Monday, July 30, 2012

The Path to Good Health is a Social Issue Just as much as it is a Personal Concern

* I remember I wrote a blog article a year ago about making healthy choices and our inability to make them. "I just want to ask the surrounding culture to be supportive of our desire to change," I said in my blog entitled "My Life is Preventing Me from Changing My Lifestyle" (

* Right now, that personal plea has been amplified and it looks like that my level of involvement as a part of that "surrounding culture" has increased. I'll break down this blog entry into bite-size, bulleted paragraphs so I can express my reflections and revelations in a way that I won't be obsessively concerned about structure and sentence construction (that would take 5 hours to write), so here it goes...

* The world tells us that it is cool to be healthy. So we look for things that are healthy like organic food, sports and outdoor activities, and eco-friendly involvement. The world is telling this to everybody. The problem is that "every body" is different and that "everybody" can be further dissected into several segments of somebody-s.

* I studied an online course in Medical Sociology (a branch of sociology that wasn't available during my sociology undergrad in UPLB so I have to look for it online in a British university's website), and found out that my plea for good health in relation to society's demands is indeed a pressing concern.

* One determinant of health is the social and economic environment (this was confirmed in the Health Impact Assessment of the World Health Organization). And in sociological jargon, health can be more specifically attributed to social class or social status. The lower, middle, and upper class all have diverse problems with lifestyle choices and the usual issues of access to healthcare (ignorance or difficulty), ability to afford treatment, and perceptions and lay beliefs on health and disease prevention.

* Example, you're a student in UPLB and you want to be healthy. You jog after class and then you try your best to be healthy by eating munggo and fried tilapia in the cholesterol-dominated food  industry of Los Banos. It's crazy. We have no choice but to be sucked by the lure of convenience and affordability of fast foods and street food. Not everyone has the luxury of time to buy vegetables in the supermarket and make salads and sandwiches. I think this applies to all social classes. Everybody eats at Jollibee and McDo.

* Recently, a couple of researchers in UPLB went to UPOU and offered a course in Organic Agriculture. I'm enrolled in it right now. I took the course because I was interested in becoming a farmer but I didn't expect that this course would put so much emphasis in promoting good health for the community.

* Organic food is expensive, about 30 to 40% more expensive than your conventionally farmed vegetables. It is expensive because organic farmers put extra effort in maintaining organic farms plus there are only a few organic farms. This means that existing organic farms can't supply the high demand for healthy veggies.

* I decided that I wanted to become a neighborhood superhero and start an organic garden during or after the course ends. We have crazy soil here in our compound, grass and weeds can grow up to six feet in a week!

* So as a contribution to the promotion of a healthy lifestyle and development of a "culture that is supportive" to good health, I will grow organic vegetables for my family and my neighbors. It sounds small-time but it's a good start. Start somewhere, we can't save the world by saying, "I will save the world! Uh wait, it's too big. Maybe next time."

* I conclude by saying that involvement in organic farming is one of the many ways we can develop a "culture of support" to good health in our respective communities. Remember, we should promote good health and proper nutrition to everybody not just to those who can afford to do so or have the means to do so. Let's also look for ways in which we can successfully incorporate healthy and realistic ways of living in the context of our busy society.

Resource Materials and Inspiration:

- Go Negosyo: Joey Concepcions's 100 Inspiring Stories of Small Entrepreneurs - Tagumpay Mula sa Kahirapan

- Module 1 Organic Agriculture, Dr. Calub and Dr. Matienzo, University of the Philippines Open University

- Introduction to Sociology, Mitch Duneier, Princeton University

- Medical Sociology Interactive: A Multimedia Lecture Series, Tom Davies and Dawn Leeder, University of Cambridge

- Fundamentals of Pharmacology, Dr. Emma Meager, University of Pennsylvania

- Community Change in Public Health,  William Brieger, Johns Hopkins University

- Health Impact Assessment, World Health Organization

Friday, July 27, 2012

Cafe Antonio Coffee for Dummies

Many local and imported coffees to choose from!

