I did some reviews of Metric Coffee Co’s offerings early on in the life of KCcoffeegeek.com and it has been a “long time.” So, I was excited when co-owner, Xavier, sent me an email telling me I had a box of coffee coming my way! Those are always my favorite emails! Today’s review is of Metric’s Ibu Rumani, a Sumatran coffee. You can find this coffee for a mere $12.75 and purchase it directly from Metric Coffee Co.!
Metric Coffee Co. is based out of Chicago, IL. The other partner in the company owns Caffé Streets in the Wicker Park neighborhood, which looks like a pretty righteous place to have a cup of coffee! I haven’t had a bad coffee from Metric yet, including their Colombia Decaf (which I actually loved as espresso).
Sumatra is a giant island that is part of Indonesia. I’ve reviewed my fair share of coffee from Sulawesi, also part of Indonesia, but it has all been from PT Toarco. Toarco is a high-quality company there that does traditional wet-processing of coffee in the style of central and south America, so their coffees are different from what the region is best known for. The island of Sumatra is deeply entrenched in the wet-hulling or giling basah method of coffee production. Sumatran and other Indonesian wet-hulled coffees typically get described as earthy and rustic because of this wet-hulling process.
Let’s talk about this specific coffee first, and then I’ll geek out on wet-hulling for you afterward. Metric says this is a Lintong Grade 1 Tano Batak coffee. What the heck does all that mean? Lintong in a region southwest of the enormous and deep Lake Toba in Sumatra (marked by the pin on the map below). It is an area heavy in coffee production, producing 15,000-18,000 tons of Arabica per year. Tano Batak translates to “Land of Batak.” The Batak people are an indigenous tribe who’ve traditionally farmed coffee in the Lintong area and Tano Batak is a cooperative that puts greater emphasis on sorting and grading coffee than is traditionally done in Sumatra.
My experience with Sumatran coffee is limited, so I expected a dirt-bomb in my cup and who-knows-what-other flavors. Sumatran wet-hulled coffees can be all over the map as far as flavors, for reasons I’ll discuss soon.
I was pleasantly surprised, then, by Metric’s Ibu Rumani. It had a beautiful and deep brown sugar aroma on it. I found a little banana (“Cavendish” is what Metric puts on the label’s tasting notes!) and ferment in the second half of the warmer sips. There was some spice hiding in the flavor, too… maybe black pepper, but it was subtle.
In classic Sumatran form, there isn’t a lot of perceived acidity in the cup, but it has enough acidity to keep it well-balanced. Unlike the majority of other coffees I’ve reviewed, the acidity seemed to drop as the cup cooled. Usually it’s the other way around. I found clementine or tangerine in the quality of the acidity, but again, it was more there for balance and elevating some of the other flavors rather than as a star player.
This coffee is full-bodied and the aftertaste for me covered a gamut of flavors, from that banana-like, slightly fermented flavor to a bit of spice, tobacco and some woodiness. As the cup cooled I found a hint of strawberry in the sweetness along with the banana, a little bit of carbon, some subtle tobacco and occasional hits of dank earthiness.
Even so, this is definitely not an “earthy” or dirty cup. The handful of sips where I got earth/dirt were in a very cool, almost room temperature cup and the flavors weren’t unpleasant nor were these at the forefront of this coffee’s profile. It’s sweet, satisfying and balanced with a lot going on, so it’s like a rustic wine in that way. I really enjoyed this coffee and it makes for an awesome start to the day. It’s a unique cup, but not foreign or weird, and I immediately found familiar flavors that I liked, so it wasn’t like I had to retrain myself for being able to appreciate this Ibu Rumani coffee from Sumatra. Another great job by my friends in Chicago at Metric Coffee Co.!
Now for more geekiness…
So, to get back to wet-hulling… wet-hulling of coffee is basically a “hurry-up, we need to sell this stuff and make some money” process! Farmers in Sumatra pick the coffee cherry, run it through a pulper to remove the skins and fruit, dump it in a fermentation tank (a bucket, a plastic bag, who knows?) to ferment off most of the sticky mucilage, and then this is where wet-hulling and wet-processing part ways.
Wet-processing coffee would involve spreading this wet, swollen coffee, in the protective parchment layer, out on patios or raised beds to slowly dry it out over a period of weeks while the bean would slowly shrink as it loses moisture.
The Indonesian coffee market favors quantity over quality. Small farmers sell to middlemen who mix everything up and then sell it on down the line. The faster the farmer gets the coffee to the middleman, the faster he gets paid. Likewise, the quicker the middlemen can get the coffee to the mills and then the mills can sell it to the exporters, the faster they get paid, too. No one has the interest or the motivation to slowly dry coffee.
Farmers in this region only dry their coffee for a few hours, maybe a day or two, then sell it to a broker. The middleman sells it to a mill that then may dry it for another day or two, but will send the coffee through a wet-huller that rips the parchment layer off the still-wet bean inside. NOW the coffee gets thrown on a patio, on the ground, out on the road, maybe in the dirt, but it is without its parchment layer, so the coffee can directly absorb all manner of flavors this way! Or, even worse, these wet, swollen coffee seeds (beans) will get left in bags where it can do more fermentation, pick up molds, etc.
On the plus side, this method does seem to produce a lot of body in the cup, low acidity, and those crazy flavor profiles only found in wet-hulled coffee. Some companies/mills, and Tano Batak appears to be one of them, treat the coffee with great respect and protect it from the elements, so it’s not always a compromise. I’m sure it’s a daunting and somewhat frustrating task for coffee buyers to go to Indonesia and cup coffees, looking for the few diamonds in the rough, but this Ibu Rumani is certainly one of them.