September 21, 2016

The Philippine Coffee Board: We Want Producers to Cup Their Coffee


The Philippines produce 30,000 tons of coffee every year, up nearly 33% from the 23,000 they produced just three years ago. It’s a small but thriving sector for this Southeast Asian archipelago – and perhaps it’s not surprising, when you consider that Filipinos drink an impressive 120,000 tons of it every year.

I’m a Director of the non-profit Philippine Coffee Board, and we’re determined to nurture this quick-growing industry of ours. As part of that, we invited Ted Lingle, author of The Coffee Cuppers’ Handbook and The Coffee Brewing Handbook, ex-Executive Director of the SCAA, and ex-Executive Director and current Senior Advisor to the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), to visit our country for the first time.

And now we’ve become a CQI partner, hosting our own cupping courses and certification. We think this will transform our industry. Here’s why.

SEE ALSO: How Specialty Coffee is Invading Other Businesses in the Philippines

Chit Juan, President of the Philippine Coffee Board with CQI's Ted Lingle

Chit Juan, President of the Philippine Coffee Board with CQI’s Ted Lingle.

Ted Lingle in the Philippines

Ted Lingle needs no introduction. Yet when you meet him in person, you realise that there’s more to him than just the impressive résumé. He’s also a witty person with a seemingly limitless knowledge of coffee facts.

“You don’t have to serve good coffee to all your customers. Just to those who you want to see come back,” he told us.

In his work at the CQI, he’s made it his business to improve coffee quality in over 60 countries. He’s travelled to many producing regions, including India, Indonesia, Central and South America, and Africa. But never to the Philippines.

The directors of the Philippine Coffee Board had the chance to travel with him for almost a week, as we took him on a whirlwind tour of Davao City, Baguio City, and Cavite. Also present were Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) Operations Director Lisa Conway, US international development non-profit ACDI/VOCA, and other NGOs. We organized stakeholder consultations, on what else but… coffee! And in particular, we arranged for them to meet academics, farmers, and government agency representatives.

A Language of Quality

Ted admitted being mesmerized by the Baguio pine trees and Arabica trees he saw. “Coffee here must be good. How did you keep this place a secret for so long?”

Needless to say, after a statement like that everyone was keen for him to try our coffee. In Baguio, people from Benguet, Mountain Province, Ifugao, and Kalinga all took turns to say that their region produced the best beans.

“Says who?” Ted whispered to me.

And that’s when we realised that specialty coffee isn’t just production, or processing, or brewing. It isn’t even just about quality. Because it’s also about a common language.

SCAA Coffee Flavor Wheel

Ted Lingle discusses the SCAA Coffee Flavor Wheel with Ros Juan of the Philippine Coffee Board.

Cupping and Grading: A Common Language

“There is no bad coffee. Every coffee has its own market,” Ted told us. And by being cupped and graded, it can gain access to the whole range of markets – including the specialty one.

Yet for farmers in this region, getting their coffee graded or cupped just wasn’t typically done. In the past, they have been encouraged to roast their own coffee to shorten the supply chain. And typically they then sent the roasted beans for sampling.

Specialty coffee, however, needs to be sent to a Q grader or R grader for cupping when still green. They will then evaluate it both as a green bean and after roasting. This has led us to encourage farmers to send their coffee to certified tasters before roasting. But that also means we need more certified tasters inside the country.

Good Trees in the Right Places

That wasn’t the only reason cupping is important. Ted emphasized the importance of a good seed; the DNA of each seed is what will determine its potential.

At the same time, where the coffee grows also gives it that unique flavor profile it will ultimately have as roasted coffee. A Geisha may not score as high if not planted in Panama. A Benguet Bourbon Arabica may not score well if brought to Davao or Bukidnon, regions in the Philippines. It pays to know where to plant what.

And when farmers learn to cup their coffees, they can recognize good tree stock that’s planted in the right place. Then they’ll be able to focus on increasing the quantity and yield of those high-cupping trees – and ensure a better income.

Baguio pine trees

Ted Lingle examines Baguio pine trees.

What Next?

We recently signed an agreement naming the Philippine Coffee Board as an In Country Partner (ICP) with the CQI. This means we can begin conducting classes, seminars, and certification courses for Q grading, R grading, and more.

The Philippines used to be the fourth-largest coffee producer in the world. If we can get more Q graders and R graders – and better yet, if we can help farmers to learn how to cup – we can reinvigorate the industry. Producers will gain the knowledge necessary to plant the best trees in the best places, along with the cupping scores to enter the specialty market.

Know what you’re planting: that’s our goal.

Perfect Daily Grind