Did you know that Cebu has a thriving coffee farming industry? I had no idea until just a couple of weeks ago when I was researching on places to see in Tuburan — the largest municipality in Cebu province and one of the northern towns that I finally got to explore for the first time last weekend.
The first coffee plantations in the municipality were established only a decade ago, in 2012, when then-mayor (and current vice mayor) Democrito “Aljun” Diamante sourced 30,000 coffee saplings from Tagum City, Davao del Norte and had local farmers trained in how to grow the lucrative crop. He envisioned coffee farming as a more sustainable and profitable livelihood for upland communities, compared to making charcoal or gathering firewood, which have significantly contributed to deforestation.
Over the years, government agencies assisted the development of coffee farming in the municipality, ultimately making Tuburan the coffee capital of Cebu. Today, Tuburan Coffee sources from more than 3,000 hectares of coffee smallholdings across 29 barangays (villages), supporting more than 2,000 farmers. They now supply cafés, hotels, and distributors in Cebu and Manila.
To give me a firsthand experience at their thriving social enterprise, Tuburan Coffee arranged a guided tour of their farm and nearby attractions. I met up with my guide Melmar Guinta at Tuburan Café, located in the town center, at 7:30 am, and drove up to the mountains on his brand-new motorcycle.
Sidetrip to Atabay Peak
After following a steep and winding mountain road for 20 minutes, we first stopped by Atabay Peak (free entrance), one of two karst formations in Barangay Marmol near the coffee farm. It only takes five minutes to walk up to its top of jagged limestone, shaded by small trees. Along the way, we could see as far as the mountain peaks of Negros, including Kanlaon volcano, across Tañon Strait.
Sadly, the natural beauty of Atabay’s summit was ruined by metal scaffolding and concrete foundations of what I assume will be a view deck. One needs to nimbly traverse this manmade eyesore before emerging at the precarious edge with a sheer drop, overlooking a panorama of rolling mountains.
Coffee Farm Tour
Continuing on from Atabay Peak, we reached the newest phase of Tuburan Coffee Farm in Barangay Kabangkalan, where an unfinished cafe building sits atop a grassy hilltop with 360º views of the countryside, including the karst peak we scaled earlier. We can also see a dirt road lined with bamboo saplings, which will hopefully grow in a few years time into a photogenic bamboo tunnel visitors can walk through. Across the road is another unfinished concrete structure, which will be a convenience store.
The heart of the social enterprise was even farther down the road. At the demo farm, Melmar walked me through how their coffee is grown, harvested, and processed. Almost all the plants in Tuburan are robusta coffee, a variety of Coffea canephora. This is one of the two species of widely cultivated coffee plants, together with arabica coffee (C. arabica). Native to West Africa, robusta coffee can grow at lower altitudes and warmer climates. They are also more resistant to pests and disease compared to other cultivars due to higher caffeine content.
First, we watched women farmers cut branches into smaller sections for planting in beds covered in UV plastic sheeting called “germination chambers.” Stem propagation is a preferred method of producing more plants because they begin fruiting in 18 months, unlike seed-grown plants which take two to three years to mature.
Ripe, red coffee cherries are plucked from shrubs on a weekly basis from the harvest season that runs between October and May. At the main facility, harvested fruits are processed with the aid of machines. Ripe cherries first go into a pulper machine, removing the skin and flesh, revealing the wet seeds, which are then dried for a few days under the sun on raised beds (ie. solar drying). To peel off the seed coat, the dried beans then go into huller machine.
This is followed by the most meticulous part, where the green coffee beans (ie. raw beans) are sorted by hand. Inspecting each and every bean, laborers select only the best ones, separating them from debris and defective or broken beans. More than half of the beans don’t make the cut. While watching two workers sort a large basin of beans, I was served a complimentary cup of brewed coffee with brown sugar.
This time-consuming step ensures the quality of the final product. Only the best green coffee beans are roasted, ground, and packed. Waste material from every step of the process, such as the pulp, hull and discarded beans are used as organic compost for the coffee plants.
Tuburan Coffee Farm was truly a seed-to-cup experience that left me, like most agro-tourism destinations, with a deeper appreciate of the handwork and ingenuity behind how food is produced and processed.
What to Buy
Guided farm tours are free, but visitors are encouraged to support local farming communities by purchasing their fresh coffee products:
- Ground coffee: PHP 120 for 150 grams & PHP 180 for 250 grams
- Drip coffee: PHP 350 for a box of 10 bags
- Whole bean coffee: PHP 860 per kilo
- Robusta coffee sapling – PHP 50 each
These products are also available at Tuburan Café, located at the town center, where you can also enjoy drinks and desserts made with homegrown coffee.
How to Get There
From Cebu City, take an air-conditioned van (aka v-hire) from the PUV terminals of either IT Park (across Ayala Malls Central Bloc) or Cebu Business Park (Ayala Center Cebu) to Tuburan Bus Station (PHP 200, 2 hours), via the Cebu Transcentral Highway. Note: if vans don’t fill up with passengers at Ayala Center, passengers are transferred to IT Park free of charge. Trips run from 5:00 am to 7:00 pm daily.
Alternatively, one can take a bus to Tuburan (3 hours) from the Cebu North Bus Terminal (SM City Cebu), via the Central Nautical Highway and Tabuelan-Lugo Junction Road.
From the town center of Tuburan, hire a habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) to take you to Tuburan Coffee Farm in Brgy. Kabangkalan (30 minutes, PHP 100 per way). One can also charter a return trip, including a stopover at Atabay Peak along the way, for PHP 360 (negotiable rate). Each motorcycle can accommodate up to 2 passengers. (Tip: another spot you can add to your itinerary is Mantawihan Spring in Barangay Cogon, along the same road to the farm).
It’s possible to take a private vehicle to the property, however, one section of the concrete road is unfinished and there are very steep portions along way, so a 4×4 vehicle is recommended especially during rainy weather.
Tuburan Coffee Farm is open to walk-in visitors. To make sure there’s someone available to show you around, please advise the farm of your visit beforehand.
Address: Barangay Kabangkalan, Tuburan, Cebu
Contact Number: +63 9165993126