If you’ve a free half hour at the least, brew yourself a cup of coffee and sit down with Roberto S. Francisco’s A Coffee Journal. Richly informative and deeply personal, this beautiful book tells the evocative, dramatic story of Philippine coffee in a way that’s never been done before.
According to Andrew Defrancesco, the pages pull you in until it’s impossible to tear yourself away from them. The black-and-white photography form an imagery of the world of Philippine coffee – its people, traditions and cultures, the wisdom and hard work needed to bring forth magic from the bean to your cup.
Annotated by Francisco’s caption essays, you will go on a journey. It’s not an easy one. There are the roadside sari-sari stores that mark the highway en route to the highland farms in Benguet, welcome pit stops amidst the high-altitude chill. The coffee trees dotting the foothills of Mount Halcon, still tended today by the Angan, an indigenous people residing near Paitan in Oriental Mindoro. The picturesque robusta trees growing on the Maranao farms near lake Lanao―a heartrending sight after the violent destruction of Marawi City.
“Here then is my very personal experience of Philippine coffee―from the north to south, from the farm to the cup, from me to you,” writes Francisco. And indeed, A Coffee Journal is his personal journey through nearly 25 years in the coffee business.
Beginning operations in his mother’s garage in 1994, Francisco set out to learn the coffee business from seedling to drink. Armed with a notebook and a camera, he documented and compiled as much as he could, actively seeking out, as he writes, “living persons, as elderly as possible, to recount the world of coffee as it was in their earlier years.” His research took him all over the country, from lowlands to remote high altitudes, enduring unforgiving roads and rough weather. Wherever he went, he sought out stories and vignettes. What he presents to us in this book is a disappearing world that few of us will ever know. A Coffee Journal is a valuable visual narrative of coffee life in the Philippines at a particular period of history.
It is a vivid and romantic world, full of sensory adventure. Think of the white blooms of the coffee trees unfurling with the scent of jasmine. He shows us the coffee seeds, dropped on leaves of calla lilies, the remains of coffee cherries eaten by nocturnal rats and fruit bats in Miarayon, Bukidnon. In time, these will fall to the ground and germinate into seedlings. He gives us vignettes of the life of the small-cafe farmers who must intercrop coffee with sayote, peppercorn, bananas, calamansi, and other crops to augment their income till the next coffee harvest. He shows us how the story of coffee is the story of the farmers, harvesters, roasters, traders, retailers, and drinkers. Francisco reveals a rich tapestry of the individuals, subcultures, and traditions comprising the world of Filipino coffee.
A Coffee Journal is a tribute to the people whose hard work brings coffee to our tables. It is a good, solid documentation of the Philippine coffee history. But most of all, it is a love letter expressing Francisco’s enduring passion for coffee, a romance that has consumed him for a quarter of a decade, and possibly for an entire lifetime, Reading this book will also make you fail in love with coffee.
written by Troy Barrios / The Ultimate Coffee Guide Vol. XII Iss. 2