Intro by Chris Kornman
Predictably unpredictable, this wild and wonderful Indonesian offering keeps reappearing and surprising us with uncommon intensity. Pulpy fruit flavors intermingle with herbal and earthy tones, present a complex cup for the adventurous coffee drinker. It’s unlike any other coffee we’ve ever tasted, and it’s back again for a limited run on our menu as a Crown Jewel.
Part of what makes the coffee so unique is its post-harvest handling. Honey coffee, also known as pulped natural, involves stripping the fruit away from the seed, just like a washed coffee. However, it usually differs in that honey coffees are not intentionally fermented in a tank, but rather move straight from pulping (sometimes with a wash, more frequently without) to drying. This allows a bit of the sticky fruit mucilage to adhere to the drying coffee and impart some of its sweetness.
However, because these terms are often only loosely defined, they may mean different things to different people. Dody, the coffee manager for the mill and exporter Yudi Putra, told me that the coffee does ferment for 24 hours before moving to patios to dry. In addition, the entire process uses no water.
But that’s hardly all. The coffee marries this unique honey process with locally commonplace wet-hulling (known locally as giling basah). Rather than waiting for coffee to fully dry to the standard 9-12% moisture content, wet hulled coffees are… well… hulled wet, usually somewhere between 20-45%. This wet parchment coffee is delivered to the dry mill, where the parchment is removed while still damp, and the coffee completes its drying afterwards as the raw green seed. This method leaves its mark on the distinctive jade-like color of Sumatran coffees, as well as their funky, earthy flavors, unmatched elsewhere on the globe.
The coffee is grown and processed by farmers located in three villages that have been in partnership with a dry mill and exporter called C.V. Yudi Putra, a second generation family owned business located in Medan, the closest major port city to Lake Toba. Yudi Putra was established by Syahrial Jauhari in 1979, and has been buying the honey process selection from Lake Toba since 2008.
Farmers living in the villages—Sidalogan, Sibisa, and Motung—are all located south of Medan in the district of Ajibata on the eastern shore of Lake Toba in the province of North Sumatra. Lake Toba is the globe’s largest volcanic lake, technically a caldera formed by the demise of a super volcano that blew its lid around 75,000 years ago. The rich soil and dramatic ridges that were once volcano walls provide exceptional land for cultivating coffee, as you might have surmised.
Green Analysis by Evan Gilman
Sumatran coffees have a reputation, and a cult following. There’s really no other place on earth that processes coffee the way they do in Sumatra, and this particular lot is an outlier even for Indonesia. Before you move on, please do take a look at the green specs below, because they are certainly outside of the usual for a Crown Jewel. We have carried this coffee for three years running, and for those looking for a unique profile from this origin, there is no substitute. For those uninitiated into the world of Sumatran coffee, you may experience slight dizziness! But are you an adventurous thrill seeker? This coffee might just be for you..
This coffee has a very wide distribution of screen sizes, with no screen holding over 25% of the total. That means this coffee will need an extra push in the roaster. Similar to other Sumatran offerings, the practice of wet hulling leads to a less dense coffee. However, it is also very dry, at 8.7% moisture – very much in counterpoint to the usual high moisture content we expect from a Sumatran coffee. It follows that the water activity we measured here is also incredibly low. This works against the notion of continuously high heat application, so be wary as you near first crack. Read more from Candice and James below and familiarize yourself before you get started.
There’s no easy way to put this: if we were to put all coffees from Indonesia through the SCA green grading protocol, almost none would pass muster as specialty coffee. Notable exceptions to this rule would be washed coffees from Java’s PTPN system of plantations or PT Toarco Jaya in Sulawesi. I say this as a resolute fan of Indonesian coffee and Indonesia itself. As a fan, I will tell you: the proof is in the pudding. This coffee looks pretty rough, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the cup.
Roast Analysis by Candice Madison
Wild and Free is my personal subtitle to this coffee, brought to us by the farmers of the district of Ajibata, right on the eastern shore of Lake Toba! A giling basah or wet-hulled processed coffee (in part), this offering from Sumatra is classic and new, all at once. With such wide spread in screen size, and extremely low moisture content, I worried that roasting this coffee might be like taming a beast, but I was delighted to be proved wrong!
Wet hulled coffees tend to be rather soft and with such complex post-harvest processing, I was expecting a certain fragility when approaching the roaster. I was also a little concerned by the green coffee visual assessment. I have roasted coffee from Sumatra before and, to be honest, it has always been out of spec regarding green bean visual analysis. No, it wouldn’t pass an SCA defect count. However, nothing about Sumatran coffee is ‘usual’, the region, processing and flavor profile are distinct, different and, let’s be honest, produce an unusual and delicious cup of coffee.
