When we think of San Pablo, Laguna, the produce that easily come to mind are lanzones, rambutan, coconut, and ube. But according to Derry Exconde, a San Pableño, the City of Seven Lakes also had an abundance of coffee trees about half a century ago. “Dati, umaakyat ako sa Brgy. Cristobal, puro kapehan iyon,” he recalls.
Donnalyn Brinas, City Tourism Officer, also has memories of coffee beans being left to dry on the sidewalks of San Pablo back in the 70s. “In the morning, the aroma of coffee beans being roasted wafted thru the air,” she offers.
The Excondes were among those who tried coffee farming back then. Derry, now 64, was in Grade 4 when he started helping his father plant some 1,000 barako trees on his grandmother Mameng’s land. Unfortunately, due to lack of technical know-how in coffee-growing, their barako trees died a natural death. Similarly, says Derry and Donalyn, what was to be a coffee industry in the City of Seven Lakes did not flourish. “Dahil walang market, pinagpuputol na lang ng mga tagarito ang puno ng kape nila, pinalitan ng rambutan,” he says. Many of the coffee trees also died because of pests and diseases.
Derry had forgotten all about coffee farming until he came across an announcement by Nestlé in 2010 saying it’s willing to provide support to individuals who would like to start a coffee farm. He was working for an oil company in Africa at that time, and felt the volatile economic situation then might affect his employment status—so he thought it would be wise to have a fallback.
Derry attended the basic training on coffee farming organized by Nestlé and procured robusta coffee seedlings from the company’s farms. “Ang naisip ko noon, ito sure na may market. Nestlé will buy my coffee,” he says. As his knowledge on coffee farming grew, so did the number of growing coffee trees in his farm.
But since the farm wasn’t self-sustaining yet, Derry didn’t think of doing serious business with it until he finally lost his job in 2016. He had a backup plan of going into teaching but he realized he wasn’t cut out for it.
As fate would have it, Derry found himself paying more attention to the coffee farm and finding ways to take it forward. He decided to start selling roasted beans in 2018 and named it Mameng Kape, the name a tribute to his lola who owned the farm. But he later rebranded it as 7 Lakes because he also wanted his product to be identified with San Pablo.
Having spent more time at the farm, Derry realized what the coffee industry in San Pablo needed—an organized group and the support of government and the community. In 2019, he established the San Pablo City Coffee Growers Association which has since been working hand in hand with the Department of Agriculture (DA).
Derry says that as per the DA, part of the government’s blueprint is to grow the country’s coffee industry since Filipinos are one of the biggest consumers of instant coffee, especially 3-in-1. “Most of the solubles are coming from Vietnam, Indonesia, so dollar is going out. So they are trying to encourage farmers to plant coffee here,” he says.
DA has now provided more than 10,000 coffee seedlings to San Pableños. But according to Derry, the coffee industry in San Pablo continues to be challenged. “The cost of manpower is high,” he says. “The farmers also need machinery and know-how on fertilizing and pest control.” It would be a big help, he says, if their Sangguniang Bayan would create an ordinance that would help promote and market the city’s local coffee.
Derry has recently opened a coffee shop in San Pablo, realizing that adding value to his product will help make his coffee farm sustainable. “Kung maibenta ko dito ang aking kape at a better price,” he says, “mapapasuweldo ko din ng mas maganda ang mga tao ko.”
Through his coffee shop, he also hopes the community will support and better appreciate San Pablo coffee. “Kung ma-realize ng tao na may kahihinatnan pala ang pagtatanim ng kape, maybe others would also be encouraged to do it. Ang dami pang mga bakanteng lupa dito,” he observes.
Derry’s dream is that someday, San Pablo can be recognized as one of the best coffee producing cities in the country. “I want to produce a product that the city can be proud of,” he says.
Photos courtesy of Derry Exconde and Mameng Farm