Coffee's Rich History in the Philippines

The Philippines is one of the few countries currently producing the four varieties of commercially-viable Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. Philippine Liberica is known locally as Barako/Baraco, a coffee bean that produces a distinctively robust and powerful cup. The bigger cherries and beans are a staple in the Philippine coffee scene, primarily grown in the provinces of Batangas and Cavite.

The story of Philippine coffee is akin to a rich and aromatic brew, blending myth with historical facts and presenting a colorful journey dating back to the 1700’s. One famous myth relates how a Franciscan monk brought three gantas (approximately 2 kilos in weight) of Arabica beans to the country, planting them in his garden after which the coffee trees were transplanted to other areas in the central island of Luzon.

While there is a lack of historical data tracing the actual details of when coffee first came to the country, it has been surmised that Arab traders or Muslim settlers may have brought the beans during their trade routes or pilgrimages.

By the 1800s, coffee trees were already found in the northern city of Lipa, Batangas and the province of Bulacan. Its propagation was encouraged by Augustinian friars, who furthered the care and cultivation for these trees.

Coffee plantations flourished under Spanish colonial rule. As documented in the book Twenty Years in the Philippines, Paul Proust de La Gironiere recounted his agricultural efforts, that included coffee cultivation. In 1828, the Spanish Real Sociedad Economica de Amigos del Pais de Pilipinas, offered a prize to any one who would plant and ripen sixty thousand square feet of coffee (equivalent to 6,000 coffee trees). M. de La Gironiere transformed his property in Jala Jala, Rizal into a fertile plantation and won the prize of a thousand pesos. His agricultural efforts encouraged other Spaniards to follow suit and increased the cultivation of coffee.

By the mid-1850s, Batangas was exporting to America and Australia. When the Suez Canal opened, a new export market opened in Europe that included Spain, France and Great Britain. In 1876, the first Liberica coffee seedlings were planted in Amadeo, Cavite, although Batangas still reigned as the primary coffee producer at this time.

By 1886, the Philippines was reputed to be the fourth largest exporter of coffee beans. A steep rise in coffee prices and coffee scarcity afforded Lipa a price advantage. When the coffee rust hit Brazil, Africa, and Java, it became the only source of coffee beans worldwide.

The glory days of the Philippine coffee industry lasted until 1889, when insect infestation and a wave of pest and diseases prompted wealthy land-owners to transform their coffee plantations to sugarcane fields. When coffee rust hit in 1891, the remaining Lipa coffee farmers abandoned this crop and shifted to alternative agricultural products.

Since Batangas was a major producer of coffee, this greatly affected national coffee production. In two years, coffee production was reduced to 1/6th its original amount. By then, Brazil had regained its position as the world's leading producer of coffee.

During the 1950s, the Philippine government, with the help of the Americans, brought in a more resistant variety of coffee. It was also then that instant coffee was being produced commercially, thus increasing the demand for beans. Because of favorable market conditions, many farmers went back to growing coffee in the 1960s. The sudden proliferation of coffee farms resulted in a surplus of beans around the world, and for a while importation of coffee was banned in order to protect local coffee producers.

When Brazil was hit by a frost in the 1970's, world market coffee prices soared. The Philippines officially became a member of the International Coffee Organization (ICO) in 1980.

Support for coffee production was scarce until the establishment of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc. (PCBI) in 2002. This was a private sector-led group initially formed as the National Coffee Development Board to improve coffee output. PCBI members include the vast spectrum of the coffee sector from growers, millers, roasters, retailers, local government to agricultural credit.

Since its establishment, PCBI has conducted several events a year including farming courses, coffee shop seminars, trade shows, farm tours and an annual Coffee Summit that continue its commitment to educate and inspire coffee farmers across the archipelago.  In 2011, PCBI was invited to be a member of the ASEAN Coffee Federation. It also became the In-country partner (ICP) for the Coffee Quality Institute in 2016.

