Wake up and smell the aroma of top-grade local coffee | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

There’s a company called Rocky Mountain that is determined to change the Philippine coffee landscape.


Once upon a time, the Philippines was among the top five coffee producers in the world. But this was some 200 years ago. Coffee guru Chit Juan even adds that there was a time when the Philippines was one of the few sources of coffee, with Brazil and South America’s coffee plantations then laden with disease.


Today, we’re down to No. 30 (or thereabouts).


How do we get back on top? Well, one coffee plantation at a time.


Pierre Yves Cote, president of Rocky Mountain Café, says his company started with 60 hectares in Camp John Hay, Baguio City. It’s a small area for planting coffee, since in Brazil, the minimum space for a plantation is 1,000 hectares.


But it was a start. Birthing pains involved the refusal of Camp John Hay Development Corp. to cut pine trees to make way for a coffee plantation, no matter how lucrative the proposal was. The developer has been really strict in protecting the environment, especially Baguio pine trees.


But the ingenious Pierre found a way around this: planting the coffee trees between the pine trees!


Today, Camp John Hay boasts of 75,000 coffee trees that will bloom with red coffee cherries in a couple of years. The site now stands as the showcase plantation of Rocky Mountain.


Movers and shakers


It has also attracted other movers and shakers who all want to help the coffee industry grow. The governor of Palawan was said to have been simply  walking (or was it jogging?) around the John Hay grounds when he stumbled upon the coffee farm. He had a chat with Pierre and learned about the benefits of planting coffee not only in terms of generating income, but also in generating employment for the community and keeping the environment healthy.


Now, Pierre and the Palawan provincial government are now working on a plantation in Palawan that will span 6,000 hectares.


In Ilocos Norte, Rocky Mountain is also set to start a 1,500-hectare highland farm. The objective is to establish a nationwide foundation that will work to make the Philippines become a top coffee producer once again.


But Pierre’s company is doing this not only by planting coffee, but through a business model that supports coffee farmers. The farmers become not only growers, but also entrepreneurs in their own right.


Through an arrangement with Land Bank, farmers are allowed to borrow capital to purchase seeds from Rocky Mountain. This is essential to ensure the quality of the coffee, because the coffee produced is pure arabica (the top banana in the hierarchy of coffee beans).


They then plant the seeds, take care of the coffee and, come harvest time, for every hundred hectares, Rocky Mountain puts up a coffee mill in the area for free to help the farmers produce the beans.


Rocky Mountain then buys the coffee from the farmers, whose income will then enable them to pay back their bank loan and also keep something for themselves. It’s a win-win model that should help fast-track agricultural growth.




But this is a coffee revolution that will need tremendous support from the government and the private sector. Thankfully, some of the country’s leaders have already shown support. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources gave P10 million to help farmers purchase coffee seedlings, while the Department of Public Works and Highways has helped in the construction of farm-to-market roads to allow better access to highland coffee plantations.


Hopefully, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority will also lend a hand soon to allow international coffee players to come in and invest in the business.


These are baby steps, but one thing’s for sure: This year of the Wood Horse, we will definitely be smelling the aroma of arabica beans, proudly produced in the Philippines!


Details and more photos in www.margauxlicious.com.