Naturally Monsooned Bali, aged two days

Back with the NMB, after giving it a couple days to rest. Mostly what I notice is it’s still a very deep bass note coffee. It’s lost a bit of harshness, but it’s still a bitter cup with a predominant heavy body and mouthfeel.

I’m enjoying it, it’s sort of an essential taste, with no distractions from the very fundamental coffee tastes it possesses, but there’s so much more possible in a cup of coffee. I’ll have to keep some around to use in blends.

Photo: Kamaljith KV on flickr, adapted. License: CC BY-2.0.

Tonx Brasil/N. M. Bali Blend

50/50. The Bali I wrote about yesterday, the tonx is two month old (!!!!) fancy coffee, which got lost in the shuffle. No high notes in any of this. I think the most notable thing in this and yesterday cup was the heavy body and distinct bitterness in both. I suspect that this is mostly the Monsooned Bali, but I have enough of the tonx Brazilian to brew up a cup of it by itself. If I do I’ll let you know what it’s like.

First, a disclaimer. I’m no respecter of rules in general, and coffee culture is rife with rules—just waiting to be broken! Mostly I break coffee rules out of necessity or convenience. The main thing is, of course to achieve that morning fix!

There’s something I’ve found that’s rather wonderful about quality coffee, though. Even abused and misused in some fairly fundamental ways, high quality coffee can still be fun to drink! Certain things shouldn’t be messed with: weak coffee is weak coffee, no way around that. And most of the rest make a good deal of sense. It’s certainly possible to over or under-roast any coffee. The results may be interesting, but they are usually clearly not optimal. But cold coffee, and carefully reheated (you DO NOT want to boil it) coffee, even the next day, is better than bad coffee straight out of the pot!

Naturally Monsooned Bali

Monsooned coffees are kind of weird. The process is essentially one of exposing the processed beans to high humidity so that they gradually gain moisture, which causes them to swell and lose most of the high notes in their flavor. What results, if everything goes well, is a coffee with considerable body, and bitter, chocolatey flavors predominating.

These coffees are generally roasted fairly dark. There aren’t many aromatics to be lost and the darker roast accentuates the bitterness and chocolate. I find it refreshing as an occasional change from the sort of coffees I normally drink, and it also can work wonderfully as a blend with lighter, more floral coffees, or the wilder African coffees.

Sweet Maria’s says to let this one rest for three or four days. I’ll give it a try and report.

What is good coffee?

Good Coffee
Good Coffee
Basically, if coffee tastes good to you and satisfies you, it’s good, I suppose. But there’s a vast distance between OK good and REALLY good, and a large part of it depends on a few very simple practices which I’ll list and discuss in this and the next few posts:

Use enough coffee!

This is fundamental. The basic thing here is it’s much easier to use too little coffee than to use too much. Unless you’re quite sure your coffee is strong enough, try adding a scoop more to your ground coffee and see what it’s like. Actually try adding an extra scoop anyway. My own experience of this is there’s a fairly clear point at which the resulting brew is no longer weak, then a fairly extended range where your coffee is strong enough, and finally a point at which it becomes, to some palates at least, too strong. Tastes will certainly differ, but most people seem to agree on the  lesser quality of weak coffee. I find restaurant coffee is generally on the weak side. With high quality, expensive, coffee not using enough coffee is just a waste.

Make sure it’s fresh!

Fresh roasted. Ideally from two days after roasting to ten to fourteen days. Coffee can be used immediately after roasting, but many coffees improve, sometimes markedly, by being allowed to rest for a couple of days before being ground and brewed. After two weeks a good coffee will still be good, just not so good as it is in the first and second weeks. Best to drink it up. Storage in a closed container like a glass canning jar or the plastic bag with the one way valve that it may have come in will extend the life of fresh coffee, but the best strategy is to drink it up. That’s presumably why you bought it!

Unless you see it being roasted or the bag is marked with the roast date, it’s probably safe to assume your “new” bag of coffee is at a minimum anywhere from several days to several weeks old.

One way to tell if coffee is fresh is to note whether the grounds foam when the brewing water is added to them. Roasted coffee outgasses carbon dioxide fairly vigorously for the first three days after roasting and then at a diminished rate over the next week or so. If your wetted grounds are distinctly foamy, you can be sure your coffee beans are fresh. If they don’t foam the coffee may still be fresh, and with experience you’ll be able to taste the difference, but in any case you will have lost a significant portion of the fairly short fresh window. This doesn’t mean good coffee that’s two weeks old is totally undrinkable. I drink it if that’s what’s around. But if I have plenty of fresh coffee, which is usually the case, three week old coffee will often get tossed.

When you’re ready to brew your coffee, and not before, grind it. Then brew it immediately! Ground coffee rapidly loses the volatile aromatic compounds making up the top notes of a coffee’s flavor. If you’ve never had freshly ground and brewed coffee, you don’t know what you’re missing. This is why I, along with many serious roasters, would never sell ground coffee. Ground coffee is almost synonymous with stale coffee.  It’s easy to prove this to yourself. Grind some coffee. Grind more of the same an hour later. Brew them immediately after the second batch is ground. Compare.

Photo: Victor, at flickr. Adapted. License: CC-BY-2.0


For the last dozen years or so I have been buying green coffee beans and roasting them myself, basically for my own use. Recently I decided I would extend the hobby into a business, providing the experience of home roasting for a limited group of other coffee lovers. Unless you are lucky enough to have access to a local roaster who sells their coffee directly out of their shop, or a cafe selling their own fresh-roasted whole bean coffee, you’re unlikely to have experienced really high quality, totally fresh coffee of the sort I’ll be providing here.

Like many of us, I’ve drunk coffee for most of my adult life. All kinds, made all kinds of ways. I’d settled into a routine–fresh ground Eight O’Clock from the A&P, brewed in a French press pot, when, on a visit to my parents, my father gave me a couple of pounds of Gevalia beans that were hanging around the house, saying they made my mother mad every time she saw them. She was by this time well on her way to being the oldest customer of Paul deLima, an excellent Syracuse coffee roaster in business since 1916.

I took the Gevalia home, and brewed it up. It was good, way better than my standard Eight O’clock! I decided, if my sole remaining drug habit was going to be coffee, I should enjoy it to the fullest extent possible. But there was a problem—-I was basically too cheap to spring for that fancy coffee!

I knew there was another way out-—you could buy green unroasted beans and roast them yourself, something I had even experimented with once already. The internet saved me, by connecting me with Sweet Maria’s, and the genius of Tom Owen. I ordered an eight coffee sampler, and with a cast iron frying pan and a wooden spoon, I was in business. I’ve been a happy customer ever since.

Roasting my own coffee introduced me to another whole world of coffee. Those eight coffees were a revelation. They tasted better than any coffee I’d ever had. They were all better than the Gevalia. And they all tasted different!

I find there’s a lot to be said about coffee, and as I gradually get around to writing it out, I plan on putting links to different subjects in this sticky post. For starters, here’s a link to a first post on the topic of freshness.