Chapter 10b

Philippine Coffee Icon

March 28, 2022

The history of coffee in the Philippines is very similar to that of cacao.

The plant thrives wonderfully, and its berry has so strongly marked a flavour that the worst Manila coffee commands as high a price as the best Java.

In spite of this, however, the amount of coffee produced in the Philippines is very insignificant, and, until lately, scarcely deserved mention.

According to the report of an Englishman in 1828, the coffee-plant was:

  • almost unknown 40 years before, and
  • represented only by a few specimens in the Botanical Gardens at Manila.

This was because a small predatory animal (paradoxurus musanga) nibbles the ripe fruit and leaves the coffee beans untouched, as indigestible.

Coffee increased and multiplied after this pest was controlled. The Economical Society then offered rewards to encourage large coffee plantations. In 1837, it granted to M. de la Gironnière:

  • a premium of 1,000 dollars, for a coffee plantation of 10,000 plants, which were yielding their second harvest
  • 4 premiums to another in the following year.

But as soon as the rewards were obtained, the plantations were once more allowed to fall into neglect.

This means that coffee growing at those market prices and artificially high rates of freight was not profitable.

Year Export in picos
1856 under 7,000 picos
1865 37,588
1871 53,370.

This increase, however, affords no criterion by which to estimate the increase in the number of plantations, for these make no returns for the first few years after being laid out.

In short, larger exports may be confidently expected. But even greatly increased exports could not be taken as correct measures of the colony’s resources. Not till European capital calls large plantations into existence in the most suitable localities will the Philippines obtain their proper rank in the coffee-producing districts of the world.

The best coffee comes from the provinces of Lagúna, Batangas and Cavíte. The worst comes from Mindanáo because of careless treatment which leads to bad beans. The coffee beans of Mindanao are of a yellowish white colour and flabby. Those of Lagúna are smaller, but much firmer in texture.

Manila coffee is very highly esteemed by connoisseurs, and is very expensive, though it is by no means so nice looking as that of Ceylon and other more carefully prepared kinds.

Remarkably in 1865, France imported only 105,000 francs worth of Philippine hemp. But it imported more than 1,000,000 francs worth of Manila coffee, 1/3 of the entire coffee produce of the islands.*

Manila coffee is not much prized in London, and does not fetch much more than good Ceylon (60s. per cwt.).† This, however, is no reproach to the coffee, as every one acquainted with an Englishman’s appreciation of coffee will allow.

California is an excellent customer. It is always ready to give a fair price for a good article, will in time become one of its principal consumers.

In 1868, coffee in Manila itself cost on an average 16 dollars per pikul.

In Java, the authorities pay the natives, who are compelled to cultivate it, about 3 dollars per pikul.

Although the amount of coffee exported from the Philippines is trifling in comparison with the producing powers of the colony, it compares favourably with the exports from other countries.

In my “Sketches of Travel,” I compared the decrease of the coffee produced in Java under the forced system of cultivution with the increase of that voluntarily grown in Ceylon, and gave the Javanese produce for 1858 as 67,000 tons, and the Cingalese as 35,000 tons.

Since then, the relative decrease and increase have continued ; and in 1866 the Dutch Indies produced only 56,000 tons, and Ceylon 36,000 tons.*

  • Report of the French consul.
  • Mysore and Mocha coffees fetch the highest prices. From 80 to 90 shillings per cwt. is paid for Mysore; and as much as 120 shillings, when it has attained an age of five or six years, for Mocha.

Ş Report of the Belgian consul.

In 1865-66-67 California imported 31, 8, and 10 million lbs. of coffee, of which 2, 4, and 5 millions respectively came from Manila. In 1868 England was the best customer of the Philippines,

During my enforced stay in Darága, the natives brought me mussels and snails for sale.

Several of them wished to enter my service, as they felt “a particular vocation for Natural History.”

At last my kitchen was always full of them. They sallied forth every day to collect insects, and as a rule were not particularly fortunate in their search. But this was of no consequence; in fact, it served to give them a fresh appetite for their meals.

Some of the neighbouring Spaniards paid me almost daily visits; and several of the native and half-caste dignitaries from a distance were good enough to call upon me, not so much for the purpose of seeing my humble self as of inspecting my dwelling, the fame of which had spread over the whole province.

It was constructed in the usual judicious mushroom shape, covered with nito, † and its pinnacle was adorned with a powerful oil lamp, furnished with a closely fitting lid, like that of a dark lantern, so that it could be carried in the pocket. This last was particularly useful when riding about on a dark night.

In the neighbouring pueblo cigar-cases were made out of this nito. They are not of much use as an article of commerce, and usually are only made to order. To obtain a dozen a would-be purchaser must apply to as many individuals, who, at the shortest,

  • Coffee is such an exquisite beverage, and is so seldom properly prepared, that the following hints from a master in the art (Report of the Jury, Internat. Exhib.; Paris, 1868) will not be unwelcome:
  1. Select good coffee
  2. Mix them in the proper proportions
  3. Thoroughly dry the beans, otherwise in roasting them a portion of the aroma escapes with the steam
  4. Roast them in a dry atmosphere, and roast each quality separately
  5. Allow them to cool rapidly. If it is impossible to roast the beans at home, then purchase only sufficient for each day’s consumption.

Except for the fourth, it is easy to follow all these directions at home. Small roasting machines are purchaseable, in which, with the aid of a spirit lamp, small quantities can be prepared at a time.

It is best, when possible, to buy coffee in large quantities, and keep it stored for two or three years in a dry place.

  • A creeping, or rather a running fern, nearly the only one of the kind in the whole species.


will condescend to finish one in a few months. The stalk of the fern, which is about as thick as a lucifer match, is split into four strips. The workman then takes a strip in his left hand, and, with his thumb on the back and his forefinger on the edge, draws the strips up and down against the blade until the soft pithy parts are cut away, and what remains has become fine enough for the next process. The cases are made on pointed cylindrical pieces of wood almost a couple of feet long. A pin is stuck into the centre of the end of the cylinder, and the workman commences by fastening the strips of fern stalk to it. The size of the case corresponds to the diameter of the roller, and a small wooden disk is placed in the bottom of the case to keep it steady while the sides are being plaited.