14th
Apr
2016

Posted in Kafevend Blog

Welcome back to the Kafevend blog- today we are delving into the history of the Philippines, but more specifically with regards to its role in the production of coffee. The bean's appeal has waxed and waned on the islands over the years. Before we get to that though, let's start with a bit of information on the land itself.

The Philippines lie to the east of Vietnam, the northern end laying a little off the coast of south east China. The Philippines is made up of thousands of islands, ranging from the larger habitable landmasses down to little spits of land lashed by the ocean. Whatever their size, they stretch down roughly southwards towards Indonesia, with a small chain hooking off towards Malaysia. The history of humankind on the islands of the Philippines stretches back tens of thousands of years, and that is to say nothing of the wide biodiversity also found there.

The first European explorers to reach the Philippines were lead by the famous Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, who arrived in 1521 and claimed the islands for Spain. Unfortunately for him, Magellan lost his life soon after this in the Battle of Mactan- whilst attempting to convert the native populace to Christianity, one tribal leader, Lapu-Lapu, took umbrage at the domineering newcomers and the traitorous acts of his fellow islanders who sided with them. When Magellan arrived with around 50 soldiers to subdue him, his 1,500 strong army easily fought off the paltry Spanish force and killed Magellan into the bargain. Though battered and bloodied, this wasn't the end of the Spanish presence in the Philippines...

The islands gained their current name thanks to another explorer, this time a Spaniard by the name of Ruy López de Villalobos. Upon arriving on the island of Leyte, he renamed the group of islands Las Islas Filipinas, in honour of the then prince and later king of Spain, Philip II. Like Magellan before him, he was driven off by the natives. Third time was a charm however, and Miguel López de Legazpi succeded in creating a Spanish settlement in the Philippines. This marked the beginning of 300 years of rule under the Spanish.

Coffee arrived some time after the Spanish established their domain in around the middle of the 18th century. It was initially introduced from Mexico by a Spanish friar, who planted a coffee tree in the city of Lipa in Batangas province. Coffee took hold and soon spread throughout the province, becoming the foundation of its economy. The American Civil War gave it a boost, as coffee from the Philippines became cheaper to import than from Brazil. Fortunes rose again a few years later as the Suez Canal opened in 1869, making trade with Europe easier. By the end of the 19th century, the Philippines was one of the only coffee producers in the world as other countries such as Brazil and Java were struck by coffee leaf rust. Its time in the spotlight was short lived however, as coffee leaf rust inevitably made its way to the islands. Many farmers switched to other crops, and the burgeoning coffee industry dropped production to just a sixth of what it had been only two years before.

Coffee has begun to take hold again in the Philippines- in the 1950s, new varieties of coffee such as the hardy robusta were introduced in a bid to avoid the blight that had curtailed the crop years before. Whilst robusta makes up the lion's share of the coffee now produced in the Philippines, other varieties can be found there such as arabica and liberica. There are high hopes for the Philippine coffee industry as production reaches the tens of thousands of tonnes- though it's still a way to go before it reaches Brazil's two and a half million tonnes!

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