The gift of tongue
“I DO not trust my tongue,” I excuse myself for my incapacity to determine if the coffee has the raisins or the chocolate.
“You have to be aggressive,” Miko Simangan replies, then inquires if I could identify the flavors in the coffee he has just blended. “Of course, I can identify the flavors once they reach my tongue.”
What he means with being aggressive in a cupping session is slurping a tablespoon of the sample quickly, producing a sound louder than sipping a soup at home. This is the only time you’d have the license to break table manners—as in our case on this particular Friday afternoon in early December—feeling a little less awkward even if the sipping noise pierces through the silence at Yolk Coffee and Breakfast. It’s a pretty nook that sits secretly in Mabolo, embellished with country-inspired furniture along with a bun of wild flowers you would see either as a table décor or as a filler on the hallows of the wall.
“In the coffee industry, we call it cupping. It is a sensory evaluation of roasted coffee sample, so technically, to get the grade of the coffee—meaning, if it’s specialty or non-specialty. Specialty coffee, in terms of taste, is very distinct, ‘yung mga flavors just like wine—blueberry, jasmine, orange,” Miko continues.
As a barista representing Edsa Beverage Design Group based in Manila, he brings in to Cebu packs of roasts from countries that give birth to the best coffee in the world: Kenya, Brazil, El Salvador, Indonesia, and Ethiopia.
Their geographical positions strongly define the production and the nursery of the beans; thus, it affects flavors. It requires technical expertise in picking the ripe seeds and removing the layers. Needless to say, Central America and Africa are born this way. El Salvador is a coffee grinding region while Ethiopia is the home to the coffee Arabica.
“Sa Asia, konti lang ang nag-produce ng coffee because kulang sa education and most countries of specialty coffee have done it long time ago. In the Philippines, before, we’re good in production, but wala pang quality, meaning di pa talaga masarap ang coffee up until now. We have a lot of effort from the non-government organization that supports our local farmers, talagang tinutulongan nila in terms of education,
financing, processing bets nila to improve the quality. And ngayon, the Coffee Quality Institute, pumunta na sila dito to check the quality and our basic potential and our harvests,” he quips.
Taste test here
Cupping sessions usually begin with weighing. Since we have the largest vessel, Miko and I opt for 12 grams of coffee beans. Eight or 10 grams would also be another alternate for small containers. Moreover, the weight of the beans should be parallel to the standard ratio: 15 millimeters of water per gram, which should be brewed under 93 degrees Celsius control point.
“Dito lumalabas ang nuances, lumalabas ang mga volatile compartments,” Miko adds.
After four minutes of steeping, I can smell the coffee—in most situations, this is the main culprit why non-lovers convert to the blending cults of the world. I still cannot identify what the mixture is, but its aroma is very pleasurable that I can wear it as a perfume. According to him, the strength relies on the concentration. Gauging from its capacity to break sleepiness, Miko suggests espresso.
“First parameter of coffee tasting is fragrance, the smell of it after grinding,” he tells me. “By accident lang naman, I discovered coffee. I started with liking the fragrance. I saw my grandfather drinking coffee, three-in-one, and then I tried and I liked it. Everyone starts with three-in-one. Of course, then level-up to the chains, ‘yung mga commercial coffee shops, then specialty coffee.”
Miko has been in the industry for more than a decade now, but he believes in one basic principle of the brewery: “Coffee should not be bitter. It should be sweet… like other people.”
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