Text by Gemelee Hirang Domnik, Germany
Photos by Patricia Villaseñor
To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, coffee lovers everywhere can measure out their lives with coffee spoons: a strong cup in the morning; a creamy cappuccino during an afternoon break; and a special flavored brew to pass the changing of the seasons. Patricia Villaseñor is no stranger to these delights. From her days attending university in Manila to working on her master’s thesis in Berlin, coffee has been one of her constant comforts. But despite the vibrant coffee culture in Berlin, she longed for a taste of the Philippines. She could have had her pick among beans grown from almost anywhere, yet Philippine coffee remained elusive. “I never saw Philippine coffee, not even in Filipino restaurants. So that was a bit frustrating for me,” she shared.
This frustration planted the seeds of an idea: why not introduce Philippine coffee to Germany? But first, Patricia needed to test this idea. “The plan to bring Philippine coffee to Europe was only really solidified when I brought back some different bags of Philippine coffee to Berlin and made a couple of my non-Filipino friends try it. And their reactions were always, ‘I didn’t know the Philippines produced coffee! This is really good!’” Motivated by these reactions, Patricia founded Kape de Filipina, an online store which sells coffee sourced from small-holder Filipino farmers.
Patricia’s road to entrepreneurship was fortuitous yet organic. Born and raised in Manila, she moved to Berlin in 2018 to pursue postgraduate studies and explore new possibilities.
Her initial plan was to transition from consumer goods to the technology industry. “Plus, the challenge of moving to a non-predominantly English-speaking country thrilled me!” she said. While she did not consciously choose the entrepreneurial path, “it just came naturally, having seen my dad and my grandfather who are both entrepreneurs as I was growing up,” she explained.
This innate entrepreneurial spirit inspired her to establish Kape de Filipina. Undeterred by the raging pandemic, she went back to Manila in February of this year to meet with potential suppliers. Nor did the notorious German bureaucracy daunt her. “I called the Bürgeramt and Finanzamt quite often and reached out to entrepreneurs in Berlin to make sure I was doing things right and legally,” she said. The Filipino community was also there to support her. “I spoke with a couple of Filipino-owned cafés in Europe to get some tips and learn from them. And they have been extremely supportive,” she said. “Now, I’m in touch with the embassy to have more opportunities for exposure. Hopefully, the plans push through. I’m extremely grateful to the Filipino community for all the help and support they’ve extended me,” she added. Fueled by her passion, Patricia was able to launch Kape de Filipina last 1st September.
Kape de Filipina’s carefully curated coffee selection highlights the uniqueness of Philippine coffee. Currently it offers Arabica, a popular and widely consumed coffee type, and Barako. Patricia chose to carry Barako to differentiate the Philippines from other coffee producers and to elevate the perception of Philippine coffee. “Barako was definitely part of the plan,” she explained. “It’s so uniquely Filipino – the taste is so unique, but people don’t know anything about it. In fact, Liberica (Barako) is seen as an inferior coffee bean to Arabica,” she added.
And it seems that Patricia’s efforts to champion Barako are bearing fruit. Kape de Filipina’s best sellers are Barako and Mt. Apo Single Origin Arabica. “I love that people are learning more about coffee beyond Arabica,” said Patricia. “And I get really kilig whenever I receive feedback from non-Pinoys like: ‘I wish Instagram had a smell share function. This is the best coffee in town!’ ‘We love your coffee. It’s on another level.’ ‘Beautiful aroma, delicious coffee, and incredible packaging. Friends in Germany, get yours now!’” Filipinos in Germany were likewise enthusiastic about Kape de Filipina. “Filipinos have also reached out to me to thank me for taking them a bit closer to home through coffee,” she said. “I will never forget how I ran a ‘free shipping’ promotion a couple of weeks ago. And a couple of customers ordered from me without using the promo code, so they paid for shipping. I reached out to say I’d refund them, but they declined the offer and said they’re willing to pay more to support the business. This wasn’t just one time, so you can imagine how thankful I am for the overwhelming support of people I haven’t even personally met!” she shared.
Patricia also shared how this experience changed her, by unveiling her braver, grittier and more creative side. “I do everything on my own – I am my own supply chain, my own marketing/advertising, my own operations, my own website maintenance, my own finance. But I’m only able to do that because I’m really passionate about this. I’m determined to make Kape de Filipina successful,” she shared. For now, she is focused on growing and maintaining her customer base. “Eventually, I want to bring in more variants from different provinces – there are so many and their flavours are all so different. Hopefully one day, I could grow enough to have my own Pinoy café,” she mused.
Patricia shared two pieces of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. First, know and understand your purpose. For Patricia, her ultimate goal is to make the Philippines also known for its “great coffee, great farmers, and great landscapes that allow us to grow good quality coffee. So when I encounter difficulties or when things don’t go my way, my purpose keeps pushing me forward.”
Second, ask questions and go for it. “Don’t be ashamed to reach out to people and ask questions. That’s the only way to learn because things will be confusing for sure, and the entrepreneurial path is not linear,” she said. “Network, ask questions, and keep going!”
Visit Kape de Filipina at https://kapedefilipina.eu/, on Pinterest @kapedefilipina , Instagram @kapedefilipina and Facebook.