Therapist couple revives Baguio’s coffee industry

posted December 10, 2016 at 08:00 pm
by  Anna Leah E. Gonzales
A physical therapist couple has revived Baguio City’s coffee industry with an initial capital of P10,000, creating dozens of jobs from farms to stores since 2004.

Rondel Olarte, 37, is currently managing Kape Umali, the first coffee shop in Baguio.  The shop, which was established by her grandmother in 1948 in Shangri-La Village along Asin Road, offers espresso-based latte, cappuccino, Americano, macchiato and mocha.

“It’s coffee from earth to cup. But we also provide coffee seedlings for farmers and give coffee 101 seminars and consultations for farmers, cafe owners and baristas,” says Olarte.

He says the coffee shop aims to excite customers by serving premium quality coffee, espresso beverage and coffee cocktails with the traditional Filipino touch.

Kape Umali owner Rondel Olarte
“Growing up, I was exposed to the coffee industry at an early age as I recall from the stories my family told me and to some accounts from relatives and business colleagues. In 1948 after the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, Arsenia Umali fled Lipa, Batangas with her only son Alberto Umali Olarte—my father to the highlands of Baguio City,” Olarte says. 

Olarte says to provide for her son and family, her grandmother brought the barako coffee to the Cordilleras to make a living.  “Buying and selling coffee, they stumbled upon the Benguet coffee locally grown in the Cordilleras. The first store was established in 1948 located in Baguio City public market as a family business and became a prominent name as a coffee supplier in cooperation with several farms providing coffee around the region, helping each other for the love of coffee. Using the family name Umali which also means welcome in the Cordilleran dialect. Hence, the store was called Umali Coffee Store,” he says.

Umali Coffee became the number one source  of coffee beans, not only in the city, but in the entire province and most parts of northern Luzon in the 1960s and 1970s.  It had two store branches located at the public market and Baguio hangar market. In the 1980s, they started venturing into cafeterias located at Hangar Market, Hilltop Hotel and 2nd Kayang Street.

After her grandmother’s death, most of the stores were under different administrations mostly because of unsettled debt, mismanagement and many other reasons.  

“However, the first store held its ground and survived the turmoil. Then, almost my entire family left for the United States. The stores were offered to other companies and were in lease for almost a decade,” Olarte says.    

“When my wife [Sheila Marie Gumban Olarte]  and I came into the picture, we revived the coffee shop. Caffeine Addict was established 2004 in Nevada Square in Baguio City under the collaboration of Sendero Luminoso and Umali Coffee Store, and tried to regain the Umali name as a dominant coffee provider,” he says.

In 2010, Umali Coffee Store and Caffeine Addict were consolidated under Kape Umali Coffee Company in cooperation with GFI (established in 1987), as its coffee farms and roasting partner, reclaiming its original stature in the Cordillera market with the help of loyal customers, good relations with local coffee farmers and other client companies.

In 2011, Kape Umali reopened at its original location at Hangar Market and in Shangri-La village. 

In 2013, the simple coffee shop became a micro roaster and a diner.

Olarte says in 2014, he and his wife re-invented the coffee shop and roaster into a jazz café. They also started offering barista training to friends who also want to start their own shops.

“At present, Kape Umali is inching its way once again as one of the biggest source of roasted coffee beans in the region. We are now providing coffee all throughout the Philippines and other parts of the globe. Venturing to coffee shops, cafeterias and coffee merchandising. We are also advocating agriculture development in-support of farmers’ better welfare, empowering start-up coffee shops through supply and barista assistance, and uplifting the coffee industry in the Philippines,” he says.

Olarte says while they have managed their own farms, most of their supplies are from local farmers of Benguet and Cavite single-origin farms and consolidated farms.

According to Olarte, the business is currently doing well as people start to appreciate the local coffee industry.  “It’s doing well.  We are currently on the rise because of the nationwide awareness of the coffee culture. If I remember correctly back in 2013, during the Department of Trade and Industry’s first Coffee Conference, where I was one of the speakers. There were just a handful of stakeholders, farmers that are into coffee, roasters and even local coffee shops around. In just a span of three years, these numbers doubled in size,” says Olarte.

