This morning I’m looking at another selection from April’s Barista Coffee Box that featured Hajo Roasts. This time we’re leaving Africa and headed to the mysterious island of Java, so come along for the ride!
BARISTA COFFEE BOX 4/2017: HAJO ROASTS JAVA ORGANIC KAYUMAS
Barista Coffee Box featured Hajo Roasts in April and I really enjoyed his African coffees I reviewed previously! Hajo’s jump from being a successful automotive industry guy to a roaster was a good move, from my perspective! Check out the Idido Gersi review for more backstory on Hajo Roasts. The third coffee from the box that I’m trying this morning is a wet hulled selection from Java. It is from the Ijen Plateau in far eastern Java where coffee is grown at 900-1600masl. Unfortunately Hajo doesn’t have this coffee listed on his site right now, but he does have it in a blend along with a Yirgacheffe Gedeb from Ethiopia here for $17.50/12oz. That could be a really nice pairing, actually!
Indonesia grows a lot of unique varietals and the environment is surely responsible for a lot of the region’s peculiar coffee characteristics, but more than anything else, it’s probably the wet hulling process that has put this region on the map more than any other factor. Quite frankly, flavor notes that would be considered defects in pretty much any other region of the world get a big pass when it’s a wet hulled coffee from Indonesia! Wood, earth, herbal notes, green notes… these are common in Indos and, in fact, sought after! Just so I don’t bury the lead, I’ll get to the coffee and then describe wet hulling at the end of the review for those interested…
I used my standard pourover setup for brewing this coffee, but I did find it brewed significantly faster than pretty much any coffee I can remember using these same parameters, just FYI. I used a 1:16 ratio of 28g of coffee to 450g of water in a notNeutral Gino dripper with white Kalita 185 filter. Handground grinder was set to 3 and I used Third Wave Water’s excellent water treatment product in my brewing.
I will admit that my exposure to Indonesian coffees, generally, and Javas, specifically, is pretty limited. Most of the Indo’s I’ve had are Sumatran, but even that’s not a huge number. Hajo’s cupping notes for this coffee include, “cocoa, butterscotch, herbal” and being a wet-hulled coffee means all bets are off when it comes to the flavors I find in the cup! In in the initial sip there is a woodiness that often comes with wet hulled coffees. It’s quite a central component of the early sip but I’m not a wood connouisseur so I won’t be able to tell you whether it’s cedar or pine or what! LOL Right behind the very woody initial sip is a nice brightness that hits somewhere between malic (the acidity in apples, which tends to be pretty mellow to me) and a hint of sweet citrus for me. There’s a little lemon in the acidity but I also get a lot of red apple and some notes I would compare to green apples, too. The acidity brightens this somewhat otherwise dense cup and is very clean and refreshing. With more vigorous retronasal drinking (agitating the coffee between tongue and palate and puffinf breaths out my nose… sounds super douchy, but it works and breathing out while we eat or drink is how humans perceive so much flavor) it brings up a lot of herbal and floral notes that I would otherwise miss. Again, it’s hard to put my finger on specifics, but part of this herbal/floral component is a bit of that green smell of fresh cut stems. Normally, a note like that would point toward the possibility of underdevelopment in a coffee, like it wasn’t taken far enough in the roast or it was roasted too quickly, leaving some less-roasted material toward the center of the bean (think of a steak with a dark crust on the outside that’s still rare on the inside), but in this case this “green” component tastes like it belongs here and seems like it isn’t a defect, if that makes any sense at all. As the cup cools the floral/herbal component gets a little more perfumed, too, so there is still that green, fresh cut stem note but also more flowery flavors, too.
Overall, I find this to be quite a clean coffee. There’s nothing “funky” or “earthy” or “dirty” about it. At the same time, drinking this coffee brings up images of lush, green forests and it certainly organic or vegetal in that way. This coffee definitely balances toward some bitterness and some herbalness and is less sugary sweet than Hajo’s African coffees from Ethiopia and Kenya that were included in this Barista Coffee Box. That makes it a little more “adult” and does detract from the drinkability of the cup, but not in a way that makes me dislike it or not enjoy the experience of this coffee. I guess I would say it’s more challenging and a little less approachable than, say, a super sweet, fruity Ethiopian coffee, and that’s OK! I found this coffee to be really interesting and while I don’t go out of my way to drink Indonesian coffees, I always find them interesting and worth drinking even though their peculiar attributes aren’t in my preferred wheelhouse of flavors. This one is clean and structured and complex and is a great introduction for drinkers who may not be familiar with this part of the coffee world without being too weird or alien!
A Few Words About Wet Hulling
There are a lot of intricacies to wet hulling and a variety of methods for accomplishing it, but in general, wet hulling coffee is a factor of needing to get coffee somewhat dry as fast as possible in what is a pretty wet environment so the farmer can move the coffee to the next person in the supply chain and get paid. Then the buyer needs to get it to the next person as fast as possible and so on and so forth. In wet hulling, coffees are picked and handled quite a bit like washed coffees from other regions. The coffees are sorted, depulped (the cherries are broken and removed from the seeds inside, what we call coffee beans) and then fermented to remove the sticky fruit that clings to the beans after depulping. After fermentation, the beans are dried a little with the parchment layer still intact. Parchment is like a fibrous layer that surrounds the bean. If you go to Central and South America, this in-parchment drying takes weeks. During that time, the bean slowly dries and shrinks as it loses water. Eventually, before export, the beans are hulled, which removes the parchment layer. In wet hulling, the beans are hulled while they have lost very little moisture. This can mechanically damage the beans some since they have not shrunk away from the parchment layer to much of a degree, but in the wet Indonesian environment, it allows the now “naked” coffee beans to dry much faster. In some cases, wet hulled coffee is handled very, very well, but in others it gets spread out on roads, driveways, next to barns… wherever there is space for it to try to dry quickly. Coffee beans without their parchment are like little flavor sponges, and so they pull in all sorts of potentially weird flavors when they are dried naked this way. Once they have dried out a little bit they are bagged and sold to buyers who then mix their purchases into larger bags and so on and so forth down the supply chain the coffees go. These still-wet coffees sitting around in bags for however long can result in microbes, fungi, all sorts of bad stuff to happen. Long story short, the people who cup lots of Indonesian coffees are heroes because they have to go through a lot of cupping to find gems like this one from Hajo Roasts!