MANILA, March 18, 2006 (MANILA TIMES) By Dennis Ladaw - COUNTLESS classy, trendy cafés have been sprouting all over Metro Manila, much to the delight of the caffeine-addicted citizens of this metropolis. Many of them go on a drinking binge, which begins in the morning, and ends in the wee hours of the morning.

Coffee cherries

Proprietors of bars that serve liquor could only wish they had the kind of clientele that Starbucks and the like cater to.

According to Nestlé Philippines, producer of the venerable Nescafe brand of coffee, it was in the sixties when the Philippines emerged as Asia’s top coffee exporter. This continued on up to the eighties.

However, by 1995, the country became a net importer of coffee. Local coffee production declined as aggressive Asian countries like Vietnam boosted their own coffee production. And this came at a time when our Filipino farmers have been having difficulty producing top quality coffee, as they remain incognizant of superior farming methods. With inconsistent yields, life became difficult for local farmers.

To counter this effect, Nestlé embarked on a major program to introduce new methods of coffee farming to local farmers. Through the Nestlé Experimental and Development Farm (NEDF), the program is also promoting a new system that encourages farmers to convert their plantations into multicrop-producing lands.

NEDF occupies a sprawling Nestlé property in Tagum City, an hour’s drive from Davao City. The place had once served as a technical training facility for the company. But now it’s open to farmers who want to boost their yields and increase their income. The course is given for free, according to NEDF’s resident agronomist Cenon Alenton.

Alenton also serves as a trainer, and he notes that most of the country’s coffee farmers have had no formal training. “By introducing the farmers to more effective agricultural methods and new technology, they can drastically increase the quality and quantity of their harvest. We really need to encourage coffee farming, and that begins with getting the proper training,” he said. NEDF also encourages farmers to engage in organic farming and plant other crops to help them sustain their livelihood while waiting for the coffee crops. Alenton said legumes, root crops, vegetables and other fruit trees could be intercropped with coffee. Recommended legumes are peanuts, mongo beans, string beans and white beans. For root crops, Alenton listed gabi, sweet potato or ube. The three could be planted in between the coffee plants, he said.

Joel Lumagbas, Nestle’s vice president for agricultural services, said the choice of the companion crop should be profit-driven. “A farmer could further increase his profits by choosing a high-income companion crop called the Jatropha curcas, a bio-fuel oil crop. It’s ideal because one planting will last up to 50 years. It’s used as fuel for lighting, cooking and soap making,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Alenton said good harvesting methods and processing contribute much to the ideal taste of coffee. NEDF advocates the manual harvesting of coffee or the physical removal of ripe berries from the trees, as this method allows the selective removal of yellow and red ripe berries from the cluster. The green or immature berries are left behind for future harvest to avoid producing low-quality coffee beans. “Green berries yield flat beans, which burn fast in roasting, producing a bitter taste,” he explained.

Alenton and Lumagbas played host to a group of media reporters, who toured the NEDF. His fellow trainers even conducted an Amazing Race of sorts, with the media practitioners divided into three teams. The race aimed to pick out the highest quality beans from the NEDF plantation and sort out the best quality beans. The game helped us realize the complex procedures of producing quality coffee (as we realized how some media people could be so obsessed with winning a race!).

NEDF was established in 1994 and it has since trained over 10,000 farmers and agricultural students, which is equivalent to one-fifth of the country’s total coffee farmers. Alenton said that the new procedures they’ve been introducing will also help farmers sell their yields at a profitable price.

The efforts of NEDF seem to paying off. Joel Lumagbas said that in recent years harvesting and processing have “generally improved” with many coffee farmers now delivering grade 1 or grade 2 coffee beans.

Although our brief visit to the NEDF may not have turned us into expert farmers, many of us did turn into coffee connoisseurs to be feared by all cafés who buy cheap green berries.

Street-style dining at Market Market By Rome Jorge

Round one corner and you can already whiff that delicious Japanese cuisine—Sushiya’s California maki, Korokke’s deep-fried potato with tuna filling, and DEC’s piping hot taco ichiban octopus dumplings. Go down one corridor and you’re back home with Heaven and Eggs’ Manila spare ribs and Polland’s hopia.

Round the next bend, you can taste a bit of Hong Kong with Lord Stow’s egg custards. Europe’s a few steps away with Treffpunkt’s Bavarian sausages and Icing’s cappuccino and cinnamon rolls. Thailand, Taiwan and Korea are a stone’s throw with Thai Deli’s seaweed Barquillos, Ersao’s fresh fruit and tea pearl shakes, Soo Ra Sang’s Ho Dduk desserts. And while your traveling the world through street food, you might as well enjoy some live music bands such as Sugarfree, Rivermaya and Kjwan.

Market! Market! Mall at Fort Bonifacio Global City in Taguig opens Street Market!—a global street food alfresco dining area featuring establishments Hap Chan; Soo Ra Sang; Vietnam Food House; Lord Stow’s Bakery; Icing’s Cake and Coffee Shop; Wa No Fu; DEC; Treffpunkt; Ersao; Korokke; Koay Teow; Asian Noodles; Yakitori; Ho Dduk; Thai Deli; Shanghai Fried Siopao; Hong Kong Street Food; Polland Hopia; Wang Mart; Koji; Kindori; Takoyaki; Drink It; Sushi-ya; and Heaven and Eggs.

From 7 p.m. onward, diners enjoy live performances of Sugarfree on March 17; Mayonnaise on March 18; Kamikazee on March 24; Itchyworms on March 25; Rivermaya on March 31; True Faith on April 1; Stonefree on April 7 and Kjwan on April 8.

It’s street food. It’s international dining. It’s home-grown music. And it’s all here at Street Market!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved