This morning I’m sticking a pin in my coffee map for Charleston, South Carolina thanks to the fabulous folks at Broom Wagon Coffee! Broom Wagon Coffee is a family-run affair by Jeremias Paul and his wife, Rachel. The entire brand is heavily influenced by the sport of cycling, another one of my own passions, so let’s dig in and see what Brook Wagon and Charleston have to offer! I know shipping takes a lot of the fun out of ordering coffee from away-from-town, and Broom Wagon offers $5 shipping on all orders and free shipping on any order over $30. Nice!
BROOM WAGON COFFEE SUMATRA MANDHELING GAYO FAIR TRADE
Note: apologies for my poor photography of late. We’re into that time of year where it’s pitch dark in the morning when I leave for work and almost dark when I get home in the evening, so I am going to need to set up the home studio again, clearly! Broom Wagon’s bags are way cooler than my photos captured!
Coffee and bicycles go together almost as much as wine and cheese! I don’t know if it’s the European roots of cycling that have created this fusion (you can’t throw a rock in Rome without hitting an espresso bar) or the fact that cyclists like to get out early and need the chemical enhancement of caffeine, but where there’s coffee, there are usually bikes! Of all the coffee brands I’m familiar with I think Broom Wagon Coffee of Charleston, SC, takes advantage of this synergy to the greatest degree that I’ve seen.
The name Broom Wagon comes the voiture balai, or “broom wagon,” that was first seen in the 1910 Tour de France. This iconic wagon featured a broom and often in races they still do, harkening back to the type of nostalgia that cyclists love. It’s the job of the broom wagon to “sweep up” riders (or marathon runners, or whoever) who’ve fallen off the back of the race due to injury, mechanical problems or just a bad, bad race day and haul them to the finish line. Jeremias and Rachel show their love of cycling in a lot more ways, too! The bags are inspired by the Tour de France’s racing jerseys… in the race the overall leader wears a yellow jersey, the “king of the mountains” who has the best time on the mountain stage wears the white and red polka dot jersey and the maillot vert or green jersey is worn by the top sprinter. It’s a really cool idea and the graphic nature of the TdF jerseys translates really well to the format of a coffee bag! Today’s coffee wears a green jersey, so it’s the top sprinter! Even Broom Wagon’s logo is inspired by classic head tube badges front the front of the bicycle. Very well thought out and no detail was left out! What about the coffee?
One look at this coffee in the bag and I knew I was looking at a wet hulled Sumatran. They always look so funky! This coffee is from Gayo in the northern tip of the northern part of Sumatra (the Aceh region). Coffees from this area are often called “Mandheling,” too, named after the Mandheling tribe. Nearby, you’ll find “Lintong” coffees, too, named after a different tribe. This selection is made up of Bourbon and three Sumatran/Indo varietals, Jember, Ateng and Bergendaal, all of which are Arabica varieties. This coffee grows at 1200-1300 masl and a lot of coffees in this area grow nice and slow in shade. Like many Mandhelings, this one is wet hulled.
Wet hulling is a uniquely Indonesian process method wherein the coffee cherries are picked and run through a hulling machine. This removes the cherry skins and the sticky, sweet mucilage layer, but also the “parchment” layer that surrounds the seed (what we call a coffee bean). This exposes the fat, wet coffee bean to whatever is near it. These wet, unshielded beans are laid out on patios, or sometimes in the dirt next to the house, on the road, wherever a reasonably flat surface can be found. Green coffee beans, especially wet hulled ones without their parchment, are like sponges and they’ll soak up flavors from whatever they are touching. So, you can imagine a coffee laid out to dry in the dirt in the front yard or over by where you park your truck could end up tasting like any manner of things! This is done out of necessity in Indonesia because it’s such a wet and cloudy environment that drying coffee more slowly is a luxury that farmers often cannot afford. Once the coffee hits a certain dryness percentage, it’s packed into plastic bags, drums, whatever is on hand and it goes to the next middleman. From here, the coffee keeps exchanging hands from middleman to middleman. Now we find a situation where the relatively wet coffee, which has been drying God only knows where, is packed into who know what kind of vessel, still relatively wet, and you get a recipe for mold, mustiness, all sorts of microbial activity. The end result for wet hulled coffees is that they often have flavors like “earthiness” and “wood” and lots of spices and other strange flavors that, in coffees from other origins, would be considered defects. Yet, in Indos, these flavor notes are acceptable and often looked for! It’s a crazy world! The importers who cup Indonesian coffees go through heroic amounts of coffee with the funkiest flavors to find the few that are acceptable to our western palate. God bless them!
I used my usual 1:16 ratio of 28g of coffee to 450g of water in a notNeutral Gino pourover with Kalita 185 filters. My extraction ran pretty fast on my first cup of this coffee, so you may need to tighten your grind a bit to stretch it out a little. Aromas from the cup were sweet with a definite woody character. Only in Sumatra can coffee get away with smelling woody. Most of the time that would be seen as a defect, but Sumatrans get wide berth for things like this and it’s what sets them apart from so many other coffee origins!
In the cup I found a medium bodied coffee that was sweet with pretty low perceived acidity, to me. I got some hints of a sweet orange citrus, more like orange juice, that was quite nice and offered some balance to the cup. The coffee seemed to have a bit of a “tightening” effect on the tastebuds on my tongue, something I often call “astringent” but I think is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more along the lines of how drinking green tea feels on my palate… sort of drying and “tightening” but not “off” in any way. I found a pretty noticeable woody note (I’m not up to snuff on all my wood flavors but I wouldn’t argue with Broom Wagon’s “sweet cedar” descriptor!).
For a wet hulled coffee this is overall pretty clean and defined. I wasn’t getting any earthiness or mustiness in the cup and the flavors were vibrant and apparent and structured rather than muddled together. Sumatra isn’t one of my top 5 origins I like to get coffee from, but this one from Broom Wagon is really nicely done. It’s balanced, straightforward and inviting yet has some interesting and unusual flavors that add complexity while still maintaining good drinkability and not being too alien or funky. Wet hulled coffees like this are not easy to find, so my hat’s off to Jeremias and Rachel on roasting this and Balzac Brothers & Company for sourcing this coffee because they must’ve cupped an ungodly amount of coffee to find this jewel!