Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Blue Batak Sumatra

Name: Blue Batak Sumatra
Origin: Lintong, Sumatra
Roaster: Irving Farm
Roast: (unknown)
Varietal: Catimor; Java; Jember
Preparation: Freshly ground, French-pressed, sipped black

Ever since coffee was first brought from the Horn of Africa to Indonesia in the late 1600s the Batak people have been growing it in the Lintong region of Sumatra, around Lake Toba. The high elevation, hearty rainfall, and volcanic soil make for superb conditions to grow the crop.

The coffee in Lintong, as in most of Indonesia, is wet hulled, also known as semi-dried or, in Indonesian, giling basah ("wet grinding"). This means that for a little while the seeds are partially dried while still in their parchment before finishing drying outdoors with the parchment removed. That initial step allows all of the sugars, alcohols, and other compounds of the fruit to be absorbed into the bean itself, creating a sweet and immensely flavorful coffee. During this process the beans turn from a light green to a darker, bluish green, ergo "Blue Batak".

Of course, the beans are not blue once they have been roasted - they are quite as brown as roasted beans should be. They brew into a busy brown; dark and complicated, but not opaque or self-absorbed. The aroma has notes of fruit and herbs everywhere. It is somewhat light in impact, but still absolutely chock-full of flavors. It is not tannic or acidic; the word "vegetal" comes to mind.

The palate offers earthy notes at first, but only at first. The acidity is a non-factor, moderate at most. As the coffee cools, the acidity remains low, but the flavors turn into fruit, vegetables, herbs, and spices, and to say that they are many and varied is a gross understatement. There are notes of green pepper, red pepper, and bay leaf, along with peripheral notes of smoke, florals, black pepper, and walnut. Irving Farm is also right on the money with the tasting notes that they have printed on the bag: "Heavy, oregano, green tomato" - that is, assuming that the first comment refers to the gargantuan complexity, the absolute mélange of flavors with which the coffee is dripping (literally, I suppose), and not to the texture, which is medium bodied. It is just substantial enough to carry all of the flavors, but nothing further; the body does not even try to interfere with its own effect on the tasting notes, as even knowing where to begin would be a Herculean task for it in this case.

So, there is certainly an epic smorgasbord embodied in the terroir here, but whence the terroir? Am I on an Indonesian plantation or in a Mediterranean garden? And either way, may I please stay a while longer?

Often, when I am done reviewing a coffee, wine, or tea, even if I liked it, I move on. "Time for what's next," I think to myself. But not this time. I may not quite have a handle on where, exactly, in the world I am, but that will not stop me from hanging around. I am off to have another cup of Blue Batak Sumatra, and my kind readers ought to have one as well. Enjoy.

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