Indian Monsoon Malabar

May 2010

The Monsoon Malabar! From when we first started this club, we always mentioned this coffee in the list of those to be reviewed.

I am surprised we have taken this long to get to such an all-star in the Specialty Coffee world!  I suppose we have been timid to approach this one due to the fact that it simply breaks a lot of the specialty coffee rules which we tend to live and die by.  Immediately upon opening our first bag, the Monsoon Malabar’s differences were confronting and we were a little worried… Look at the picture below- the beans look completely ruined, like someone left them out in the rain for six months!

However, that is what makes the Monsoon Malabar unique.  All the rules have been chucked out the window and this Coffee of the Month is a focus on that special process which results in a very individual flavour which we are enjoying very much here at the roastery.

Indian Monsoon MalabarThe origin of Monsoon Malabar coffee is steeped in legend the likes of which can only be heard while sitting on Grandpa’s knee. The story begins in the time of the British Raj in India, a time when the tall masted ships of the East India Company brought exotic spices and goods from the East around the Cape of Good Hope to be coveted and sold at exorbitantly high prices in England. Rapidly gaining in popularity in a tea consuming world, plenty of coffee found its way around the Cape as well. While coffee beans from India languished in the dank cargo holds of sailing ships during the many months journey back home, naturally, the current standards by which we preserve freshness and transport perishable goods were not observed in those days. It is believed that coffee transported during the monsoon season arrived in England exceptionally delicious after having undergone a transformation while exposed to the warm, moist air of the Indian Ocean for many months on board a ship. So delicious, in fact, that somewhere, at some time, some avant garde coffee importer, while others improved their  storage and transportation to avoid the defects caused by moisture, decided to buck the trend of encroaching modernization in preference of that rustic, “monsooned” taste – and it must have caught on! Whatever the story may be, we definitely appreciate having the opportunity to enjoy a truly unique bean.

Thankfully, the modern process of “monsooning” is much more exact and controlled than its progenitor. These days, the process takes place in a very specific and unique location (Yes! On dry land!) on the southwest of the Indian subcontinent, the Malabar Coast. Fresh, green beans from the various growing regions throughout India are transported to the Malabar Coast and spread across special warehouses with raised and ventilated flooring to allow for better air circulation. Circulation is key because when the monsoon wind and rain picks up in June, the warehouse doors are thrown open and the beans are exposed to the moist and salty coastal air. The beans remain exposed in the warehouse during a process that can take from 3 up to 6 months.  Throughout this process, the beans are carefully monitored and tended to as they slowly swell to double their original size and change colour from green to a pale, smooth yellow. This modern version of “monsooning” replicates the physical changes that occurred during the long journey aboard a sailing ship, but standardizes the conditions to achieve a much more reliable product.

The “monsooning” process is in many ways akin to cultivating what would normally be considered a defect; however, unlike keeping your fingers crossed while your beans sail away, the modern process is controlled, exact, and aimed at achieving a specific quality- and the result is a wonderful aberration from the norm.

The path towards finding a delicious Monsoon Malabar is fraught with dangers. First of all, because combining moisture and green beans is potentially a disaster waiting to happen, the process of exposing the beans to the moist, monsoon air needs to be controlled and monitored with the utmost attention because when Monsoon Malabar goes bad, it really goes bad!  Second, there are some exporters who see the process as a way to disguise bad beans, so they dump the beans nobody would buy into an open warehouse and call it Monsoon Malabar. Well, have no fear- these guys aren’t fooling us because not even a monsoon is strong enough to disguise a bad bean!  Our cupping team is pretty seasoned by now- so we made sure to purchase through the right channels and enjoyed some scrutinous sessions before releasing as The Coffee of the Month.

The Monsoon Malabar on hand here is the very best available in Australia from a reliable source.  The beans are from farms in India’s best coffee producing regions, Mysore, Coorg, Hassan, Chickmaglur and the Nilgiris. They undergo their transformation via processing in the southern, coastal regions of Kerala and Karnataka. The end result is a full bodied, spicy, and earthy flavor with very little acidity and a warm, syrupy mouthfeel.

Our Guest Taster:

Sarah Mendelson

Sarah Mendelson

Serendipity Ice Cream

When we first began at Campos Coffee, we wanted to add iced coffees and affogatos to the menu so we could offer something in the colder range.  We had tried affogatos everywhere and found that nobody put any care into their ice cream they were using.  It would be a scoop of the cheapest commercial ice cream carelessly thrown into a hot cup, with a terrible shot of coffee run over it- and they would cost $5.00!!   So we set out to make sure our customers would not be disappointed.  We knew we had the right coffee, but we wanted the best ice cream to match.  We literally spent weeks looking all over the city at each Ice Cream supplier, and nothing jumped out.  Then, we went local- 2 blocks from our house was the Serendipity Ice Cream factory.  The ice cream was ideal and we have never looked back.  Our affogatos have caused quite a stir- particularly with visitors from Japan and Korea- so much so that it helped us gain a four page spread in the Japan Airlines inflight magazine “Skyward”. 

We also supply Serendipity our Dark City Blend for their Espresso Ice Cream which won one of their four gold medals in the Sydney Royal Dairy show this year as they went on to win the trophy for being the most successful ice cream exhibitor.

It was a pleasure to have Serendipity’s chief executive Sarah Mendelson on the cupping crew for the day.  Sarah grew up tasting flavours while her mother Alix founded Serendipity in 1966 and her palate is- well, after all this lifetime of training-it is awesome.  Sarah deserves all the success for the quality of the ice cream she produces.  And what makes us even bigger fans, is her commitment to make her business as carbon neutral as possible.  Their factories and practices are all very well thought out and run on green energy and recycling as much as possible.  For three years running, they have been using 100% green energy, and, although they grew by 25% last year, their waste to landfill went down by 8%.  How about those stats!  Check out their website www.serendipityicecream.com.au for more information.

And here are her exact words on the Monsoon Malabar:

The Coffee

Dry Aroma Nutty, with nice caramel notes, earthy
Wet Aroma dark caramel, forest floor.

The Cup

Acidity Medium to High
Body Full
Flavours solid, earthy with dark cocoa notes and orange pith. Best part about the coffee is the dark cocoa flavours.
Mouthfeel full and certainly not linear, with a long finish.