With its archipelagic nature and tropical weather, the Philippines combines climactic and soil conditions from lowlands to mountainous regions that are ideal for all four varieties. Coffee trees can be found in the three main islands of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The general harvest season lasts from October to March.


Through the efforts of PCBI, there has been a growing awareness for coffee sourcing from the buyers. Philippine coffee is usually packaged by coffee variety but often include the region, specific micro-lots and even estates. Coffee cooperatives also ensure that quality production and handling methods are followed.


A recent Kape Pilipino green coffee quality grading competition was held at Cavite State University in 2017. This resulted in Arabicas and Robustas that scored over 80 points with coffee sourced from around the country, guarantee an ongoing interest in Philippine specialty coffee.


When using the natural process, Arabicas can produce floral and caramel notes while Robustas have floral and dark chocolate notes.

Population: over a hundred million

Lying in the coffee belt area, the annual coffee harvest from 2008 – 2012 averaged 25,000 metric tons, with a major percentage contributed by Robusta, followed by Arabica beans.

Based on 2012 data of the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, the country has roughly 119,999 hectares devoted to coffee production with 83.5 million fruit bearing trees, and a land surface area of 300,000 square kilometers. SOCSARGEN has the largest coffee farm area with 25,223 hectares, followed by Davao Region with 25,166 hectares, Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with 13,746 hectares, CALABARZON with 13,563 hectares, and Northern Mindanao with 11,837 hectares.

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A mountainous region in northern Luzon that includes the Mountain Province, Benguet, Kalinga, Ifugao, and Abra, the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) is the only landlocked region in the country. This bountiful land boasts of soil and climate suited for the growth of Arabica beans.

ALTITUDE: 1,000-1,800 masl (3,281-5,906 ft)

VARIETIES: Red Bourbon, Yellow Bourbon, Typica, Mondo Novo, Caturra


The central to northern region of Luzon consists of a more diverse terrain, ideal for coffee cultivation of Robusta and Catimor.

The narrow plains of Ilocos Sur surrounded by the Cordillera range and South China Sea to the fertile lowlands and highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range in Bulacan are the location for some of northern Luzon’s coffee farms. The steep mountains and rolling hills of Nueva Viscaya, dotted with valleys and plains, emphasize why this province has been a major producer for agricultural crops, which includes coffee.

ALTITUDE: 300-900 masl (984-2,952 ft)

VARIETIES: Robusta, Catimor


The name for this region is derived from the five component provinces, located south of the National Capital Region and bordered by different bodies of water. The coffee producing areas are spread out over different provinces that offer unique terrain and climate for the coffee growth of Robusta, Excelsa and Liberica.

Batangas is named after the term for raft (batangan) which the locals used to row to the nearby Taal Lake, as well as the logs which dotted the Calumpang River. This area is largely elevated, with small low flat lands, scattered mountainous regions, and one complex volcano.

Cavite is characterized by its unique terrain located in the second smallest province of CALABARZON. Two mountain ranges border the province with a shoreline adjacent to Manila Bay. The terrain is composed of a coastal plan with extremely low ground level, lowland areas of coastal and alluvial plains, a central hilly area that includes Silang, and the upland mountainous area with elevations of 400 meters, where Amadeo is located.

Laguna is on the southern shores of the largest lake in the country, Laguna de Bay. The terrain shifts from narrow and flat lands near the bay to the steeper and rugged mountains of Sierra Madre, Mount Makiling, and Mount Banahaw. This province is home to numerous mountains, most of which are inactive volcanoes.

ALTITUDE: 300-500 masl (984-1,640 ft)

VARIETIES: Robusta, Excelsa, Liberica


The southwestern administrative region is one of five regions in the country with no land borders with another region. The name is derived from the names of the provinces of Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan. Two provinces have shown promise for coffee production of Excelsa and Robusta.

Mindoro is the seventh largest island in the country. Its name originates from mina de oro or gold mine, as coined by Spanish traders. Occidental Mindoro is characterized by mountains, rivers, hills, valleys, plains, and freshwater lakes while Oriental Mindoro shares the mountain ridges that run through the center of the island. Mount Halcon’s peak rises to more than 2,500 meters above sea level.

