Rekindling a Community’s Passion
for Philippine Coffee
Coffee | 7 min read
Before co-founding Kalsada Coffee in 2014, Tere Domine rarely drank coffee. Today, she’s a licensed Q grader and the Country Director of one of the best Philippine-based coffee producers leading the resurgence of specialty coffee in the country. Backing her up is a community of dedicated growers ready to take on the international coffee scene.
It all started with a chance meeting with Carmel Laurino, founder of Kalsada Coffee. Carmel, Philippine-born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, saw old pictures from 1902 of Philippine-grown coffee being sold at Pike Place Market in Seattle. With this new inspiration, she set out to bring home some of the product.
Tere Domine, Country Director of Kalsada Coffee
Sourcing good beans alone was a challenge, even more with a language barrier. So Carmel sought the help of Tere to translate, and both found a shared curiosity as to why Philippine coffee fell out of the international market.
After touring coffee-growing areas in the Philippines and talking to local farmers, Tere and Carmel found the reason: decreasing coffee prices.
It turns out that coffee wasn’t a competitive crop compared to traditional cash crops, like vegetables. Plus the fact that coffee is only harvested once a year in the Philippines puts the farmers at financial risk if they focus much of their energy and resources on coffee.
But this didn’t stop Tere and Carmel from starting a coffee company. Wanting to bring back the glory of Philippine coffee, Kalsada Coffee was born as an exporting company. It was a rocky start, however, since there was an unanticipated delay in the release of their exporting license. This meant that their very first batch of coffee to be sent to the US got stuck in a warehouse in the Philippines. After months of waiting, they decided to sample their coffee stored in GrainPro bags and found the quality unchanged.
There was still a lot to improve, though. In the beginning, most of the farmers that Kalsada Coffee worked with weren’t aware of the proper picking process, and a fair amount of the cherries they harvested were unripe. They also used very traditional storage methods, like simple plastic sacks that let coffee beans re-absorb moisture or even in buckets with charcoal at the bottom that compromised the quality of the coffee.
These practices resulted in coffee with unpleasant flavors and a lack of complex notes that make specialty coffee delicious.
Another difficulty is that the communities had no proper mill of their own. Kalsada Coffee had to build one with money raised from a Kickstarter campaign. The farmers were also struggling to find financing for their farms and families, so Kalsada Coffee started and has continued to give financial support to them.
Fast forward to 9 years later, Kalsada Coffee now works with about 200 farmers from four locations around the Philippines. And the company has earned its place amongst the best. In February 2023, Blue Bottle released its first Philippine set, grown by Kalsada Coffee. Tere recounts that it took 4 years of sending samples and receiving feedback from Blue Bottle until Kalsada’s coffee passed quality requirements. And it was all worth it.
“Our mill manager in Bukidnon was really proud and thankful that we believed in her. That she could make something beautiful out of the coffees they harvested,” Tere explained.
Improving their coffee quality started with teaching the farmers how to pick the right cherries. Experimenting and learning as they went, Kalsada helped the farmers become experts in handling, processing, and even packing coffee. Reject beans or beans that didn’t qualify to become specialty coffee went from (28%) in 2015 to now just (5%).
More than producing good coffee, Tere found a higher purpose in Kalsada’s efforts. By helping build stronger coffee communities in the remote areas of Benguet and Bukidnon, Kalsada Coffee found a family.
The bond between the farmers and Kalsada Coffee is the result of working together in an endeavor that allowed them to make mistakes and discover how to correct those mistakes. By learning together, they’ve formed a partnership that goes beyond business.
The Kalsada family has grown and Tere wants their younger members to flourish, saying:
“I think the more pressing goal for Kalsada is to encourage a lot of younger farmers to stay in the agriculture business and see that there's really a future and profitability in farming, especially in coffee.”