* It would take some time before we can all fully appreciate and understand the diverse range of coffee flavors the world has to offer. For the average person, coffee is just coffee--a morning beverage that we drown in sugar and creamer to mask the bitter taste of the instant coffee granules that we buy at the supermarket. Then we dunk the pandesal!  It's the most awesome experience, don't deny it! It would take a radical socio-cultural and economic revolution before people would start trading their coffee sachets for a bag of, let's say, a Costa Rica Monte Paso (conflict perspective). 

* But let's get into the "coffee flavors" topic. At our cafe, we offer three espresso and drip houseblends and an ever-changing line-up of specialty coffees from the young and dynamic Luca & Tosh Coffee Lab. 

* When we tell our customers that we offer different kinds of coffee, this is their reaction...

What? Can I just have coffee?
* Here's a quick guide:

Espresso Blends
1) Owltonio Blend - Named after our fluffy snow owl, Owltonio, this became our best-seller at the cafe. It works well with lattes and blended & iced coffees. This is our "mid-range" coffee, not too light and not too strong. It's actually toasty sweet and the aroma is a killer! Thanks to the handful of Excelsa coffee beans thrown into the blend together with the Arabicas and Robustas. Most Filipinos haven't heard of Excelsa, so it's a good experience for them.

2) Sleepy Time Blend - We're selling the 100% Philippine Arabica blend (mixture of Arabicas from Luzon and Mindanao) as a "less-caf" coffee, an alternative to decaf coffee. It's very smooth and clean-tasting and has the comforting garden fragrance of lemongrass. It's a favorite after-dinner coffee. 

3) Hardcore Blend - Having Kapeng Barako is a must! It's safe and familiar to Filipinos. This blend has the caffeinated powers of the Liberica and Robusta. Dark, earthy, and musky, now this is coffee for most of us!

Single Origin Specialty Coffee
1) Washed Ethiopian Sidamo - This is our best-seller for the SOs because it's easy to market. When a customer asks, "what's that?" we just tell them it's coffee that doesn't taste like coffee. Boom. Instant sale. The Ethiopian Sidamo now has a following at the cafe. How does it taste? It tastes like tea and has a floral and fruity aroma. Order an iced version and you have an iced tea-looking iced coffee...

This iced coffee will take your palette to school!

2) Honey-Processed Costa Rica Monte Paso Microlot - We just love saying this coffee's full name. It's like rapping. This is our favorite so far. It's naturally sweet has a good body and just the right amount of acidity that comes in the form of a "snap" rather than a lingering taste. Then it turns brown-sugary sweet when it cools down. 

The Ethiopia and Costa Rica had the highest cupping scores in my sheet when we pitted them against two other specialty coffees. And compared to all the other SOs from Luca & Tosh, these two were standouts. But the Brazil Serra Negra and Rwanda Peaberry are also very good, maybe we will insert them in the lineup when I buy new mason jars. 

It took Owltonio 4 hours to cup the 4 SO coffees

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Barista in Singapore

* Back in 2007, my sister enrolled me to a barista workshop in Singapore to start my career as a professional barista just a few months after graduating from college. The coffee shop/school is called Highlander Coffee. It was there where I met my first group of enthusiastic and passionate baristas. Owners and baristas Phil and Cedric Ho introduced me to a whole new world of coffee full of machines, gadgets, and coffee beans from every corner of the world. I came back in 2009 for a skills upgrade and met their new barista, Li. It was with Li where I experienced pulling shots behind the bar for Singaporeans. It's encouraging to see Li doing so well. Here's an article about him and his job as a barista.


Photos at Highlander Coffee (2009):

