“Upi has always been a coffee area,” says Jandatu Salik, a civil engineer turned farmpreneur in Upi, Maguindanao. Upi, at 1,600 feet above sea level, is indeed a perfect place to grow the Robusta and Barako varieties. Jandatu has some coffee trees in his Busikong Organik Farm, and all around his village, there are tall trees needing rejuvenation—but just the same, there is coffee to be nurtured and harvested soon.
Jandatu brought us around Upi to see its natural flora, and to nearby Cotabato City to see two cafés. The two cafés, Café Mindanaw and Moro Café, serve Magindanaw and Sulu coffee—ARMM coffee, if you wish, to classify them geographically.
Located on the grounds of the Office of the Regional Governor, the beautiful building amidst bamboo trees and other greenery is a perfect meeting place for coffee drinkers.
It proudly serves Sulu Royal coffee from Princess Kumala Elardo’s freshly roasted batch as well as fresh juice blends, smoothies, and frappés.
Moro Café has communal sofa sets and a mezzanine for private meetings. The staff serves freshly-brewed Tausug coffee from the coffee areas in Panamao, Sulu, prepared from a spanking new Italian espresso machine. They also serve pasta and pastries to go with the coffee.
The lush and verdant setting provides a perfect place for meeting up for business or socials in downtown Cotabato City.
This café, proudly subtitled “Books and Brews”, has an interesting book collection for private reading (please return after use) and for sale. I found a nice rare book: A Country of Our Own by Martinez, printed in 2004. They have books on history as well as politics, and on Mindanao and the Moro culture.
Understandably, because the parents of young Hassan Sirimambo are NGO people and civil servants, the book choices and the 1901 Moro photos wall decor speak much about Mindanao. Atty. Naguib, Hassan’s father, works for the peace process, and his mother Roslaini Alonto works with the Regional Department of Trade and Industry (R-DTI). This couple even volunteered and worked for over 30 days in Marawi during its siege, without any thought of reward or compensation.
The coffee tastes good, especially with the conversations we had about Marawi, the peace process, and the history of Mindanao. The offer both a Magindanaw brew and a Mindanao blend.
The café is a good meeting place, even with the 10 p.m. curfew, as the coffee is served with a lot of stories and interesting conversations. I saw two foreigners enjoying their brew as, according to Atty. Naguib, their coffee shop has become some kind of an NGO hub.
Books, brew, and music will make you want to learn more about the history of coffee in Upi and of the people of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.