Kapé Coffee is a social venture run by Iona Fresnoza and her partner Paulo. The project was born out of a desire to stay connected to their homeland. It began with the pair bringing green coffee home in their backpacks and doing sample roasts. They are now an accredited coffee exporter in the Philippines, an importer, and a small batch roaster in Canada. 

Fresnoza was always committed to bringing coffee from her homeland here. She decided that it was better to have a brand that was able to showcase the stories of the farmers directly and allow them to build more sustainable and closer relationships with farmers. "The way that we're doing it is, we work directly with farmers, no middlemen. So 100% of the profits go to them. In this model, they can earn four times more than they would in a regular market transaction."

Though it is now rare to find specialty coffee from the Philippines, that was not always the case. Coffee first came to the Philippines in 1740. It was first planted by a monk in Lipa, Batangas, during Spanish colonial rule.

In 1828, the Spanish offered a thousand pesos prize to anyone who would cultivate 6,000 coffee trees. A farmer in Jala Jala turned his property into a 60,000 sq. ft. coffee farm, winning the prize and encouraging other farmers to produce. 

By the 1860s, the Philippines was exporting coffee to America through San Francisco, and when the Suez Canal opened in 1896, they began shipping to Europe as well. 

At the beginning of the 1880s, the Philippines was the fourth largest exporter of coffee in the world, and when leaf rust hit Brazil, parts of Africa, and Java in Indonesia, they became the primary exporter of coffee worldwide. 

But by the end of the decade, leaf rust hit the Philippines as well, significantly destroying much of the coffee production in Batangas. The country's coffee production dropped to 20 percent of where it had been at the beginning of the decade. 

It has been difficult for the coffee industry to recover, but in the 1950s, with assistance from the United States, the government brought in robusta and more rust-resistant varietals to help revive the industry.

Within 13 years, there was enough production for the country to be self-sufficient, and coffee was no longer imported, but exportation remained low.

In 1980, the Philippines became a member of the International Coffee Organization and began exporting coffee to New Zealand, Japan and Canada. 

Despite a difficult few years, the Philippines has an ideal coffee-growing climate. Located in the Coffee Belt, the country has varying terrain and a variety of microclimates in both high and low lands. This diversity means the country can produce four types of coffee: Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. 

Ventures like Kapé coffee want to increase production and awareness of Philippine specialty coffee. 

“Philippine specialty coffee is our best-kept secret, and we should stop keeping it a secret. We're doing this for the sustainability of livelihoods, generation of sustainable income for farmers, and something they can pass onto the next generation,” Fresnoza explained. 

March 29, 2023 — Zara Snitman

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