Jobs 101: Coffee Barista

by Lim Bei Ling on 6 June 2012

4 Likes 651 Views 19 Comments In the Spotlight  
Jobs 101: Coffee Barista
Coffee, the ultimate 'cure' for sleepy students or office workers pulling an all-nighter, can come in many different types. Very often, we stock up on pre-packed 3-in-1 coffee for a quick fix. But making a good cup of coffee is more than just adding water to powder or pressing some buttons on an espresso machine, as most serious coffee drinkers will tell you. It takes practice and experimentation to achieve a consistent cup of good, fragrant coffee.
Last month, Youth.SG visited Kwok Li at Highlander Coffee to learn more about being a coffee barista.
WHO: Hew Kwok Li, 26
OCCUPATION: Lead barista at Highlander Coffee
STUDIED: Diploma in Business Studies (Tourism & Leisure Management) at Ngee Ann Polytechnic
When I stepped into Highlander Coffee, I was greeted by the aromatic scent of coffee beans and the friendly co-owner of Highlander, Phil, who welcomed me with a nice cup of café latte – what a treat!:
As I slowly savoured my café latte (which I liked very much), Kwok Li shared more about his experience as a coffee barista:
Tell us about yourself.
I like Japanese and Hong Kong comics, as welI as Chinese martial arts novels.
Tell us more about what a coffee barista does.
Coffee baristas make coffee and (definitely) love to drink coffee. We handle coffee machines and have to study the different kinds of coffee. Of course, there is also latte art, which requires lots of practice to master. Besides coffee, another aspect will be interacting with customers.
How and why did you come into this trade?
I have always liked coffee and drank a lot of local coffee (those from hawker stalls). When I finished national service back in 2007, I wanted to do something I like, fulfilling my passion for coffee – learning how to make coffee. I did an online search and the first result was Highlander Coffee, which offers barista training and workshops. So I went to Highlander and told them I wanted to learn how to be a barista and that was how my journey started.
I must admit though, two other reasons why I became a barista in the beginning was because of the fanciful latte art and I disliked the setting of an office job.
Describe a typical day at work.
In the morning, I come into the shop and switch on the machines. While waiting for it to get ready, which will take about half an hour, I set up the stations (food, coffee beans and etc.) and do general cleaning. When the machines are ready, I will make coffee for myself and sometimes, my bosses as well. Throughout the day, when customers come in, I will interact with them while making coffee. At the end of the day is a whole lot of cleaning.
Here are some pictures of Kwok Li at work:

Share with us a memorable experience you had and why you found it memorable.
This may not sound like much but it holds a special place in my heart.
I have a regular customer, whom I have seen through different stages of his life: when he was dating, when he brought his partner to have coffee here, to pregnancy, and now, they come with their kids. It is heart-warming to be able to 'witness' the progress of their lives. I even get to see their kid grow up – from a baby in a pram, to a toddler running around and playing.
How long have you been in this industry and how has it changed over the years?
I have been doing this since 2007.
There are many new and uprising coffee shops, so there is an increase in friendly competition. It is good though, because there is a wider variety, and people are starting to be more aware of and curious about coffee.
Although there is still no school that offers a full course of study or lessons on coffee barista-ing, there are more places that are offering private training. We are also getting more students signing up for trainings and workshops at Highlander.
What are some of the toughest challenges you face?
Finding out what kind of coffee customers want. As a barista, I often get customers coming in asking for coffee but not knowing what they want exactly. I will have to ask them questions like whether they like a 'stronger' kind of coffee or not. Even so, a customer’s understanding of a 'strong' coffee can be different from mine.  So, when I meet these customers, I will have to rely on my expertise and do my best to whip something up that they may like.
Another big challenge is the consistency of coffee. It is not easy to make sure that every cup of coffee or latte art that you make is consistent because even a slight change in the amount of coffee, milk, or foam can make a big difference.
What motivates you in your work?
When I see my regular customers coming back often and we start addressing each other by name. Gradually, we become friends and whenever they come, I just serve them 'the usual'.
We have become friends with our neighbours (nearby shops) too, whom we will hang out with for meals and share our food or drinks – like a family.
Additionally, another perk is that I do not need to work on Sundays and public holidays as Highlander is closed on those days.
What advice do you have for youths considering a career as a coffee barista?
You must love coffee and be willing to learn. There is and always will be competition, but being a barista is not about fame and honour but the passion in coffee and in making a good cup of coffee for your customer. Like any food and beverage store, you have to withstand the long hours if you want to be a good barista. Do not expect a high salary and do it only if you really enjoy.
Many people are attracted to barista-ing because of latte art and I admit, it is fancy. However, the coffee is more important than the art – you have to get your coffee to taste good before you make it look good.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Coffee Market Channels


Mainstream market

The mainstream market includes importing countries such as the United States, Germany, Japan, France, Italy, Spain, Canada, the United Kingdom, Poland and the Netherlands. It accounts for more than 85 % of world coffee imports. In the mainstream coffee market, price is driven by supply and demand. A decade of glutted coffee markets has pushed supply through the roof and driven the prices into the basement. Efforts by industry organizations, such as ICO, to control supply and demand have failed as large producers, like Brazil and Viet Nam, refuse to limit production.  

