One of the most coveted brews among connoisseurs worldwide, coffee Alamid is slowly waking up the entrepreneurial spirit of many of the country’s coffee farmers

Unless you count yourself a coffee connoisseur, you wouldn’t know that the world’s rarest and most expensive coffee beans are actually found knee-deep in sh*t—civet sh*t, that is.

Selling at prices of up to $100 a cup, the internationally coveted coffee beans are found in the droppings of the local civet called the alamid, a nocturnal long-tailed cat-like animal that lurks around the Philippines’ coffee-growing regions for the ripest and sweetest coffee cherries. The civet relentlessly eats the beans during coffee season, and eventually expels the hard entrails of the fruit. The result is a bunch of beans fermented in the civet’s stomach acids and enzymes that’s worth its weight in gold.

A Gold Rush

Home to one of Southeast Asia’s largest civet populations, the Philippines is experiencing an upsurge in demand especially with connoisseurs the world over discovering the novel pleasures of drinking civet coffee. “When roasted, civet beans exude an almost musical, fruity aroma. It has a strong, dark chocolatey taste to it, and it has no aftertaste. Definitely a clean cup,” affirms Basil Reyes, the president and chairman of Alamid Café Xpress, the first suppliers of Coffee Alamid in the Philippines.

Alamid Café Xpress traces its roots to Bote Central, Inc., a family-owned corporation whose vision is to “work to clean and save the environment by using agro forest products for livelihood.” While some Southeast Asian civet coffee traders have started holding civets in captivity to propagate and manage coffee production, Alamid Cafe Xpress stands by its credo. “We respect the wild animals in the forests and we do not get our coffee droppings from any caged civets,” says Reyes. “Instead, we train our pickers well. We follow strict protocol procedures with our pickers, who understand the important role civets play in the ecosystem—as natural seed dispersers in the forests.”

It’s a process that’s worked for Reyes, who started out in the coffee business mainly because of vinegar. Bote Central, Inc. was then working with a community of vinegar collectors when they learned the same palm tree that produced their Arengga Vinegar was also the habitat of the alamid. Civet coffee was already popular internationally then, and what started as an initial sale of five kilos’ worth of civet coffee has since multiplied tenfold.

Fair Trade Advocate

Even with a highly coveted product under its belt, Alamid Café Xpress is comprised of enlightened entrepreneurs keen on working to alleviate the plight of a large community of coffee farmers. “Equal rights for men and women, environmental protection, poverty alleviation—these are all foreign concepts to the farmers because sila mismo (they themselves are) on poverty level,” says Reyes. “How can you talk about poverty alleviation when they are on poverty level? Their lives have to be uplifted first, and that, together with the values of fair trade, is our mission.”

Alamid Café Xpress works on the premise that if farmers earn more, then they would plant more coffee trees; thus, elevating the country’s coffee industry along with their livelihoods. “To have a sustainable coffee industry, the farmers should be rich—and for them to be rich, you have to add value to their product,” Reyes shares, adding that their ultimate goal is to enable the farmers to not only produce, but roast and sell their beans as well. More than just helping coffee farmers market their beans, Alamid Café Xpress provided 14 coffee farming communities with roasting facilities they manufactured on their own. “There has long been an imbalance in the coffee supply chain, and it has become our advocacy to create a fair trade environment where coffee farmers are empowered because they benefit from their product.”

It’s a sentiment forest picker Aling Lucina affirmed during a recent press trip to Mt. Malarayat in Batangas where civet coffee is in abundance. “Hanapbuhay ko dati, kumikita lang ako ng P300 or P250 bawat linggo. Hindi sapat para sa pamilya ko. Pero mula noong dumating ang Alamid, napaaral ko ang mga anak ko hanggang college, at lahat ng ginagalaw ko sa pamumuhay, ang Alamid ang nagpapagalaw talaga. (I used to earn P300 or P250 (around US$7) every week. It wasn’t enough for my family. But since Alamid came, I was able to see my kids up to college, and everything I need, comes from Alamid.)”

Alamid at R.O.X.

In an effort to introduce Filipino coffee farmers to the coffee-drinking community, Alamid Café Xpress recently opened its flagship café at the Recreational Outdoor Xchange (R.O.X.) in Bonifacio High Street. The café not only introduces the sought after Civet brew to city denizens, it also acts as a portal to increase the public’s awareness of the plight of coffee farmers.

“Alamid is just the beginning,” shares Reyes. “We’ll be bringing down communities here—from the businessmenMangyans to the Manobos and the Ifugaos. We want them to meet the consumers. We’ve been working on the coffee in these provinces for months to produce the best brew they can present to the market. And it’s a very discriminating market, but I believe our farmers are ready.”

Alamid Café Xpress is located at the Recreational Outdoor Exchange (R.O.X.) at B1, Bonifacio High Street, Taguig City. Visit www.alamidcafexpress.com for more information.

Published in the February 28, 2011 issue of the Business Agenda section of Manila Bulletin.

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