The coffee scene has exploded, with Philippine coffee taking center stage alongside international offerings. Carmel Laurino and Lacy Wood, both from Seattle, fell in love with Philippine coffee and have made it their mission to bring this once-sought after commodity back into the spotlight, while helping coffee-growing communities along the way.
It all started with a photograph of Philippine coffee being sold in a Seattle market in the 1950s that Carmel stumbled on for an undergraduate research project. “Sixty years before Starbucks opened shop at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, Philippine coffee was sold in the same spot,” she says. “Over a century ago, coffee was a major export crop for the Philippines. Diseased crops devastated production, farmers lost interest, and the industry never fully recovered. As a result of this research, the desire to revitalize Philippine coffee industry was planted. A few years later, in 2013, Kalsada Coffee was born, founded through a partnership between myself and Lacy Wood, our Head of Coffee.”
Before they started Kalsada, Carmel was working and living in Seattle in the nonprofit sector while Lacy was living in Paris finishing her Master’s at the American University of Paris and roasting for France’s flagship specialty coffee shop, Coutume Cafe. They named their venture Kalsada, which means ‘street’ in Tagalog, because it “represented the journey of coffee from seed to cup,” Carmel says. “After living here for over fifteen months it represents not only our journey from Seattle, Paris, and everywhere in between, but also the long road ahead in building capacity for quality coffee at the farm level.”
The Road Less Traveled
Every startup has its share of challenges, and the founders of Kalsada were more than ready to face theirs head on. “Its never easy to start a business, and it definitely wasn’t easy for us considering neither of us grew up in the Philippines,” Lacy says. “Navigating Manila bureaucracy was no small task. However, neither of us really come from a business background either. I think navigating the business world has been one of the most rewarding challenges. We are certainly learning as much as possible along the way, and largely thanks to many supporters and mentors.”
Lacy says their business model “is disruptive to its core,” explaining that “it is a shortened supply chain that brings Philippine coffee directly to consumers across the globe, and reinvests value back into the supply chain. In the coffee world, most of the money is made through roasting. Because Kalsada is both a roaster and a supplier of coffee, we are able to reinvest more into our partner coffee communities.” In other words, the company brings the coffee from the growers directly to the consumers. Part of this includes working closely with communities to ensure quality coffee, as well as discovering opportunities for said communities to grow.
The company currently works with producer-partners in Benguet and Mountain Province, and hope to add more regions and new producer partners this year. “Auntie Rosita has been one of the farmers that we’ve been working closely with. She lives on the ‘sunny side’ of Mt. Province and is continuously promoting to her neighbors to grow coffee. She continuously asks questions and is really open to learning more about building her quality,” Carmel shares. “Although we are still in our early stages as a startup, we hope, through our direct relationship and quality building initiatives with coffee farmers like Auntie Rosita, that we not only inspire a new generation of coffee growers but also increase the income earned as quality increases.”
“This year we are purchasing from upwards of 30 producer partners, so our dedication to transparency is becoming a larger task as we grow, but we are often posting pictures and snippets of stories through Instagram and our blog,” Lacy adds.
The journey from bean to cup has been a learning experience for the women as well. For example, they realized that most local coffee producers process their coffee by hand. “They are hand picking, pulping and hulling with big mortar and pestles, and drying wherever there is space. This is extremely laborious, and often creates issues in quality along the entire supply chain,” Lacy says.
A Two-Way Street
Kalsada also organizes field trips so that customers can visit producer-partners and take part in the coffee producing process themselves. “One of our goals is to connect coffee producers and consumers and see each other as stakeholders in the value chain and ecosystem of the coffee industry. Last October we took a group of Manileños to the farms to help build raised drying beds, a low-input high impact way of increasing quality. We hope to have regular trips up to the mountains,” Carmel says. “We do not currently work with other small-scale manufacturers. What makes us different is our transparency and traceability model. We want to be the brand that both consumers and producers can trust.”
The market is ripe for excellent, locally produced coffee. “Ever since I moved from Seattle in late 2013, the Philippine coffee scene continues to grow and many more specialty coffee shops are opening left and right. It’s been quite exciting to see and be a part of,” Carmel says.
“The sky is the limit. If we can produce one great coffee from the Philippines, we can change minds about Philippine coffee,” Lacy adds. “We can show what is possible through proper investment into the Philippine coffee supply chain, and we can show consumers that the Philippines is not to be forgotten.”
Kalsada sells beans at the Good Food Sunday Market, which happens every first and third Sunday of the month at Uno Morato. Their coffee is served at Uno Morato and Habitual in Manila, and The Chillage and Bintana in Cebu. They also deliver freshly roasted locally sourced coffee directly to home consumers.
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This article was first published in Explore Philippines Issue 5 with the title “Coffee with a Cause”