Sunday, August 20, 2017

Coffee notes: Black Baza's Wanderoo (Coorg, India)

Black Baza is one of the new-ish artisanal coffee roasters in India, and the unique thing about them is they're perhaps the only coffee company in the world that has explicit conservation agreements with growers wherein they grow coffee under the shade of at least a 100 indigenous trees and 22 species of trees per acre, maintaining a shade canopy of 60-80%. That's quite something in this day and age, but for Arshiya Bose, the founder, it couldn't have been any other way. Sanctuary Asia has done a complete story on the positive impact on the environment by the plantations from where Black Baza Coffee sources its coffee  from (read here).

I've tried a couple of their coffees, and I'm a fan already. Today I'll be talking about the Wanderoo, which is an Arabica blend of beans from Kodagu (Coorg) and BR Hills in Karnataka. Up until recently, I wasn't a big fan of the coffee from the Coorg district as the ones I had weren't very smooth, and a majority of the coffee I've had from Coorg was of the Robusta kind, and not Arabica (not saying Robusta isn't good, just that it serves different purposes, not the same as Arabica). One coffee grower, a long time ago had told me the that the terrain and climate of areas like Virajpet (Veerarajendra Pete) in Coorg were much more suitable for Robusta than Arabica. However, it's nice to see that Black Baza has not only found farms that have agreed to have a positive impact on the environment by agreeing to move back to shade-grown coffee and grow 100 indigenous trees and 22 tree species per acre, but also good tasting Arabica!

Biodiversity & environment friendly coffee!
The Wanderoo coffee, a blend of Arabica from Coorg & BR Hills, Karnataka. Named after the lion-tailed macaque

Wanderoo means forest-dweller, and is also the local word used to describe the Lion-Tailed Macaque, one of the indigenous species of monkeys (endangered) that's found in the forests in the Western Ghats of Southern India. The Wanderoo is an Old World monkey and spends the majority of its life in the upper canopy of trees in rainforests feeding on fruit.  The Wanderoo coffee blend from Black Baza is a blend of Arabica coffee beans from BR Hills & Kodagu.

Aroma: When freshly roasted, and then powdered, the Wanderoo gives a rich chocolate-y aroma. Considering this is a blend and not a single origin (or single estate) coffee, it would be interesting to see if subsequent batches of orders of this would give off the same aroma. Nonetheless, it's quite fantastic.

Taste: This really is a good coffee to have black. It's got good body, low acidity, no bitter after taste (or any kind of after taste). I've also had a small glass of this with a splash of milk (no sugar) and it played out quite nicely with the coffee. However, it's best to have this black. I go the French press way, and I've also experimented with a new method of extracting a little more without making the coffee bitter (using the French press itself - more of this in another post).

Overall, lovely sparkly coffee, which I'll be having a lot of in the coming days!

You can buy Black Baza coffee online here

Monday, August 14, 2017

Coffee notes: JJ Royal's Gunung Biru (East Java, Indonesia)

It's been 2 years since my last blogpost. 2 loooong years! A lot has happened during that time. I travelled quite a bit. A large part of the last 2 years was spent in Indonesia where I was working. There were a few short visits to Hong Kong, Cambodia, and Singapore as well. Work didn't allow me to continue my blog as it could have been some sort of conflict of interest and compromise the business, and to avoid any issues, I stayed away from blogging. However, I've now moved on from Zomato, and so thankfully I can tend to my blog once again.

For someone who used to write and maintain a food blog, there were a few positive developments around the areas of food and beverages. The biggest was my appreciation, learning, and deep interest in coffee. Some other learnings (if you can call it) have been around Japanese and Korean cuisine, and a large part of the learnings have been about Indonesian cuisine. And so there's a lot of catching up in terms of posts, but I thought my comeback post should be about coffee, since that's where my current focus is at. 


It's that magical elixir of life, which a significantly massive section of the world consumes every day, and not necessarily limited to a single cup a day. During my stint in Indonesia, I not only learnt a lot about coffee, but also learnt to appreciate having it black. A long black, or Americano, was the favorite way of consuming the coffee to appreciate the full taste and 'profile' of the coffee. I occasionally would have a cappuccino or a macchiato, but 80-85% of the times it would be a long black. And unlike Indian coffee, Indonesian coffee has several diverse varieties, given the diverse regions (topography), climate, and soil types. In India, all the coffee grown is centred around a few places in the South: Chickamagalur, Coorg, Hassan, and BR Hills in Karnataka, a few districts in the Nilgiris across Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and a sprinkling of estates in Andhra Pradesh, notably the Araku Valley - all of which have very similar climate and soil types (with some marginal differences) - the area under coffee plantation in Indonesia is several times larger that of India. Check out the images below to get an idea (note: according to the Coffee Board of India, there are new areas in the North East that have started cultivating coffee. I haven't shown that here because I haven't had been able to verify that).