My intention when roasting this coffee was to ensure that I brought out the sweetness that the producer had intended to emphasize by honey-processing this coffee. I also absolutely love the traditional Sumatran flavor profile, so I roasted to express and preserve as many of the desirable aromatic compounds as I could. I dropped the batch in at 365F on a low heat (2 on the gas dial), but then turned the gas up immediately at the turning point (up to 3 on the dial). This managed to push the beans through stage one quickly, if a little faster than I had been planning.
With the color change coming a little earlier than expected, at 280F, and the beans cracking a little later than is usual for the Probie (at 399F), I was able to spend a whopping 58% of this roast in the Maillard stage. The spread of screen size and the softness of the beans meant that the coffee actually cracked for almost the entire length of the post-crack development. The crack was sparse, so sparse, in fact that I only heard about 10 – 15 audible pops in that time. Beware, this coffee likes to fly after first crack, what little moisture it has, means that you have to manage the PCD time with full focus and a quick hand. I had to turn down both the gas and flame dials, ending the roast on gas dial 1 and half a turn on the flame dial. Roasting this coffee again, I would drop the gas to minimum and let the energy of the beans finish the roast.
For all the caveats listed above, the real verdict lies in the cup, and this cup is really delicious! The coffee is syrupy sweet, with a silky, round body. We found notes of blackcurrant, chocolate, cinnamon and fig jam, accompanied by the traditional herbaceous note, all tied together with a crisp green apple and lime acidity. I drank the contents of one of the cupping bowls (I’m not proud of it!), it was so tasty!
This is a highly unusual processing method (double processing method?) from a prized origin. I would create conversations by putting this on your pourover bar. This is a coffee to spark conversation and elucidation of a region that has earned it reputation for distinct and delicious coffee.
Quest M3s Analysis by James Scott
Unless otherwise noted, I follow a set standard of operations for all my Quest roasts. Generally, I’ll allow the machine to warm up for 15 minutes until my environmental temperature reading is at least 250F, weigh out 150g batch size, and begin roasting when I’ve reached my desired charge temperature. Read my initial post here and my updated post here.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend beginning your roasting career with this coffee… Or perhaps I would; the process has provided me a great opportunity for learning. A couple weeks ago I shadowed Evan while he roasted up CJ1333, during which I learned about the ins-and-outs of the Quest M3s. Although I still noticed gaps in my knowledge, I felt confident about roasting the next CJ (I mean, how else am I supposed to learn?).
The day arrived, and I loaded up two warm-up batches of some year-old Ethiopian coffee that we had laying around. I knew that this Honey Sumatra was quite dry and thought it’d be best to warm-up with something that had even less moisture content. Even more than I had expected, my warm-up roasts took on a lot of heat and finished extremely quickly (around 4:30). With that in mind, I changed my approach and deviated from the formula that Evan had provided me.
I kept the same charge temperature at 390, with heat at 11 and airflow at 9. At the turning point, I dropped the heat to 7.5 and air to 5, lower than the instructed 9.5 and 0, respectively. Through drying and the first half of Maillard, I was relatively pleased with the way that the roast was going, as it was within the parameters I had been provided. The RoR was still higher than I had hoped at 350 degrees, so I dropped the heat to 1 and increased airflow to 9. It seemed to be helping until around 380, when the RoR dropped to about 8, making me fear that I wouldn’t have enough heat to push through to first crack and another minute and a half of PCD. Seeing that my roast was beginning to stall about 15 seconds after first crack, I raised the heat to 10. Unfortunately, it was too little too late, and I couldn’t get above 394 before dropping it after 90 seconds of development.
To be honest, I was expecting this coffee to taste a little weird. I was afraid that the temperature stagnation during first crack and the beginning of post-crack development would result in partial or incomplete sugar development. Much to my surprise, on the cupping table we found notes of grape, clove, and tobacco.
Brew Analysis by Alex Taylor
Ah, Sumatra! So beloved, so polarizing, always something different! I will admit that my taste preferences have moved away from Sumatras recently, but I competed with a coffee from Sumatra a few years ago, so I’ll always have a little bit of a soft spot for them.
I think this coffee has something to offer both the die-hard Sumatra drinker, or someone interested in trying new coffees. I made one brew of Candice’s Probatino roast and one of James’s Quest roast, and both had a good bit of complexity and depth. We tasted green apple, grape, and cherry up front, followed by notes of raisin, molasses, dark chocolate, pipe tobacco, and that tell-tale earthy finish! Due to my own preferences, I kept this coffee light and clean, brewing a 1:15 pourover, but I also think this coffee would excel as a stronger immersion brew such as a french press or aeropress; try it for yourself and see!