The Ultimate Job: Coffee Taster

A perfect job is one you would be doing whether you got paid or not. Watching TV, or surfing the Internet, for instance, might fit in that category. How about drinking coffee?  Bill McAlpin is a coffee taster, or, as they call it in the business, a coffee "cupper."

"You take a spoonful," explains McAlpin, "you take it into your mouth with some air so that you completely cover your mouth and your palate and you get the brief first sensation, which you analyze, spit it out and you move on."

As the owner of Distant Lands Coffee Roaster in Tyler, he may taste up to 500 different cups of coffee in a single day.

"I cup," says McAlpin, "always cup all the coffee in the morning for two reasons. First, you need to be actually rested and you need to have a clean palate. And, also, I want to sleep that night."

With one sip, a good coffee cupper can assess the cultivation, the harvest, the fermentation and the milling, not to mention the mornings roasting and brewing, of an entire shipment of coffee.

"When I was younger," admits McAlpin, "I could tell, for example, from within a country I knew well, like Costa Rica, I could tell you what zone it came from. And, I can certainly tell you almost without fail, what country a coffee."

Bill and his team deal with only the best coffees the world has to offer. They analyze their aroma, their acidity, their body, their cleanliness of cup, then finally their flavor. It's an art form, that can be taught, but not easily mastered.

"You cannot teach someone to taste that is taste deaf," adds McAlpin, "but, once you find somebody that can taste, it's still a long process of education and experience before they become a good coffee cupper. And, it literally is a process that takes years."

Americans drink 400 million cups of coffee each day. That's 1.6 cups per capita. Bill definitely exceeds his fair share.

Well, after I do this," says McAlpin, "I don't drink anymore coffee during the day."

Bill has taken his coffee tasting ability and used it to produce an estate coffee rated as one of the worlds best. The Costa Rican grown coffee, which is roasted right here in Tyler, is known as La Minita.

Kevin Berns, reporting.