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Meet Ecija’s ‘Rice Coffee Queen’

November 21, 2010

By Anselmo Roque
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Central Luzon Desk
First Posted 17:31:00 11/20/2010

SCIENCE CITY OF MUÑOZ, Philippines—When Leticia Basubas of Barangay (village) Maligaya here decided that producing coffee from rice was her likeliest road to success, not a few raised their eyebrows and scoffed at her business sense: “Who will buy your coffee?” “Where will you sell it?” “It will not succeed as it is just an ordinary product.” “Anybody can produce it in the kitchen.”

These were some of the reactions that reached Basubas in 1998 when the Green Ladies of Maligaya, a women’s club of which she was president, displayed its wares at a rice exhibit sponsored by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice).

PhilRice was then introducing rice by-products as potential side enterprises for neighborhood farmers, and the institute had vouched highly for rice coffee, much as it did rice wine and rice-based chiffon cake, butsi and puto pao, rice brownies, rice waffles, rice nougat, rice-enriched pasta and rice noodles.

Basubas, an agriculture graduate, was determined to pursue her “kapeng bigas” business. At that time she was working as a PhilRice administrative assistant. She eventually resigned from her job to plunge into rice-coffee making.

Today, her rice coffee and various other products are finding their way to the markets of Luzon, parts of the Visayas and very soon in Mindanao. Basubas learned that rice-coffee making involved no intricate technology. All she needed to do was roast to a near-burn a vat of uncooked rice, which was grounded up into fine particles that could be boiled into aromatic coffee. It is the simplicity of the procedure that appealed to Basubas. She says the rice-coffee market is filled with people in the community who relish the rice coffee served by their grandmothers. The home-made brew had become a specialty beverage owing to the abundance of instant coffee brands in sari-sari stores. Basubas converted her kitchen into a production area, and asked PhilRice and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to help her develop the final texture and taste of her line of coffee.

“As there are many local tourists who come for educational trips to the science city, they became the initial target for the marketing of my product,” Basubas says.

The reception to her product was good. “Then I ventured into three-in-one instant coffee. It is rice coffee with sugar and milk. It was accepted by many customers,” Basubas says. As the demand increased, her production methodology improved.

Big roasting and grinding machines, pulverizers, and a filter bag (tea bags) maker procured with a P630,000 government loan replaced the big kettle, hand grinder and other antiquated equipment she used to start the business. She soon earned the moniker “Rice Coffee Queen of Nueva Ecija,” which opened up retail opportunities in major malls. Invited to one mall, Basubas recalls: “I was very nervous then. I even asked them to talk to me in Tagalog as I was not comfortable speaking with them in English. But deep in my heart, I was hoping that something big would come out in that interview.” Basubas was advised to improve the packaging of her products by replacing “bottles sealed in electric tape” with more attractive boxes. Soon, she was allowed to display and sell her coffee line in the SM Kultura and Hyper Market sections of the SM grocery stores nationwide.

“It was a big leap for my business venture,” Basubas says. From a few cavans of uncooked rice in the beginning of her trade, Basubas now converts 20 to 25 sacks of rice into coffee. She has added an array of other products in her rice coffee business. She has now produced teas out of malunggay leaves, ginger, turmeric (yellow ginger), lemon grass, ampalaya (bitter gourd), squash and carrots.

She also put up her own company, the Muñoz Science City (MSC) Food Products, which grosses P400,000 a month from 20 products now in the market.

Her eldest child now manages the firm. Her husband, who is first vice president of a rural bank, helps out with the accounting. “I have 20 employees who are from our locality,” Basubas says.

The MSC Food Products is completing the construction of a P1.8-million three-story building. “It will house our production, drying, packaging and storage areas and our company’s office,” Basubas says. “It is needed for the certification and accreditation needed for the export of our products.”

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