She tastes coffee for a living

Philippines - Filipino-American Kat Mulingtapang is one of the fortunate ones who taste coffee for a living.

The 36-year-old Mulingtapang, who was born here but grew up in the United States, is a cupper, or a professional taster.

And people in the coffee trade know that a cupper can make or break the economic future of a coffee harvest as he or she decides whether it is good enough for use by coffee companies, including roasters and global coffee chains.

Mulingtapang's taste buds are hired to test the quality and taste of different types of coffee produced around the world, and see what coffee bean profile suits specific tastes.

There are roasters and coffee chains, for example, who prefer a strong and robust flavor, while there are those who want the more delicate and aromatic variety.

Cupping, indeed, has its own language, its own standards and internationally recognised metrics to grade coffees while they are still in their raw state or as "green beans."

International standards for Arabica, one of the varieties the Philippines produces along with Robusta, Excelsa and Liberica or Barako, are monitored by international bodies such as the Coffee Quality Institute, Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE).

Like wine, coffee is graded to determine its value, and Mulingtapang has become an expert on the grading system.

Mulingtapang said during a recent visit to the Philippines that she "cups" or tastes about 75-80 lots a day.

"One coffee lot can be cupped in several ways and several times," said Mulingtapang, who has learned through experience the flavor nuances used to describe each taste or flavor profile, whether they have caramel or spicy notes, sweet or acidic, for example.

As a testament to her unique skill set, she passed rigorous exams of CQI in the United States for coffee tasters and was licensed to call herself a Q grader-one of only two Filipinos to be certified to grade Arabica, considered the most valuable coffee variety because of its high demand and short supply.

Mulingtapang, however, is also learning more about other kinds of Philippine coffee and she feels that local coffee has a great potential to make it in the global market, given better exposure and certifications.

"That is my goal, to bring local coffee to the world market," said Mulingtapang.

(Mulingtapang will conduct a Cupping Course today at Commune Cafe in Makati City as part of Coffee Month celebrations. For details, text 09088831218, or call 8565000 loc 505.)