From Coffee to Pollo Con Chocolate

Coffee (Photo by Julius Schrozman/Creative Commons license)

Coffee (Photo by Julius Schrozman/Creative Commons license)

COFFEE. Today we are drinking coffee, a stimulant that according to anecdotes was discovered by goats in Ethiopia around the close of the 1300s or early 1400s. Their herder shared observations with the neighborhood imam, Ali Ben Omar Al Shadali, about his strange goats that could not sleep.

The curious imam found that the fresh boun berries eaten by the goats could also keep humans awake.  He started using them for his Sufi followers so they could complete their long and tiring meditation rituals like the Dhikr Circle.

The holy man brought the berries when he moved to the town of Mocha in adjacent Yemen. His mosque was a center for drinking berry broth known as a magical potion from the Saint of Mocha.  The broth spread around the Middle East. In Mecca the first coffee houses may have started as the 15th century ended.  

Yemen and Ethiopia maintained a monopoly on coffee until 1650 by making it illegal to bring saplings and seeds that could grow out of their domains.  Buon acquired an Arabic name: qahwa, originally referring to wine that affected the mind. Qahwa is the etymological root of café. 

By 1886, Filipinas was the fourth largest coffee supplier in the world. Lipa benefited when the Hemileia vastratrix fungus killed coffee plants in 1888.

Along ancient trade routes linking Mocha to Egypt, Syria, Persia, Turkey, Damascus, Aleppo, Constantinople, and India went roasted coffee beans.  But the Dutch and the French acquired coffee plants and took the lead in propagating coffee in their colonies stretching from the New World to Africa and Asia.  It is said that Jesuits may have brought the first coffee beans to the Spanish colony of Colombia in the mid-1600s. The oldest written testimony of coffee there is from 1750.

In the Philippines, around 1740 it is said, a Franciscan brought either three coffee plants or three cans of coffee beans from Mexico.  Coffee was not growing in Mexico until 1790 or 1794, so perhaps his coffee came from Africa or Brazil.  What eventually grew in Mexico was the Bourbon variety of coffee that had come to thrive in the West Indies. (The variety began growing on Bourbon Island, a French region in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar.) However, Nicolas Norton in 1759 and Nathaniel Bowditch in 1796 wrote that there was no coffee in Manila and that cacao was the preferred beverage.

There were official attempts to plant coffee in Bulacan and Lipa as the 1800s began.  In 1810, Thomas de Comyn, general manager of the Royal Philippine Company in Manila, wrote that the quality of coffee grown in Luzon, especially at Indang and Silang of Cavite province, were equal to that of Mocha or at least on a parallel to that from Bourbon.  An arabica variety, derived from the Mocha strain, grew in Cavite. Civets helped spread wild coffee plants observed in 1818.  De Comyn likewise wrote that chocolate was the preferred and widespread drink in Filipinas, even extending to the “natives of easy circumstance.”

By 1886, Filipinas was the fourth largest coffee supplier in the world.  Lipa benefited when the Hemileia vastratrix fungus killed coffee plants in 1888.  Lipa, Indonesia and Brazil were the few producers still able to supply the world market.  The bayongbong, a wood-boring worm, may have caused the downfall of Lipa’s trees.  Fortunes of Lipa growers from the brief coffee boom are legendary.  Diamonds were set into the silver decorations of velvet slippers, for instance. I’ve seen slippers.  When a coffee plant was paraded in a religious procession elders tattle; the hubris of wealth caused the death of Lipa coffee bushes. But I have no evidence for that story.

CHOCOLATE.  As De Comyn noted in 1810, the year the Mexicans declared their independence from Spain and put a stop to the Manila Galleon trade, Filipinos were drinking chocolate.  Cebu’s cacao he wrote “is esteemed superior to the cocoa of Guayaquil [Equador] and possibly only excelled by that of Soconusco [Mexico].”

The cacao fruit (Photo by Felice P. Sta. Maria)

The cacao fruit (Photo by Felice P. Sta. Maria)

As had been the issue with coffee, cacao raised in Filipinas was insufficient to supply local demand.  As a result, Guayaquil cacao was brought by galleons returning from Acapulco and ships of the Royal Philippine Company dispatched from Callao, the shipping port of Peru.

