He might be young and only starting but 20-year-old Jeremy Catabijan is passionate about coffee. Although he began his barista career in the summer of 2018, Jem’s interest in coffee started ever since his dad, Jerry, acquired a license for 18 Days Coffee Roasters and established the first artisan coffee shop in Solenad 3 in August 2016.
For Jem, coffee is not just about a steaming black liquid in a cup. It’s also not only about the roasting process — it’s also about the farmers and the community that is created around coffee growing. There is a lot to know about coffee than what mainstream coffee shops offer. “I think most people are intimidated by coffee because the standard they have is it’s bitter,” Jem says in an interview with Lifestyle Laguna. “What they don’t know is that coffee has a lot of favor. It can be sweet (a sweetness similar to candied tamarind), fruity (a bit like calamansi), and would even taste like nuts and chocolate (like the candy Cloud9) if processed correctly.”
Jem’s love for coffee transcends to his love for country. When he was starting his training as a coffee barista under Basil and Vie Reyes, founders of 18 Days Coffee Roasters, he realized that the market for local coffee is promising if not hindered by the heft of the big, often multinational, coffee brands. “It’s frustrating that we, as Filipinos, are lucky to be one of the few countries that can grow coffee. Our local coffee blends have received various awards and recognition internationally. We have a lot of good coffee origins but here we are, satisfied with just instant coffee,” he says ruefully. What Jem is trying to achieve with 18 Days Coffee is to educate people about coffee and encourage them to understand and appreciate coffee and agriculture.
In his short time as a barista – a coffee padawan, if you will – Jem learned about the different varieties of coffee. This led him to now believe that, while everyone puts a high premium on arabica and its different varieties, the popular barako roast has not been given its due. “Although the standard for the barako is the liberica variety, a typical barako blend consists of robusta, excelsa, and, of course, the liberica,” Jem explains.He also explains that this blend was created because of the farmers planting coffee varieties next to each other and when harvest season comes, they would not segregate them.
Jem believes that the uniqueness of the barako, especially when it’s made only to have 100% liberica beans, should put the Philippines on the coffee map. “The common misconception about the barako is it’s strong but that’s only because it’s roasted until it’s black. In fact, the liberica tastes a lot like jackfruit,” Jem points out.
The roast is the key. The most important step to having a great cup of coffee is the roast — and 18 Days Coffee is proud of its air roast technique, which uses a roaster that was designed by Basil Reyes himself. The roaster is designed to be user-friendly for farmers, Jem says.
Throughout the interview, Jem never fails to include the farmers in the narrative. For him, the relationship between the farmers and coffee is the most important element to ensure the success of the coffee industry. He hopes that, someday, he will be able to have his own coffee farm to employ farmers and maybe visit existing coffee farms to share his knowledge and improve the ways of coffee farming in the country.
His shop’s customers are also a target of this education. “I want to show people that there is a big difference between mainstream coffee and real coffee,” he says. “There is a lot more to discover about coffee.”
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