The province of Palawan is composed of several islands, including Palawan island. While its coastline is dotted with sandy beaches and rocky coves, its interiors unveil pristine forests and mountain ranges, with the highest peak rising to over 2,000 meters. The topography is a mix of coastal plains, craggy foothills, valley deltas, and heavy forests irrigated by rivers that run through the land.

ALTITUDE:300-500 masl (984-1,640 ft)

VARIETIES: Excelsa, Robusta


The numerous islands in the Visayas have their own micro-climate and topography that is ideal for both Arabica and Robusta cultivation.

Bohol province is located in the central Visayas region, consisting of several islands. One of its famous attractions, the Chocolate Hills, is made from the limestone of coral reefs when it was submerged during the Ice Age. At present, half of the island is covered in limestone. Its terrain is primarily rolling hills with low mountain ranges.

Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental are part of the Negros Island Region, but still located in central Visayas. The volcanic soil makes it ideal for coffee cultivation, with a topography interspersing plains and low mountain ranges at the shoreline and a few flatlands in the interior. The dormant Mount Kalinis and active Mount Kanlaon are majestic volcanoes, whose peaks tower over this lush landscape.

ALTITUDE: 500-1000 masl (1,640-3,280 ft)

VARIETIES: Arabica, Robusta


The southernmost part of the Philippines has become one of the prime sources for quality coffee, aside from being a major producer. The bulk of production is in the southern island of Mindanao with 64% of the total land area and 69% of total number of fruit-bearing trees from the total national production. Robusta, Excelsa and Arabica have been grown here with ideal soil and climate conditions.

Basilan is an island province in the ARMM, bordered by Basilan Strait, Sulu Sea, Moro Gulf, and Celebes Sea. The simple terrain consists of slight slopes along the coastal areas with hilly interiors.

The landlocked province of Bukidnon in northern Mindanao has long been considered the food basket of Mindanao, a major producer for rice and corn. The name which means highlander or mountain dweller, references the Kitanglad Mountain Range, with elevations of up to 2,400 meters. The province has sprawling plateaus with mountain borders to the east and south, densely forested mountains, and a volcanic zone in the Bukidnon plateau. The Pantaron Mountain Range shifts from rugged mountains to rolling hills. Alluvial lowlands with canyons and gorges mingle with volcanic terraces and foot slopes that rise to 500 meters above sea level.

Cotabato is centrally located in Mindanao, stretching from Mount Apo in the east to Piapuyungan Range in the west, with fertile plains located between the two highlands. Even rainfall and rare typhoons provide an ideal climate for coffee cultivation.

Davao’s name is believed to be a mixture for the name that the three original settler tribes had for the Davao river. The Manobos called it the Davohoho, the Bagobos called it Davohaha and the Guiangan tribe called it Duhwow. Today, the province is divided into three provinces of Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental and Davao del Sur. The Eastern Pacific Cordillera range borders Davao Oriental while the Philippines’ highest peak, Mount Apo, is found in Davao del Sur, together with rich agricultural plains and valleys, rolling hills and mountains.

Sultan Kudarat, located in the southwest of central Mindanao, is bordered by mountain ranges with flat land interiors. The Apo Mountain Range and Daguma Mountain Range encompass the province. The province is generally unaffected by typhoons, lying outside the typhoon belt.

Compostela Valley in southeastern Mindanao has been predicted to be one of the richest provinces in the country by 2030, due to the rich natural resources. Forests and mountain ranges protect the province from visiting typhoons.

Sulu in the Sulu archipelago is part of the ARMM. Its fertile soil and ideal climate are the perfect ingredients for the cultivation of coffee, which traces its roots to an essential part of the Tausug culture. The Tausugs, one of the indigenous people in Sulu, consider coffee a requisite before any meal.

ALTITUDE: ranges from 700 to over 1,200 masl (2,296-3,937 ft)

VARIETIES: Mysore, Typica, SV-2006, Catimor, Robusta, Excelsa