In the Philippines, “barako” is the word used to describe men without fear. Originally pertaining to the male stud used for breeding, it now embodies the macho image – strong, brusque, and tough.“Barako” (also spelled “baraco”) likewise pertains to a variety of coffee grown in the country, particularly in Batangas and Cavite provinces. “Barako” coffee, which belongs to the Liberica family, got its name from its strong taste, full and powerful body, and distinctively pungent aroma. It arrests the senses and sometimes shocks the uninitiated.
A personal favorite and loved locally as the coffee of choice, “barako” has a unique place in the country’s culinary and economic history. It is said that in the 1740s, a Franciscan friar brought three gantas of coffee beans on board a galleon headed to Manila from Mexico. The tale continues after the death of the friar, when his servant boy dug up the coffee plants the priest planted in Laguna and replanted them in Lipa, Batangas (both Laguna and Batangas are south of Manila). An alternative story tells of the Macasaet family planting the first barako tree in Batangas in the 1800s from a cutting that originated from Brazil.
From that time, the Philippines became the fourth largest coffee-producing country in the world – with the rare and exotic Liberica variety grown only in three countries. In 1887, Queen Isabella of Spain made Lipa into a city, named Villa de Lipa, owing to its prosperity.
Though most of the country’s coffee plantations have been eradicated by an infestation called “coffee rust” or have been transformed into farms for more lucrative crops, barako coffee remains a sought after variety in the country and across the world – a decidedly strong and frank flavor that can stand its own alongside the famous Kona from Hawaii and Blue Mountain from Jamaica.
In fact, the barako bean has been enjoying a recent resurgence as intrepid local coffee shop owners have stood up to the challenge of foreign chains. As long as drinkers across the Philippine islands turn to it every morning for their caffeine fix and shop owners keep their doors open to those who seek a swift kick, “barako” remains a bold choice for coffee lovers.