Coffee is an important commodity in the world economy, accounting for trade worth approximately US$16.5 billion in 2010, when some 97 million 60-kilogram bags (5.8 million tons) were shipped. This is according to The Coffee Exporter’s Guide (3rd edition), produced by the International Trade Center.
In this arena, the Philippines has yet to make an impact as a coffee-producing country. While a number of groups—such as the Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. (PCBI)—have been tireless in their quest to see Philippine coffee make its mark on the global consumer, there’s one woman who already saw the value in our beloved beans in the 1970s and established a successful trading business from this local crop.
Evelyn Asuncion has been described as a Silca Coffee Roasting Company‘s (Silca) hidden asset. Silca President Michael Asuncion disclosed this about his mother in a previous interview for The Ultimate Coffee Guide, saying, “She knows how to deal with farmers, and that has to develop over time.”
Since her childhood days in Silang, Cavite, Evelyn has already been immersed in the coffee business. Her parents were the founders of the Rural Bank of Silang, which financed coffee farming operations since the 1950s. “I could see that coffee was one of the biggest crops in the area. So, we started buying tin cans full of coffee and selling it to other coffee traders. We—my husband and I—started in 1975, buying coffee from farmers we know,” she relates.
With the high demand for coffee at that time, her dream to be in the export business was within reach. Evrile Enterprises (named after herself and her husband Enrile) was established as an export company in 1980. She recalls, “The demand for coffee everywhere was high. Instead of just buying from farmers, we started buying from millers as well because we needed more volume. We started buying from farmers and millers in Cavite, and then later on from Mountain Provinces and eventually from Mindanao traders. We were buying coffee from all over the Philippines.”
Evelyn notes that trading requires a quick mind, a measure of courage, and enough capital. She explains, “Coffee trading is capital intensive. You need lots of money to buy coffee in these quantities. You also need a lot of guts—the courage to be able to take on the risk that comes with the movements in price. You really have to think quick and be fast about making your choices. Being a good trader is really a gift from God.”
Trading is not without the risks that accompany any business. In this case, the biggest challenge lies in managing the movement of coffee prices. Evelyn points out: “Because of the coffee price fluctuations, sometimes there were some traders that just didn’t deliver when the price went up. They would back out from the contracts and we would get squeezed.”
But Evelyn remarks that it can be a rewarding and exciting trade-off for the truly skilled. Their coffee network at that time initially started with local farmers from Silang. It eventually grew to include farmers and traders from all over the country, as well as overseas buyers. She discloses, “At that time, Mindanao had a lot of coffee and sometimes they would come up to Cavite to sell to us. Overseas, we dealt with large coffee roasters and traders, like: Farmer’s Brothers in Los Angeles, Hills Brothers in San Francisco, Nabob Coffee Company in Vancouver, Boyd’s Coffee in Portland, Oregon, and several traders in New York. The demand abroad was, and is, very strong.”
While Evelyn is now more involved with Silca’s daily operations, she is still very much concerned about the dip in coffee trading due to the disappearance of coffee farms. She remarks, “Coffee trading is not the industry it once was. Take for example places in Cavite or Batangas. Instead of having lots of coffee producing areas, people are turning land into subdivisions and golf courses. Coffee plantations have become scarce since the time we were doing coffee trading because land is being developed into other things. The price of coffee has also come down significantly and Philippine farmers have chosen to kill their coffee trees and plant other crops, like pineapples.”
Nevertheless, Evelyn is still optimistic about the future for our local coffee and its place in the trading scene. She says, “As long as you have a commodity and can exchange it for a price, there can be a market.”
She ends by sharing the trading mantra that has been the key to her success: “Buy low, sell high.”
Evelyn’s trading experience reveals a quest to deliver quality coffee to the right connections to ensure a sustainable future for local farmers. Perhaps, the next time we enjoy a cup of coffee, we can take the time to discover the journey these beans have made from the farm to our brew and savor each sip with more gusto.