Evoking mythology and legend, the Jade Dragon Sumatra coffee is in many ways a symbol of the best selections from harvest. The coffee comes to us from long term supplier Koperasi Kopi Gayo Organico (KKGO) a cooperative located near Lukup Sabun, in the Takengon highlands of northern Sumatra. The cooperative has over 1500 members, many of them widows who lost their husbands during periods of conflict in the region. These families are also in the process of rebuilding after an earthquake in 2013.
The greater region of Aceh, Sumatra’s northernmost province, is the source of “Mandheling” coffee and is sometimes referred to as Gayo or Gayoland in reference to the local Gayonese ethnic majority. The highlands outside of Takengon city are lush, fed by ancient volcanic soil nutrients and frequent rains. Coffees grown here by smallholders are collected by the cooperative, which also offers farmers financial assistance through a credit union and uses fair trade premiums to reinvest in schools, hospitals, and farming equipment for their members. The coffee is triple sorted at Irham Junus’ Jagong dry mill.
Irham and his children, Ina and Andi, manage the export business as well, and have a close relationship with Royal Coffee. This Jade Dragon is their “retro selection,” a style of preparation that reminds us of some of the nicest “Golden Mandheling” Sumatras we used to find in the 1980s and 1990s. Our founder, Bob Fulmer, explains further from a 2007 blog entry:
“It was generally a little bit cleaner tasting, but not too clean; it still had a lot of body and distinct Sumatra character. The beans were bigger, longer, and fatter, and all but a minuscule amount of defects were picked out. The deliveries, refreshingly, were known for their clock-work consistency. Relatively expensive at the time, it was very popular and we had a hard time getting enough…
“I recently reminisced with a long-time Sumatra dealer about the Golden Mandheling and he said it was still possible to find similar coffee… We feel it is a fitting tribute and close representation of the original Golden. In any case, it is real nice Sumatra, and like the Pawani Golden Mandheling, it’s a bit higher priced but we think it’s worth every penny.”
Sumatran coffee is often recognized for its distinct appearance – characteristics include a matte jade-like coloration and lack of silver skin. This is the result of post-harvest processing technique known locally as giling basah, or wet-hulling in English, sometimes referred to as seed-dried. The process involves an early removal of the rough, protective parchment coat. Elsewhere the parchment is left to surround the green coffee until sun drying is complete, but not in Sumatra. Here, the parchment will be hulled while the coffee is still between 20-40% moisture content. The exposed green will then complete drying, imparting unique flavors commonly associated with Indonesian island coffee broadly, and Sumatran coffee specifically. The result is at least partially responsible for the distinct flavors associated with Sumatran coffee – earthy, herbal, aromatic woods and spices, with sometimes vegetable-like notes.
This Jade Dragon coffee is triple-picked, the highest sorting grade, which means that the cherries have gone through defect removals three times before processing. The result is a very clean and uniform selection, and a large one at that! Eighty-six percent of the coffee did not even pass through the 19 screen. Other common Sumatran physical characteristics are here as well: higher than average moisture and water activity and low density.
The fact that Sumatran coffees often are comprised, at least in part, of Arabica-Robusta hybrid varieties is no secret. However, naming conventions for the varieties in use often seem to creatively disguise the fact. Take this Jade Dragon, for example, where the marketed cultivar is “Adsenia.” Adsenia is a corruption of Abyssinia, the name of the kingdom that occupied much of modern-day Ethiopia, where Arabica coffee originated… yet this is no Gesha story. Adsenia is a Sumatran iteration of the Timor Hybrid (aka Hibrido de Timor, HDT, Bor Bor, Timtim et al.), which was originally discovered on its namesake island in the 1920s. It’s a spontaneously occurring Arabica-Robusta hybrid, but it has functioned as a baseline for many many cultivated varieties including Catimor and Sarchimor, just to name a few. While these cultivars tend to get a bad rap from cuppers, there are a couple of notable benefits: high yield, large screen size, and formidable disease resistance.
I wanted to learn a little more about this coffee and the Ikawa with its 50g batch size and ability to program every detail really helps a roaster get a glimpse of what is possible. This Sumatran Jade Dragon is a very large bean with a very high moisture content. I knew automatically that it would perform better with a longer profile to allow time to wick away moisture and time to fully develop the coffee because of the larger mass. I decided to try two approaches, Ikawa roast (1) is my normal V style profile and Ikawa roast (2) has a slightly extended drying time by 38 seconds. While both roasts were nice on the cupping table, Ikawa Roast (2) had a lovely peach flavor that was not present in Ikawa roast (1).
Using Ikawa roast (2) as a guideline, I now needed to transfer the profile to the 1 kilo Probatino. I attempted two batches of the coffee, Probatino (1) had a very similar profile according to the ratio of the three different roasting stages. It produced a similar flavor profile, but the cedar notes were the dominant flavor coming through in the cup. I decided to push the drying stage a little further in Probatino (2) and ended the roast with an end temperature that was more in line with my Ikawa roasts. The flavor notes were surprisingly lush and tropical in flavor with a floral touch of chrysanthemum that was intriguing. There is a lot of talk about extending Maillard time during the roast to create body, but don’t discount the importance of your drying time and the effect that it can have on your overall cup profile.
There have been some lovely Indonesian coffees coming in this year, and this lovely Sumatran Jade Dragon is certainly among them. After some experimentation I’ve found that these coffees tend to respond very well to full immersion brews, with high TDS and extraction percentages. This brew method usually creates some fruit sweetness that balances the earthy vegetal notes Sumatran coffees are known for.
But this Mandheling did not conform to these parameters. Although I knew from out cuppings that it had some stone fruit sweetness and acidity, my first brew on the Clever only extracted the heavy brown sugar and cedar notes. I tried again with cooler water and a higher brew ratio. In this cup there was a hint of citrus acidity and some more milk chocolate, but it still wasn’t a cohesive, balanced brew.
At a friend’s suggestion, and despite my initial hesitation, I tried a Kalita next. I expected this brew method to create an even more drying and tobacco heavy cup than in the full immersion brews. Instead, at a 1:15 brew ratio, I found the stone fruit sweetness, tart cranberry, and pleasant herbal balance that I had been looking for all along. This coffee certainly fits under the description “Retro Mandheling”, but when given the chance to express itself it shines as an elegant and clean example of the improvements in quality that producers in Sumatra have been working on for years.