From philstar.com by Chit U. Juan
MANILA, Philippines – What is cupping anyway? People in the coffee trade know that a cupper or coffee taster is the one person who can either make or break the economic future of a coffee harvest.
Cupping has its own language, its own standards and internationally-recognized metrics to grade coffees while they are still in their raw state or what we commonly call “green beans.” The international standards for Arabica coffee, one of the varieties we produce –the others are Robusta, Excelsa and Liberica (known locally as Barako) – is monitored by international bodies such as the Coffee Quality Institute or the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) or the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE).
Yes, like wine, coffee is graded to justify its value, or the commodity or specialty price it commands.
Kat Mulingtapang, a true-blue Filipina, happened to work in a coffee roasting facility and got to know the language of coffee roasters and buyers. After that job she moved on to a bigger coffee house or company and was in charge of buying élan (specialty) and organic coffees for the global firm.
“I cupped about 75-80 lots a day,” she recalls. One coffee lot can be cupped in several ways and several times.
“Then I learned the tastes and flavor nuances used to describe each taste or flavor profile,” she continues.
After cupping all these coffees, Kat knew it could be an official career. She then took the exams in the US and was given the license to call herself a Q grader, a quality coffee grader for Arabicas.
I met Kat when she was in charge of Chapter Relations for the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) and they asked me to form a chapter for the Philippines. We immediately connected like sisters because she is one busy and interesting woman. She does event planning, she also works part time as a dental hygienist, and she also teaches yoga and a whole lot more.
Early this year we traveled to Sumatra together for the IWCA to help form the IWCA Indonesian chapter. And we cupped coffees each day over breakfast, at cafes, in roasters’ places. “Chew the coffee,” she would tell me. “Then tell me if you can taste the Chewy Caramel candy,” she would encourage me to find that caramel taste in a black liquid served us. And somehow, she can suggest the exact taste profile, because she does this for a living, after all.
We even cupped coffees at a hotel in Bali, much to the anticipation of the general manager. His wife brought her own instant decaffeinated coffee each morning to breakfast, and so she was not the best judge. He, however, wanted us to “cup” the Indonesian coffee he bought from a local roaster. It passed with flying colors.
Kat knew exactly what our Philippine coffees could taste like. We organized a cupping session at a Makati café and had media, farmers and even our Department of Trade representatives around. She can also combine a little Benguet, a little of this other town and a little Davao and come up with a great blend of Arabica coffees… all from the Philippines.
My best testimonial of her cupping prowess was when she graded our micro lot of beans from Mt. Apo. She gave it a score over 80. This same lot then was brought to Thailand to compete in a Roasters Choice competition. And voila! Of course our coffees won – two awards – just behind Indonesia and Thailand.
How does one cup for a living? You have to watch her in action and also participate in slurping the brew. Then you may just find that caramel or that baked Alaska in your coffee cup. And we are bringing her back, by popular demand.
Even our academic institutions have engaged her to cup their coffees.
So, don’t you want to try cupping with Kat, too?