Mention Sagada and people invariably think about the long, long drive to reach this scenic town in the heart of Mountain Province. But for those who have not yet had the chance to visit, they can still get a sip and taste of what Sagada has to offer in the city—at SGD Bodega in Teacher’s Village, and now, at the recently opened SGD Coffee Roastery in Greenhills.
Husband-and-wife owners Rich and Margaret Watanabe may not be from Sagada but they’ve been supporting the coffee farmers there for several years now through the Coffee Heritage Project. The project helps local farmers plant Arabica coffee, work the farm, harvest the berries, and then directly buys the beans from them at fair prices. What then does the Coffee Heritage Project do with all those beans? That’s where the SGD Coffee brand kicks in.
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In Sagada itself, they set up Coffee Heritage House, a quaint B&B-hostel where visitors can experience Sagada’s natural beauty, including visiting coffee farmers there. In Quezon City, there is SGD Bodega, a coffee processing facility, warehouse, and coffee shop all in one. They process the beans harvested from Sagada, and then serve the coffee to a clientele appreciative of the quality brew, along with all-day breakfast fare featuring ingredients from Sagada. In the same location, the Coffee Science Center conducts workshops and seminars on all things coffee, from roasting to brewing and tasting.
Margaret explains the idea behind the SGD Coffee brand, “All the four entities support the Coffee Heritage Project, so everything that happens in the Coffee Heritage Project is financed by all these entities. So if we do workshops for farmers, if we do planting with the farmers, everything is financed by these entities.” While supporting the farmers is the objective, SGD Coffee is actually of very high quality, having won the Medaille Gourmet at the International Contest of Coffees Roasted in their Countries of Origin in Paris, France in 2017.
SGD Roastery is the newest of the four entities, and offers a different take on the Sagada coffee experience. Margaret elaborates, “We want to cater to music and coffee aficionados who want a more personalized coffee service… That’s really the intention of the Coffee Roastery, to provide everybody, those who are very particular about their coffee, for those who want a certain flavor profile just for you.” The only thing missing, for now, is the roasting facility which is still in the process of being set up. Margaret volunteers, “The experience we want our customers to have is when you sit down, you can have a good cup of coffee, then just close your eyes and relax and enjoy the good music.”
As you enter the Roastery, you first see the coffee area and the listening room, while the dining area is actually hidden from sight. That’s intentional, so says SGD Creative Director and Chef Cocoy Ventura. “This is like going to your own living room and your own dining room, and you have a foyer, there’s a wing of espresso machines, you can just walk around and be comfortable, and your LP is playing while you eat your salad or coffee, or maybe even strawberry shortcake. If you’re feeling a little blue and want to get away from everybody, this is the place, tucked away.”
But the real surprise is probably the full-service menu that SGD Coffee Roastery offers (aside from the same all-day breakfast menu from SGD Bodega). Neither entirely Filipino or Western, the menu features familiar comfort food fare to highlight and celebrate local ingredients and products. Chef Cocoy explains, “For the most part, (the menu) is an experience of traveling from Manila to Sagada and back.” He sources dried fish and sea salt from Pangasinan, Pamora Farms chicken from Abra, vegetables from Teraoka Family Farms in Pangasinan, and of course, coffee, vegetables, and strawberries from Sagada and environs.
One example is the Halsema Salad, named after the long and winding highway that takes you from Baguio to Sagada, composed of the various vegetables that one finds along the route. Chef Cocoy describes the dish, “On Halsema Highway, you’ll find all these produce, starting with radish, cherry tomatoes, Japanese cucumbers, underneath compressed sugar beets and carrots. Dressing is made out of several herbs: tarragon, mint, parsley, whatever we could get.”
Aside from fine-tuning the menu at SGD Coffee Roastery, Chef Cocoy is also busy working on an SGD ice cream line to become available at all the SGD outlets, as well as a retail line of homemade jams, vinegars, heirloom rice, salt, etag, and other pantry items to supplement the coffee they already sell. He’ll also soon be setting his sights on upgrading the menus at SGD Bodega, as well as at Coffee Heritage House.
While SGD is busily expanding its retail business, Margaret always brings it back to the reason why they’re doing this—to help uplift the lives of the coffee farmers they work with. She says, “Since it’s a passion project, part of it is to give back and make sure that (the farmers) earn from it… It might be hard for us but this is what we want for the farmers, for them to be able to send their kids to a good school, to be able to feed their children with good food, have money for medicine and hospitalization.”
With all the coffee shops that have proliferated in the city, it’s not hard to get a good cup of coffee these days. But it’s always nice, even once in a while, to look closer to home, enjoy a cup of Sagada brew along with a good meal, and know that each sip is helping our fellow Filipinos continue their livelihood of producing coffee for us.
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Insarabasab is made with grilled and diced pork belly, red onions, scallions, tomatoes, ginger, chilies, with a calamans-basi dressing.
Marinated Mushrooms with roasted bell peppers, olive oil, cashew vinegar, garlic, shallots, lemon, tarragon, and warm bread.
Chicken pate with bread.
Pinka Fries are dried juvenile belt fish, with chilies and garlic, best dipped in seasoned basi vinegar.
Pamora chicken pâté with homemade bread.
SGD Coffee Roastery, G/F Fox Square Building, 53 Connecticut Street, Northeast Greenhills, San Juan City, (0906) 267-4519
SGD Bodega and Coffee Science Center, 45 Maalalahanin Street, Teacher’s Village, Quezon City, (0917) 826-9537
Sagada and SGD Coffee Roastery photos by Andre Drilon
SGD Bodega photos courtesy of SGD Coffee
Photographs by Andre Drilon