This week, rather than focusing on a specific bean, we are instead going to look at one of the more fascinating harvesting processes around: Monsoon Malabar. This unique process is found only in the Malabar coast in India, and it involves exposing the harvested beans to the full force of the region’s seasonal monsoon weather. This process results in a coffee that tastes unlike any other.
Like most tales surrounding the origins of coffee, the story of how Monsoon Malabar came to be is most likely apocryphal; regardless, it’s a pretty good story! In the late 19th century, a shipment of coffee beans was sent from India to Europe. During the journey, the ship was waylaid by the monsoon season as it traveled around the Cape of Good Hope. During this delay, the beans were exposed to the increased humidity and as a result turned a pale off-white color. Despite its off-putting appearance, the European recipients decided to consume it anyway. With that, Monsoon Malabar coffee was born.
As mentioned, Malabar beans are exposed to the seasonal monsoon conditions in India before they are roasted. When the coffee beans reach maturity, they are harvested and the cherries are sundried until the flesh has dehydrated and can be easily removed by hand. The beans are then sorted into grades and stored until the monsoon season.
During the monsoon season — June through September — the beans are stored in in open-sided warehouses where they are left exposed to the violent winds of the monsoons. The monsoon winds are entirely moisture-saturated and contain a high amount of sea-salt. The exposure to the winds causes the beans to swell as they absorb moisture. During this time, the beans also turn from green to off-white. Finally, the beans are packaged and shipped off to buyers, whereupon they are roasted.
Considering the process, it’s hardly surprising that the resulting coffee is unlike any other. Monsoon Malabar coffee is intensely flavorful and is extremely full-bodied. The monsoon exposure and ageing process removes almost all of the normal acidic qualities of the coffee. This lack of acidity gives the coffee a thick, almost grainy quality and a complete absence of brightness.
In terms of specific flavors, drinkers can expect strong smoky, spicy, and earthy notes as well as a malty sweetness. The full-bodied nature of the coffee results in it coating the mouth and tongue long after it has been drunk. Needless to say, this isn’t a coffee everyone is likely to enjoy.
Due to its lack of acidic brightness, Monsoon Malabar coffee doesn’t work as an iced coffee and should only be drunk hot. Ideally, this coffee should be used in espresso-based beverages, as the milk and sugar will balance out the intense flavors.
As it’s best enjoyed as an espresso beverage, the potential food pairings for Monsoon Malabar are expansive. Chocolate, shortbread, and biscotti are the obvious choices as they will pair well with the malty sweetness of the coffee.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try pairing some Monsoon Malabar with mushrooms and mushroom-based dishes. The earthy qualities of the mushrooms will really bring out the musky, full-bodied notes of the coffee.