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Special care for a special coffee

April 2, 2010

March 26, 2010, 5:30pm

One early cool June morning in Barangay Kahayagan, Tagbina, Surigao del Sur, around 30 coffee farmers and their families are already up with gusto. Red and yellow coffee cherries hung from coffee trees in clusters, already ripe for the picking. It’s coffee harvest time in the Caraga region of northeastern Mindanao—farmer Julio Budlayan and his nephews are in the field to do the first pick of the season.

“We waited all year for this day,” says Budlayan while tightening the nylon cord that held the harvest basket around his waist. “Everyone is excited, everyone is happy.” Nevertheless, Budlayan is quick to remind his nephews to handpick only the ripe cherries: “It’s first about quality, not quantity.”

Budlayan knows the strict standards that Nestlé follows when it comes to the kind of coffee beans it uses for Nescafe. He and his parents have been selling their coffee to Nestlé in the last three decades. “There are no words to describe my happiness when I was informed that my harvest was chosen for the First Pick coffee. I knew right then that my harvest passed a standard of excellence” says Budlayan in his native Cebuano.

Nescafe Classic First Pick is a special limited edition coffee product that is made from coffee berries handpicked with care by Filipino farmers during the beginning of the harvest season. The beans are then roasted to a deep, dark color for a unique and intense cup that you’d love to savor.

Budlayan and three other farmers have been chosen to produce the 2010 Special Limited Edition Nescafe Classic First Pick—after they all demonstrated the right passion and commitment to quality that a good cup of coffee demands. To get more insights on what goes into a cup of delicious, aromatic coffee, let’s look at what Budlayan’s fellow First Pick farmers are doing right.

Post-harvest preparations

The wide concrete deck the size of three full-court basketball courts in the middle a coffee farm might seem surreal at first (think the movie Field of Dreams) but it serves its purpose well for Quirica Cadava of Tungao, San Mateo, Butuan City in Agusan del Norte.

After the morning harvest, Cadava would pour the ripe coffee cherries into a flotation tank to separate the “floaters” (substandard, hollow coffee cherries) from the “sinkers” (the ones of good quality). The sinkers are then sun-dried over the concrete ground to reduce their moisture content.

“It’s important that cherries must not touch the soil or else it acquires an earthy taste. Cherries should also be dried out within the right time so as not to completely dry up its coffee essence or oil,” said Cadava in Cebuano. She is the only lady farmer among this year’s First Pick coffee growers.

No shortcuts

After drying, the coffee cherries are then dehulled in a machine that separates the hull (seed covering) and the parchment from what are now referred to as green coffee beans (GCBs). Next comes the tedious process of sorting – removing the defective beans like black beans, broken beans, immature beans, moldy beans from the good GCBs.

Painstaking sorting and selection are needed before the beans are sold to a Nestlé buying station.

This is why coffee farmer Jolan Lamoste of Laac, Compostela Valley, makes no shortcuts in the selection. Lamoste is committed to this sorting process—it is a legacy bequeathed to him by his parents.

Lamoste’s parents have a reputation for giving only the best coffee harvest, so much so that they were given the honor of becoming ceremonial coffee farmer ambassadors in 2006, when the Nestlé Satellite Buying Station in Davao City celebrated its 20th anniversary.

That’s why together with an assistant, Lamoste filters out defective GCBs using a wood frame-and-plastic screen contraption. Any other defects that remain are handpicked and removed. All in all, they spend at least two weeks to go through 80 sacks of GCBs – their first delivery to Nestlé Buying Station in San Francisco, Agusan del Norte for the season.

“There are truly things in life that are more important than a quick paycheck,” beamed Lamoste. “We feel an inexplicable pride and personal satisfaction that we met the highest standards in our harvest.”

From Farm to Factory

From a mountainous farm in Casilklan, Las Nieves, Agusan del Norte, farmer Lito Mahubay’s first pick coffee harvest traveled five hours to the Nestlé Coffee Factory in Cagayan De Oro City one August morning. After it passes rigid tests – cup tasting, defect count, and moisture content – each sack is labeled with the name and color code corresponding to the First Pick Farmer who delivered it.

For Mahubay and other farmers of this year’s Special Limited Edition Nescafe Classic First Pick, it’s the culmination of a year’s work. For their First Pick coffee beans, however, it’s just the start of another journey. The sacks of GCBs from the First Pick harvests are stored in the factory’s warehouse. By first week of October, the scheduled production run for the year’s Nescafé Classic First Pick, the GCB are ready to be tipped, cleaned and dried.

They are roasted per batch, then ground and brewed. Spray-drying, the final process in the production of instant coffee, follows. Here, the concentrated brew is sprayed through a nozzle from a high tower into a hot air chamber—when the water evaporates, 100% pure dried coffee powder is left at the bottom of the chamber.

This coffee powder is collected in Mega bags for shipping to the Nestlé Lipa Factory for packing. By end of October, the Special Limited Edition Nescafe Classic First Pick in specially marked canisters roll out of Lipa – ready to be served and enjoyed nationwide.

The first pick harvests of these four farmers are all packed in the 2010 Special Limited Edition Nescafe Classic First Pick jars. Each jar of Nescafe Classic First Pick bears a unique code—the Li’l Beanie Code–that represents an actual seedling donation to a coffee farm community.

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