The Long Journey of Indian Monsooned Malabar

I roasted a small batch of Indian Monsooned Malabar coffee beans this afternoon. I love that name.

As I’ve written before, I’m not an afficionado. I’m a rank amateur hobbyist. But this bean is one reason I enjoy home roasting.  It lets my imagination run wild. In researching the name, I found that the method for aging these beans is a story in itself.

The beans are picked at maturity and shipped to the Malabar region of southern India where they are dried and exposed to the monsoon winds along the coast.  Various web sources report the coffee originally shipped from Malabar ports to Europe under sail. In the dank, wooden hulls of ships traversing the Cape of Good Hope, the beans were exposed to salty, humid sea air that caused swelling and changed their characteristics.

Green coffee beans left, Indian Monsooned Malabar right.

Green coffee beans left, Indian Monsooned Malabar right.

During the weeks-long journey they turned pale, lost acidity and developed a mild, musty flavor when roasted. Europeans took to it.
With the construction of the Suez Canal and steamships, the beans arrived in Europe faster but lacked the transformation that occurred during the slower voyage. The Europeans didn’t like it.
To capture the original taste today, the beans are transported to the Malabar region where they are stored until the monsoon season and then spread onto warehouse floors or tables and allowed to dry in the humid monsoon air for several weeks.  They are raked or turned by hand during this period to expose them uniformly and prevent spoilage. This reproduces the transformation of the old sea voyage.
The result is a distinctive flavor that, apparently, you either love or hate. I’m in the love group.

Rwanda Bourbon green coffee bean left Indian Monsooned Malabar right.

It’s called musty, but that carries an unfortunate negative connotation, I think. It’s a mild, unique flavor, not sweet, not acidic. That’s as far as I can go.

But in my mind, I’m standing at the southern tip of Africa, watching the penguins on shore and peering into the distant horizon where a three-masted sailing ship is buffeted by the high seas. It’s making the turn westward, a load of bagged coffee beans in her hull.

In a few months, the rich aroma of roasted Malabar beans will fill the air of a London coffee house where friends have gathered for conversation and businessmen are making deals over cups of fresh, hot coffee. They sip unaware of the labor of the long, dangerous journey that has brought them this simple pleasure.

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