Coffee, friendship, and a touch of chocolate

WOMEN AT WORK Atok's coffee farms are dominated by women who plant their coffee alongside vegetables and flowers (Photo: Apo ni Bayosa)

People who grow food should never have to go hungry, yet many of our farmers are—sadly—part of the most underprivileged sectors in the country. It’s a sad reality that would take time and a Herculean effort to fix.

But with more people becoming highly aware of this issue come efforts to help from all directions. Two friends who have a shared love for coffee and a passion for helping others are actively trying to fight poverty in Atok, Benguet. They do so by helping coffee farmers who grow Arabica beans sell their products while being compensated fairly.

COFFEE AND FRIENDSHIP Stella Longa Sutton (left) and Fides Herrera-Lim keep their friendship alive by constantly supporting coffee farmers in Benguet

Fides Herrera-Lim and Stella Longa-Sutton lead similar lives as spouses of men who move for their careers. See, I refuse to use the term “trailing spouse,” especially for women like them who find something fulfilling for themselves wherever you plant them to grow and bloom. Fides is the wife of Philippine Ambassador to Denmark Leo Herrera-Lim whereas Stella’s husband is in the energy sector.

After reconnecting with her Ibaloi roots, Fides found it fascinating how her great-grandmother was a coffee farmer herself. It led her to start working with Atok’s Arabica growers, helping them sell their premium coffee by tapping into her network of true coffee aficionados and connoisseurs.

From marketing the beans to bringing them from the North to Manila, and getting them packed, sealed, and delivered, Apo ni Bayosa was helping the mostly-women coffee farmers of Atok earn a decent living.

“Arabica beans can only be harvested once a year,” Fides explained. “It’s also more expensive to grow than Robusta coffee, which now dominates coffee farms in the country.” Arabica, the bean that produces smoother, less acidic coffee with a hint of natural sweetness, is usually the choice of coffee purists. This is why Apo ni Bayosa now has a quiet following, prepared to snap up beans once the harvest arrives in the city.

As they drove back to Manila, the two friends vowed to get the farmers of Atok their own roaster, which would cut their production costs and save them time.

As Fides prepared to leave for their posting in 2019 to Denmark, Stella came into a more active role, allowing Apo ni Bayosa to continue supporting the farmers. “I do the marketing remotely,” said Fides. “And I pack and deliver the coffee here,” Stella quipped, finishing each other’s sentences.

It’s not always easy, especially for the farmers who have to deal with climate change and natural disasters that sometimes mess with their harvest.

Packing the coffee is also painstaking work. Stella, however, is happy to do it even on days when they get hundreds of orders as the money goes a long way for the farmers who barely earned enough in the past.

“We pay them based on the amount that they dictate—what they think is fair for their efforts and their needs,” Stella said. The two admit there’s no profit for them in the project. What they earn goes back to their operating costs and the farmers themselves but the fulfillment one gets from such an endeavor is priceless. “You don’t lose out by helping,” added Stella.

A visit to Atok in the latter part of 2022 gave Stella an even better grasp of the poverty the farmers are trying to get out of. As they drove back to Manila, the two friends vowed to get the farmers of Atok their own roaster, which would cut their production costs and save them time. The nearest roaster was a three-hour drive, one way.

The two friends were surprised by how generous their circles were as a lot of people readily donated to
the cause, providing the farmers with their very own roaster in just a few weeks.

UP THE ROASTER A heavy roaster was carried up the mountain so that farmers from Atok could have their own roaster (Photo: Apo ni Bayosa)

The friendship between Fides and Stella, which started in the early 2000s while they were both living in the UK as expat and diplomatic spouses, has truly deepened through the years. It has also evolved from being a relationship that serves two people emotionally to one that now helps a whole community of mostly female coffee farmers.

“I think good coffee and this project of ours really keeps our friendship strong despite the distance,” beamed Fides.

To support the coffee farmers of Atok, coffee lovers can place an order for beans by sending an email to

All-chocolate dinner at The Shang

I feel like a broken record, telling everyone how the dining scene in Manila is one of the most underrated in the world.

This is a hill I am willing to die on and that conviction was reinforced recently on Valentine’s Day at
the EDSA Shangri-la’s Lobby Lounge. They created a chocolate-centric menu that proves the kind of culinary talent we have here.

Everything had chocolate yet each dish tasted entirely different from the one that came before. Combined
textures and varied flavors made each course an exciting surprise. As your mind dictates that you expect
something sweet, a plate of chocolate hummus and shrimp gives you an umami combination instead.

I normally shy away from duck as I find that it holds too much fat and leaves me feeling queasy after every meal. Smoked with cacao and served with a champorado rösti, however, it becomes a dish that’s more balanced in the mouth.

DELIGHTFUL DUCK Cacao-smoked duck served on a bed of champorado rösti, along with sous vide pears, savory ganache, micro herbs, and a sweet chili sauce

The soup course was pumpkin with chocolate-filled ravioli and it was one of my biggest surprises that
evening. It worked rather spectacularly. The beef brisket rubbed in Mexican chocolate was also a dream,
especially with the chili con carne and glazed veggies it came with.

A SWEET ENDING Chocolate as we know it

My husband and I rarely venture outside of our home every time Feb. 14 rolls around as we’re deathly afraid of being stuck in traffic. Traversing EDSA on Valentine’s Day may be the second toughest test to a couple’s compatibility (the first being building furniture together), but this menu was definitely worth it.