Xocoatl was the royal drink of Aztec Emperor Montezuma.  Spaniards removed chili and to counter the cacao bean’s natural bitterness, added sugar. They called the beverage chocolaté.  Christian priests and nuns drank chocolate to stay awake during prayers, just as Sufis did with coffee. The Augustinian friar Gaspar San Agustin (1651-1724), recounted that Pedro Brabo de Lagunas, a naval pilot, carried in a cutting of Acapulco cacao in 1670.  He gave it to his brother, a cleric in Camarines.

Juan de Aguila, a native, was entrusted with planting and caring for it.  That may have been the parent plant of all cacao in the archipelago, San Agustin suggested.  Diego Salcedo, according to Augustinian friar Manuel Blanco was requested by Jesuit Juan Davila to bring cacao for planting when Salcedo assumed his position as Governor-General of the Philippines in 1663.  Davila propagated his plant in Carigara.

By 1847 cacao was growing all over the colony.  Families grew trees in their yards for home consumption. Wild mountain cacao from Negros was said to rival Indonesian cacao from Ternate and Manado.  It was surely considered superior to the cacao from Ternate by Chinese importers.   

A chocolate demitasse cup (Photo by Felice P. Sta. Maria)

A chocolate demitasse cup (Photo by Felice P. Sta. Maria)

There were different ways of preparing chocolate beverage in the Philippines.  One version combined “rice, toasted coffee, canarium fruit,” and cacao paste. One wonders if the canarium mentioned was Canarium ovatum, pili, and if the fruit or the nut was actually used.  Pili fruit pulp is edible after boiling and resembles sweet potato in texture.

Another way chocolate was brewed during colonial times in the Philippines was to grind peanut into the cacao paste as was done in Mexico, giving a taste similar to hazelnut.  If cashew was used, the beverage acquired a taste similar to almond.  Sugar countered any bitterness from harvesting cacao fruit while still not fully ripe, which was the native custom.

Adding cow or carabao milk to any of the previously described versions also made chocolate. 

In 1840, Cebu cacao with Mariquina milk was singled out for its deliciousness.  But during Lent when abstention from meats and meat products was demanded, only water could be used.  In Mexico, where the cacao plant originated, chocolate can be ordered “con leche” or “con agua”. 

In his novel Noli Me Tangere, Jose Rizal popularized “chocolateh-ah” for a watery version, and “chocolate-eh” for a thick drink.  Ah comes from aguada, watery; eh from espeso, thick.  chocolate brew thinned with only a little water can make a drink so thick it has to be spooned out.  It is almost pure cacao. 

To spoon out chocolate-eh and sop up any leftover chocolate-ah, the drink was served with sopas.  Sopas was a biscuit. Pedro Paterno’s aunt gifted Rizal with sopas and chocolate before his first trip to Europe.  At Tanza, Cavite a form of sopas is still baked and sold.  Spanish-era documents note that roasted chunks or fingers of camote were served as sopas, too.  But the sopas legacy needs a revival. Sopas is from the Spanish word sopear, meaning to sop up liquid and steep bread.

In a tourist primer about Manila printed in 1881, it is revealed that there were only two cafes in the city: El Suizo at Plaza Anda and La Esperanza at 21 Calle Real, Intramuros.  The latter offered coffee, chocolate, wine, liquors, and other refreshments as well as sweets, pastries, ices, lunch, and dinner.  It had the rage of the era, the billiard table and “other games not prohibited by law.”

Currently, Filipinos associate chocolate commonly with sweetish candy, ice cream, or drink. But chocolate imparts a complexity of tastes to viands.  There are Philippine recipes from colonial times for chicken, beef tongue, or pigeon stewed with a bit of bitter, pure cacao paste.  According to legend, nuns at either Puebla or Oaxaca invented the famous Mexican viand called molé.  They flavored turkey stew with chili and chocolate.  There are Philippine versions of molé, but perhaps it was not very common or popular because not many recipe books include it.

Felice Prudente Sta. Maria

Felice Prudente Sta. Maria

Felice Prudente Sta. Maria is a cultural worker who pioneers Philippine culinary history.  Her awards as an author include ASEAN’s most prestigious SEA Write Award presented in 2001. 

Written for LUTONG PAMANA, a fund-raising effort of Grupo Kalinangan, a non-profit, non-stock organization incorporated in 2016.  Cultural heritage professionals and volunteers from different disciplines work to help local government units and neighborhoods manage their cultural heritage resources.