Coffee growing regions across India, depicted by the coffee bean icon (not to scale). All in the South. Source
Coffee growing regions across the Indonesian archipelago, depicted by a coffee bean icon. Source

Fun fact: Coffee was introduced in Indonesia by the Dutch towards the end of the 17th century (then called the Dutch East Indies), and the Arabica coffee plants they brought over to the island of Java were from India. Yup, coffee made its way to the Indonesian archipelago from India, and today, Indonesian coffee is miles ahead of Indian coffee - export, quality, and variety - largely due to the diverse geographic regions, climate, and soil types in Indonesia.

For someone like me, who grew up  in the South - one of the most heterogenous regions of India in terms of culture, languages, geography, food, and climate (next only to the North East of India) - unlike the North, we have a strong coffee culture, along with an equally robust appreciation for tea. Yeah, we're quite moderate that way and like to please as many people as possible. South Indian filter coffee, or filter kaapi, as it's called in the South, is what we grew up on, and it's still what the vast majority consume. Milk and sugar mixed with a decoction of coffee (comprising of an 80% mix of Arabica and Robusta beans, with chicory making the remaining 20%), and 'pulled' to incorporate air into it, making it frothy. See below (check out the froth at the top):

Using a second glass to protect my fingers from the lava hot filter kaapi. And yeah, I know, cool shirt, right?
For those of you who don't know why the filter coffee blend of the South has chicory in it, it's simple - chicory is free of caffeine, incorporates the same bitter taste coffee does (in fact, slightly more), and cheaper than coffee, and while it certainly is missing coffee's delightful aroma, it contains a super awesome probiotic called inulin, which promotes digestion. Kinda makes you wonder why Baba Ramdev hasn't caught onto this yet. One theory is because that pseudo holy man isn't from the South and won't understand science that way the good people of the South do. I might just be inclined to agree with that theory wholeheartedly, based entirely on facts and not any preexisting prejudices 🙂

And so drinking a beverage that's naturally bitter wasn't unusual for me growing up, although, naturally (I guess it's natural), as a kid, I hated bitter tasting things, and so the milk and sugar in the filter coffee helped. A lot :) But I was exposed to the 'bitter' taste as something that is 'normal' and 'ok', unlike many north of the Vindhyas, whose sole reason for disliking coffee is 'chee, kadava hai' (yuck, it's bitter), or so I'm told. The words of the person who first said this to me made me realised the worlds apart we live actually live in, between Bangalore and Delhi, and those words still ring in my ears causing me to cringe like when you hear fingernails scraping across a blackboard! Well, to each his/her own 🙂

Me pouring my freshly brewed coffee from the French press

The Gunung Biru coffee

Anyway, now to the coffee at hand, and in my cuppa. Gunung Biru, literally, Blue Mountain in Bahasa Indonesia, is an Arabica coffee variety that grows in the eastern part of the island of Java, by the Ijen volcano. The volcanic soil is generally rich in minerals, and Indonesia's equatorial climate, and the rich volcanic soil near Ijen  results in some well nourished coffee plants.

I drink my coffee black, and I use a French Press to brew my coffee. I also grind my coffee beans just before I brew them (whenever I have beans) - pretty hipster, right? 🙂 I'll put up a separate blogpost on how and why and all other things related to brewing coffee at home.

I got this from Indonesia, and I bought the beans whole, and not the powder.
My Bodum French press, coffee grinder, and my mug. And some coffee beans scattered un-aesthetically.
Aroma: The aroma from the Gunung Biru, when brewed, is sweet, and with a slight musty-earthy aroma, almost like the air around a lake in a humid forest. A friend of mine called it ditch water-like, but I'm guessing that's what he was referring to the taste as (his opinion, not mine), and not the aroma. And just to be clear, that's not what it tastes like 🙂

Taste: Unlike some other varieties of Indonesian coffee, Gunung Biru is mildly acidic, light bodied, slightly caramel-y and nutty, and not too bitter. In fact, if someone wants to start drinking coffee black, this mild coffee may just be one of those to start off with. However, because there aren't any other strong flavors - like a chocolatey, or fruity taste, and so if your palate has been conditioned over years by a diet laced liberally with copious amounts of garam masala, and your go-to beverage on a rainy day (or most days) is adrak or masala chai... (you get the drift, right?), then you may not be able to taste the subtle flavours, and might just need something else. I'll let you know. Sometime.

A lot of the taste imparted from the coffee beans is derived from the soil it grows in. While coffee from the island of Sumatra generally is more 'flavorful' because of the other crops grown in the region (tobacco, cocoa, other tropical fruits, etc), the coffee estates near Ijen have macadamia nut trees for shade, and so the flavor profile for the coffee from around here is but naturally a little nutty.

Although I liked the Gunung Biru, it isn't my favorite. In fact, there are a few Indian varieties of coffee that are better than this. I'll be putting those up in one of my next posts. Stay tuned.


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