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“Ma’am Tere” Brewing Change in the Philippines

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Raine Cabral-Laysico
Raine Cabral-Laysico
Raine Cabral-Laysico is Senior Writer at The Philippine Times. For comments or feedback, email Raine at rainelaysico@gmail.com. Follow @rainewritesdaily on Instagram.

In the heart of the Philippines, the humble bean brews not only coffee but also stories of resilience, culture, and change. The documentary “Ma’am Tere” is a poignant testament to the battler mentality of Filipinos, who are always seeking to thrive even on uneven ground. With Paul Barreto’s fly-on-the-wall filming style, the audience will find themselves immersed in the coffee subculture. We find ourselves rooting for Tere Domine of Kalsada Coffee, a woman whose profound sense of justice is reshaping the lives of artisanal coffee farmers across the nation.

From the misty ranges of Luzon to the lush fields of Mindanao, “Ma’am Tere” takes viewers on a remarkable expedition across the diverse landscapes of the Philippines, home to some of the world’s most unique coffee varieties. This film,  a directorial debut of Paul Barreto of Out of Office Roasters, masterfully captures the essence of rural life, focusing on a series of small-scale, home-based coffee farms that remain largely hidden from the commercial mainstream.

Tere, a central figure in the narrative, is portrayed with depth and nuance. She is more than just an entrepreneur; she is a visionary and a community leader whose life’s mission goes beyond profit. Her journey begins with a simple yet powerful idea: to elevate the quality of life for Filipino coffee farmers who have long been exploited by predatory middlemen and an unforgiving market system.

Ma'am Tere
PHOTO: Arvin Reyes | Reyes Imagery

The documentary does an excellent job of illustrating the challenges Tere faces. Many farmers are skeptical of outsiders, having been burned by broken promises in the past. However, Tere’s persistence and genuine commitment slowly earn her their trust. This relationship-building is depicted through intimate conversations and shared cups of coffee, each sip a seal of a growing partnership.

What sets “Ma’am Tere” apart is its focus on the tangible impact of Tere’s work as well as the support of Filipino-American cafe owners who ventured back to the motherland seeking a sense of connection to their roots. Under her guidance, Kalsada began acquiring tracts of land, not for exploitation but for empowerment. The transformation is heartfelt and profound. Finding joy amidst hardships and becoming part of a collective wherein each voice is heard and respected were the underlying messages woven through the fabric of the film. Farmers who had once lived at the mercy of fluctuating prices and exploitative practices now take pride in owning part of the land they till. They become stakeholders not only in their land but in the industry. The documentary captures this joy in the community as well as the growing confidence of the farmers. The narrative is a powerful reminder that business, when combined with a strong social conscience, can be a force for good.

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The film was showcased across major cities in Australia, and the Melbourne leg was brought to us by Akasya Kape at Thornbury Picture House last March. Felis Sarcepuedes, together with local partners Entree Pinays, Sweet Cora Cakes, Dirty Ice Cream, Good Ideas, Brew Methods, Core Roasters, Reyes Imagery, Maysie Lecciones and Sandra Tan, contributed to the successful premiere. The film’s nationwide collaborators include Coffee Belt, Constant Coffee Roasters, First Harvest Coffee, and Alt Coffee, with Philippine Airlines as a major sponsor. 

Ma'am Tere
PHOTO: Arvin Reyes | Reyes Imagery

“Ma’am Tere” is more than just a documentary about coffee; it’s a story of grit, ethics, and the impact of compassionate leadership. It serves as an inspiring blueprint for other businesses in the Philippines and beyond, proving that when companies invest genuinely in the welfare of their suppliers, the benefits reverberate throughout the entire community. Tere’s story is one of hope, showing that a cup of coffee, nurtured with care and respect, can indeed change lives.

Raine Cabral-Laysico
Raine Cabral-Laysico
Raine Cabral-Laysico is Senior Writer at The Philippine Times. For comments or feedback, email Raine at rainelaysico@gmail.com. Follow @rainewritesdaily on Instagram.

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