James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Where Better to Drink Coffee Than in the Chicken Capital of the Philippines?

Where Better to Drink Coffee Than in the Chicken Capital of the Philippines?

Coffee in Bacolod

The colorful pre-war jeepney lets us off in the middle of a busy street. We make our way through the market in search of an early morning caffeine fix. Meats, fresh seafood, and vegetables are on display as we push against people haggling loudly. The aroma of coffee wafts by.

The city of Bacolod, in the Visayan Islands, is known for its sugar cane haciendas and for being the chicken capital of the Philippines. Skewered and grilled on a stick, or alive and ready to kill in a cockfighting pit, the city is obsessed with poultry. However, many are unaware of Bacalod’s coffee potential.

Café Excellente is an old and quaint coffee shop on the main thoroughfare of the central market. A group of rusted chairs and a long wooden bench serve as seats. A young boy crushes the coffee beans in a large industrial grinder. A large pot is on the boil. The beans are grown on the sub-tropical foothills of Mount Kanlaon and brought into town for trade.

Coffee was introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish conquistadors in the mid-18th century. The coffee seedlings initially came from Mexico, and were first planted in the fields of Batangas, south of Manila. Two hundred years ago, the Philippines was the world’s fourth-largest coffee producer, until insect infestation destroyed all the coffee trees in the late 19th century. Its coffee standing has declined, but there is now an interest among farmers in reviving the trade. The Philippines is one of only a few countries that can produce all four main coffee varieties—Robusta, Liberica, Arabica, and Excelsa.

The little café tucked inside the buzzing market is a far cry from the prohibitively complicated concoctions of Starbucks: here, 12 pesos buys you a hot cup. The freshly roasted coffee beans are filtered through local cheese-cloth called katcha and served to you in its purest form.

The fragrant coffee is presented in a small brown mug with a spoon on top. The dark liquid is strong and crisp, intense and rich in taste.

A man seated next to me has a can of sweet evaporated milk. He whisks a few drops into his coffee. The hawkers across the cafe wave and offer a variety of cakes and local pastries.

I settle with a sticky roll of rice in coconut milk with homegrown muscovado sugar, wrapped in banana leaf. The people at the neighboring table laugh as I try to figure out the logistics of unraveling the gluey cake. The first bite is corrosively sweet—but a perfect match for the underrated coffee of Bacolod.

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