Beyond Surftown: The birth of LU, as coffee origin
At the height of the pandemic, we began a direct buying relationship with the Baguionas Farmers Association of Bagulin. Nestled between Sablan, Benguet, and Surftown, this mountainous enclave paints a portrait of nature's intricate embroidery along the Cordillera's edge—a woven tapestry of forests and fields cascading down from ridge to reef. Bagulin's landscape merges with San Fernando City, and is nourished by the Balili River coursing from Baguio to Bauang, where it meets the expanse of the West Philippine Sea.
They stand alone as the pioneers of specialty coffee production in La Union, proving specialty grade is possible here, even at this early stage in their journey.
During the 2020-21 harvest season, the Baguionas farmers, led by a local leader named Lapicto, had achieved a small batch of natural processed Coffea canephora, from the wild verdure of their forests. They had heard from local agri and trade officers about El Union, and reached out with a green sample. Upon roasting and tasting, we knew La Union's time as a specialty coffee origin was approaching early bloom—not there yet, but excitingly close.
"First the flower, then the fruit", encapsulates the fragile moment when a blossoming plant indicates a new season of life. The soft architecture of the petals, and delicate fragrance akin to sampaguita suggest reverence for coffee's ephemeral state, a reminder of life's transient nature. A flower soon becomes a more hardy fruit, housing humanity's most hotly traded commodity: the seed, or as it is commonly called, 'the coffee bean'.
The initial samples from Baguionas in 2021 bore the imperfections of authenticity, yet radiated a remarkable clarity and uniformity—qualities rarely witnessed within the realm of commodity coffee. Lapicto and his community aspired to reach higher, to apply their skill and industrious spirit to a shared goal: meeting precise quality standards, and consequently, a higher selling price. But at the heart of it: the outcome of pride and dignity at work, evidence of ecological knowledge applied, a statement of hope for the future.
The Baguionas story invites other small coffee growing teams to join the unfolding movement of climate resilient, high quality produce.
In 2023, the Baguionas Farmers Association achieved specialty grade classification (a cup score surpassing 80/100) for the third time at the Philippine Coffee Expo. They stand alone as the pioneers of specialty coffee production in La Union, proving such a fine grade is possible here, even at this early stage in their journey. Furthermore, the Baguionas story invites other small coffee growing teams to join the unfolding movement of climate resilient, high quality produce.
Alongside trading directly, transparently, and regularly with various local coffee producers, El Union dedicates the sale of all wearable goods to the support of coffee farming communities in La Union and the Cordilleras. Since October 2022 we've sold 1422 pieces of merch, adding ₱142,200 to our Farmer Fund, which has already helped enable the following:
In 2023, the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry officially recognized El Union as a Partner Organization for our team's ongoing contribution to the La Union coffee story, thanks to the generous support of our customers. And on the horizon, we have a dream project in the works: a specialty coffee-focused mill and processing unit, giving access to farmers who hope to replicate the Baguionas success story. With continued support, as the company grows, we hope to more fully realize climate resilient, world class coffee, produced by thriving human communities, in the northern Philippines.
More than a tourist destination, [La Union] is home, habitat, and terroir. This is 'origin'–and our future is here.
In searching for coffee, we have come to know a part of La Union that is often outshined by the glitter of the coastline, its famous surf breaks, and legendary sunsets. More than a tourist destination, it is home, habitat, and terroir. Or as we say in the specialty coffee movement, this is 'origin'–and our future is here.