers Society for the added inputs, as well as the netizens who contributed their thoughts on the online survey last year – producing 144 recommendations/respondents.
This article aspires to provide a comprehensive overview of the coffee industry in Iloilo. Rest assured further details will be added in the future.