It was an easy yes for me when I was invited to join the coffee junket organize by Alamid Cafe Xpress, even if this trip involves hiking a mountain, and that it was on a Thursday. As coffee lover, I would not pass the rare chance to see the source of the most expensive coffee in the world.
Alamid – Civet Cat in the Philippines
No, I was not in Sumatra, Indonesia, where the world famous Kopi Luwak is produced. Now, if you’ve never cared about coffee before, here’s a quick FYI: Luwak coffee beans are those gathered from the civet’s droppings.
Poop? Yep. Curious for more info?
The civets are these long-tailed catlike animals that prowls the coffee-growing lands at night for the ripest coffee cherries. Then they get processed inside the civet’s intestine and out came the indigestible seeds the natural way. These are then collected, washed, dried, sorted, roasted, and then find its way into your coffee cup. It is actually due to this natural process that made the civet coffee very smooth. Civet coffee costs between Php700-1500 per 50 g. (USD150-300 per pound)!
Civet Cats at Mt. Malarayat
Thursday morning 10ish, I was among the 15 people invited hiking up the trail of Mt. Malarayat in Lipa, Batangas. We were here to see and learn about the Alamids, the local name for civets. Not surprisingly, as we have similar topography and vegetation with Indonesia, we have civets in the Philippines too (as with Vietnam, for your added information). However, it was not until early 2000 that Filipinos learned that they’ve been stepping on gold all these years.
Hiking, mountain, me? I know, right?! The truth is I did mental calculation and thought it couldn’t possibly be a difficult trek as there were no warning of needing previous climbing experience. The email only said we should expect it to be hot, so bring sunblock, sunglasses, extra shirt. Check, check, check. Plus I was banking on my recent experience of completing a 10K marathon. If there were no cliff and ravine that I could fall into, I’m not afraid to walk for a long time.
This is the “Executive Trail” and the level of difficulty is 0.5 we were told. It simply means, you will not die. While it’s not a walk in the park, it was an easy 1 hour hike with no ravine nor cliff. The trail is wide and visible at all times. As it was a forest, there were plenty of canopies to shield from the sun, as well as interesting floras along the way, as pointed out by our guides. The trip actually felt like being in a tour group, with a tour guide leading a herd of tourist, oohhing, aahhing, and taking photos every 5 steps. The end of the trail is a small flat land on top (el. +650) with a hut that is their base camp. A grand feast awaited there, to replenish the calories we burnt during the hike.
We rested and did a bit of socializing with our fellow trekkers, all but few I’ve met for the first time. I remember photographer, Micah and the Alamid troop: Basil, Paolo, and Rachelle from the launching of their cafe where I was the lucky winner of the 50g Alamid Liberica Gold. It’s still sealed awaiting the perfect moment to take it. But it has a best before date at the bottom, so the perfect moment better come soon! :)
We then went on a small expedition to search for the alamid droppings. And it didn’t take very long before everyone had sightings of these golden poops. They’re relatively easy to spot as they’re not really hidden. It’s there right on the trail, on the rock, along the side. That is of course, you first have to know where to look.
Civet in the Philippines are Wild and Free
The alamids in the Philippines are free roaming. And according to Basil, this differentiates our coffee from that of our neighbors. Better because our civets are not stressed from being caged and everything is natural. So efforts are being made to keep the civets in the wild and the forest where they roam protected. Not only for environmental reasons but these coffees have affected lives of many Filipinos.
Our trail guides Luciana and her husband are 2 of such people. They collect alamid droppings for living and tell of how much this changed their lives financially. They are paid a very lucrative amount of 1100 pesos ($25) per kilo, and in a day, I was told, they can collect about 2kg. I was surprised (in a delightful way) as this is way, way above what average Filipinos earn. A more inspiring story told to us is how a village in Mt. Matutum, South Cotabato has shifted its livelihood industry from KFR (kidnap for ransom) to alamid dropping picking.
The Proof is in the Poop!
In the end we didn’t see any civets, as expected, as they’re nocturnal animal. But as Will and I cleverly coined, the proof is in the poop! Shortly after a scrumptious meal and a sample of steaming hot Batangas barako coffee, it’s time to head down. The trek down is faster with the aid of gravity but also the promise of muscle pain the next day.
Before heading back to Manila, we did a side trip to Barangay St. Niño in Lipa, Batangas to meet some of the members of Malarayat Coffee Farmers and Consumer Cooperative (MACOFA), a beneficiary of a Swiss bank who provided them with a computerized drying and roasting machine, which they demonstrated for us. Their long term goal is that one day, they will have their own brand.
As a coffee lover, a businessman, and a Filipino, I’m extremely impressed by the efforts made by the Alamid group in bettering the lives of their business partners. The above experience is just one of the many communities they’ve affected positively. Their passion and sincerity shines through in what they are currently doing and future plans, despite my short interaction with them. It’s not just about good business, it’s about promoting the Philippines to the world.
Alamid Coffee at The Frazzled Cook
If you’re interested to try the Alamid Coffe in the Philippines, you can enjoy it at The Frazzled Cook located at 78 Sct. Gandia St, Diliman, Quezon City, 1103 Metro Manila