Specialty coffee market

The term “specialty” was first used by the Norwegian coffee connoisseur and roaster Erna Knutsen in 1978 (Ponte, 2002). Specialty coffee meant that coffee beans from special geographic environments provide specific flavor characteristics and should be protected in their identity. Since then, the term has been broadened to encompass higher quality coffees, both single origins, i.e., estate coffees or blends and unconventional coffees like flavored coffees. In addition, the use of the specialty coffee definition differs from country to country. For instance, due to the fact that European countries drink more high quality coffee than in the US, quality standards for coffee will be more stringent in Europe than in US where the specialty coffee is a nascent industry. This happened as a response to poor quality offered to consumers by roasters (Ponte, 2002). While price was the main business factor for the bulk market, quality is the most important criterion in the specialty market and price premiums are offered for high quality coffees.

Sustainable coffees

Sustainability has been defined as meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (WCED, 1987). In the specialty coffee literature, sustainability needs to meet two basic criteria (Giovannuci, 2001): protection of the environment and social fairness. Social fairness refers to economic viability for farmers, focusing on institutions or contracts that permit producers to be paid price premiums for a specific level of coffee quality (Ponte, 2002). Sustainable coffees mean that these coffees are grown in ways that reflect the criteria of environmental protection and socio-economic fairness. Within the specialty coffee market, three segments of sustainable coffee have been developed even though there is no unique definition of sustainable coffees (Gionannuci, 2001). They are known as organic coffee, shade-grown coffee and fair trade coffee.

Organic coffee

Organic coffee is produced under a system that protects the soil fertility and biodiversity. It is based on the use of agricultural practices that maintain and enhance the environmental ecology of the coffee field, with little use of off-farm inputs. There are certification agencies that set up organic standards of production, processing and handling organic coffee. However, the cost of the investment for the certification is excessively high for most small producers.

Shade grown coffee

Also known as “bird friendly” coffee, shade grown coffee is grown under the shade of various types of trees. The advantage of such types of coffee is that they offer a good ecosystem for birds and other small forest animals. In addition, the system reduces soil erosion and/or water run off through mulching from the trees. To be certified, shade grown exporters must first of all be organic.

Fair trade coffee

Fair trade coffee relies on partnerships between fair trade organizations also called alternative trade organizations and producers’ associations or cooperatives. The fair trade movement was launched in the Netherlands in 1988.

Although coffee was the first, most commonly fair-trade-certified product, other fair trade imports include bananas, chocolate, honey, tea, sugar, orange juice and indigenous handicrafts. Fair trade coffee meets several criteria. Growers must be organized into democratically run cooperatives. The cooperatives must agree to independent inspections. They also must use sustainable methods of agriculture. In return, the growers are guaranteed a living wage of at least $1.26 per pound for their coffee (15 cents more if it is grown without pesticides).

Although fair trade coffee constitutes only 2 percent of the world's coffee supply, consumer demand for fair trade coffee has grown over the years. Fair trade coffee is sold directly by small producers’ associations or cooperatives to an importer or a fair trade organization, and the producer is guaranteed a minimum price for his or her coffee. Unlike organic and shade grown coffee, the certification process for fair trade coffee is not too costly for small producers

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Working with Different Espresso Blends

* We work with three different espresso blends here at the cafe. The customers can choose a blend to incorporate in their espresso-based beverage. What's hard here is that when we get high volumes of customers with different espresso blend preferences we forget to keep track of our variables. We usually work at a leisurely pace, making one beverage at a time. We seldom work in "fast food" mode. Anyway, what's important here is that we get to know each of our blends and learn how they look and taste like at consistent extraction times. That's why we conducted a "getting-to-know-you" session for our blends this afternoon. We always do this so that we would not forget the standards we use for the respective blends. We also do this to update our techniques.

