When it comes to coffee, Africa is definitely my wheelhouse. I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee from Kenya, Rwanda and especially Ethiopia over the last year, so I was really excited when local Kansas City roaster, Messenger Coffee Co., hooked me up with some samples, including one from Indonesia. Indonesia is easily the coffee region I’ve explored the least so I was ready to break into this sample! As of right now this coffee doesn’t appear on Messenger’s website for purchase, but most of their coffees float around the $19/12oz range.
Disclaimer: Messenger Coffee Co. provided this coffee as a complimentary sample for KCcoffeegeek.com. They are not advertisers nor is this a paid review (neither are any others on this site!) and the cost of the sample did not affect the outcome of this review.
Indonesian coffee has a bad reputation being uninteresting, tasting like dirt and having major quality assurance issues so I’m happy to report that this Toarco Jaya AA suffered none of those problems! Because this is the Internet, I’ll talk about the coffee first and then discuss some of the reasons for Indonesia’s coffee woes and how Messenger’s Toarco Jaya AA gets past them.
I prepared my samples both in the Gino dripper (basically Kalita Wave) pourover and with an AeroPress. You can see all my recipes, ratios, etc in a link beneath the logo at the top of the page. The first thing that struck me about this coffee is that it had “depth” in the aroma and flavors. This coffee has nice body and mouthfeel and is substantial with a relatively long aftertaste. There is lots of inherent sweetness in the cup as well as a “round” acidity that gives it good balance. I picked up some spice notes in the pourover but those flavors were more clear from the AeroPress (which is one of the reasons I try to use a variety of prep methods for every review).
I decided that spicy component reminded me of cinnamon and it had a warming effect on the overall flavor profile. The acidity was a little more noticeable in the AeroPress but the coffee still maintained plenty of balance. Both preparation methods had a little bit of a vegetal component to them but I wouldn’t go so far as to say they taste “earthy” or “dirty” like many Indonesian coffees do. This is a pretty clean cup and I would happy with this as a daily drinker. The roast seemed right on to catch a balance of acidity and sweetness. This is a solid, enjoyable cup of coffee and is very accessible and complex yet inviting at the same time. There’s plenty in the cup to think about but if you’re more of a “just gimme a cup of coffee, NOW” person you’ll enjoy the flavors of this one from Messenger.
So, now, why does Indonesia have so many coffee problems? Most of what I know about Indonesian coffee I’ve picked up from the guys at Sweet Maria’s/Coffeeshrub who have been on the ground there and have seen things firsthand. Indonesian coffee growers are often in very remote areas and they often prefer a wet-hulled processing method, especially in Sulawesi where this coffee came from. Traditionally, Indonesian processors toss the coffee out onto the ground after hulling, rather than patios or on raised nets, so fermentation can get pretty crazy and the coffee will pick up flavors of “earth” because they’re literally hanging out in the dirt. The picking and sorting standards in Indonesia are quite low on average, too, so a lot of coffee gets picked too early. Finally, sometimes coffee is picked and then thrown in bags for transportation and when it’s wet and humid that’s a recipe for lots of funk.
The Toarco Jaya estate in Sulawesi has been around for a relatively long time and they have much better than average coffee handling practices. They wash the coffee the same day it’s picked and according to this fantastic article by Coffeeshrub, they handle it a lot more like a well-versed Central American processor. Toarco Jaya estate also purchases coffee from other local growers and they educate these growers to improve their picking and handling skills. That’s cool and all this attention to detail and different processing explains why this coffee tastes great and not like dirt!