Olarte says despite the success, he did not plan to be an entrepreneur, initially.  “I just did what I had to do to survive and to keep the legacy alive. My wife and I are licensed physical therapists. I graduated at Pines City Colleges in Baguio City and had my Master’s at Philippine Rehabilitation Institute in Quezon City,” he says.

“It was the circumstances, opportunities that opened—the simple passion about coffee and the desire for self improvement that drove me into this line of work,” Olarte says.

As the business started to gain popularity, Olarte said there were a lot of challenges along the way. “Of course there were challenges, and I believe there will be more to come. When we started, the first thing that we encountered was emotional distress. A lot of people did not have faith in what we were doing. Some even laughed and said we were crazy.”

“The solution—ignore them and focus on what we do. Next would be funding, although we started small and business was okay. Small capital means small income. We have to upgrade and increase our stock. Since saving what was left was not enough, we resulted in loans, consignments and even doing a lot of garage sales. It was all worth it,” Olarte says.

Olarte says people could not believe that they were able to revive the business from an initial capital of P10,000. “If they ask me how, I usually just answer it was keen planning and right timing,” Olarte says.

Olarte says that as they ventured into the coffee industry, they found things that made them more interested to improve their business. “Being in the medical field, we managed to incorporate our profession into the business. Treating coffee like a pharmaceutical, we try to suggest coffee drinks that suits our client’s age, lifestyle and even medical condition. Another thing that made us curious is the history of coffee. We are fond of trivias and coffee has lots of them. There were so many interesting personalities, events and discoveries that coffee had fueled and revolutionized. And we get to encounter clients with the same passion as us which makes it more fulfilling,” says Olarte.

Olarte says when they have time, he and his wife draw and paint. Some of their artworks are displayed in their shops.

“Being an artist myself, making coffee is also an art form. From agriculture to processing to roasting all the way down to making latte art,” he says.

“I’m also a member of the band Cortado. I play double bass [contrabajo], electric bass guitar, guitar and I’m also a vocalist. We have regular sets in some establishments in Baguio city and of course in our own shop,” he says.

On weekdays, Olarte says most of his time goes to coffee roasting. “We roast two to three times a week. Most deliveries are done on the weekdays and most of our meetings as well. Wednesdays, we do cupping and quality check on our coffee, in-house barista training and our monthly coffee seminar. During weekends, most of our patrons come to have coffee. The coffee stores as well as the shops, are bombarded with different customers from all walks of life. Weekends at the Jazz Café is the only time that there are bands playing and events are held,” Olarte says.

Olarte believes that one of the things that made the business successful is dedication. 

“Since we are 100 percent involved or as they say, hands on to our business, most of our employees are my relatives and friends just numbering to 20. As a coffee provider, we want to earn the loyalty of customers and grow the business by developing and marketing coffee products such as Arabica, Liberica, Excelsa and Robusta that are leaders in quality and customer interest. To enable and inspire customers to enjoy a coffee experience by providing distinctive, excellent service, high quality products, superior coffee and knowledge,” says Olarte.

Olarte says the company is undergoing expansion. “We started branching out within Baguio. We now have four branches within the city. We are also partnering outlets in La Trinidad, Manila, Bacoor, Tuguegarao, Cebu, San Fernando, Tarlac, and also in Budapest, Hungary.” 

“We are very optimistic and highly enthusiastic to move forward with all our plans for the next five or ten years. As coffee has transcended from the simple house brewing to the first second and third wave of coffee shops. We anticipate the rise of the coffee culture globally especially in the Philippines,” Olarte says. 

“I could say that my biggest accomplishment would be making a mark in the coffee industry especially here in the Cordilleras. If you entered a business, engulf yourself into that industry.  Know everything about it and love what you do. Don’t learn how to love your job. You should love it even before you know it’s your job,” Olarte says.

Topics: Baguio City , coffee industry , Kape Umali
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