* "Different coffee blends will have different reactions to the brewing process. Anytime you change your espresso blend be sure to taste test it many times before creating specific standards for brewing it." - That quote came from our SCAA workshop handout that's always accessible on the shelf above our espresso machine.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A New Coffee Community Brewing at

There's a new online local coffee community called We invite you to register and join us for online discussions about coffee and the Philippine coffee industry. I've recently posted a few things under the topic, "Selling the Idea of Specialty Coffee in the Philippines." The topic is based on an article written by barista, Devin Chapman. I would like to share some of the points I made in the forum (for those who are not yet members of

* here's an article by Devin Chapman posted in please share your thoughts about the article. he has many interesting points regarding the relatively young specialty coffee industry in the US. here's my favorite line from the article: "Sales-focus training should teach baristas the basics of engaging and welcoming consumers, encompassing hospitality training with specifics on how to approach those who know little to nothing about coffee."

here's the link:source: ... -industry/

in our small town of los banos, coffee is just coffee. in other words, coffee is the same no matter where you get the beans or where the beans are from. most of us associate coffee quality with the cafe or the shop, not the origin of the beans. but when we tell people that coffee can be so much more than what they're used to, that's when conversations start. it could be a huge task, especially for cafe owners, to explain with patience. we explain our coffee offerings every single day, every single order. but it's such a rewarding experience to see customers smile because they know that they learned something new that day. i hope we could pass that attitude of enthusiasm to our baristas and employees

* just checked if there were any replies to my post. i'm glad that people here are very optimistic about the direction of our coffee industry. i hope will bring together like-minded people regardless of company or affiliation.

i've been a barista for 5 years and a cafe owner for 4 years, i'm relatively new to the industry. the better part of those past few years were spent on barista training and entrepreneurial development. now that I have somehow "matured" in my technical and entrep skills, i'm starting to realize the need for more coffee research. not just to help our own companies and shops but to help the local coffee industry as a whole.

using an analogy from racing, coffee professionals are the race car drivers, and our shops are our race cars. all of us should be helping one another so we can have a wonderful race track to compete in. the race track being the coffee industry.

i'm from los banos and my shop is near the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). i've always daydreamed that there would be a similar research facility for local coffee. to achieve this, i guess we need the combined efforts of coffee professionals (cafe owners, baristas, roasters, farmers), the academe (agronomists, chemists, social scientists), and the support of the local government. the task ahead seems daunting, but there's no better time to start but now! 

* it's good to hear that local coffee companies are taking steps to improve our situation. i really think it is these companies with resources that should lead the way. however, the scope of coffee is very wide. learning and understanding coffee needs a multidisciplinary approach. i hope that in this forum we'll be able to identify the specific problems the industry will face. we should also recognize who among us are knowledgeable in addressing and identifying the several agricultural, environmental, economic, political, social, and even medical issues involving coffee production and consumption.

in reality, not all of us are equally interested in coffee germplasm research, chemistry and soil science, espresso machine engineering, coffee shop management, health benefits of coffee, or even barista and latte art training. we may have common knowledge of these things as participants in the coffee industry but what we know are very limited to our own unique individual experiences.

the key here is to consolidate resources and expertise. we may not be able to raise financial resources here in (for now) but what we can do is consolidate ideas and knowledge from different disciplines and technical backgrounds.

* that's correct. we're on the verge of an economic boom here, with coffee leading the charge. it may not manifest instantly, but it will eventually, with our efforts to help each other, educate one another, and have an attitude of humility, learning, and knowledge-seeking.

* it's a good thing you brought this up. we wouldn't want to be in an ivory tower all by ourselves talking about specialty coffee. there's no progress in that, it's just intellectual elitism. we should welcome and accommodate all discussions regarding coffee. but i guess, just to set this site apart from other forums, i think we should just put "special emphasis" on specialty coffee. rather than "force-feed" people about what we know, we should be able to educate with an attitude of patience and understanding. we can't expect people to immediately "grasp" a new concept. it takes time to effect change. it takes time to pass on an "idea" and make it grow. specialty coffee is a new idea here in our country, let's just be glad that is in a position to be a tool for education and a resource for new and fresh ideas for the Philippine coffee industry.