At a Glance: single origin (India); full body; deep, intense, chocolate, woody, smokey, spicy; low acidity; dry process

Greetings coffee fanatics! Welcome back to my table here in the corner of the cafe. Feel free to pull up a chair for yourself—I took the liberty of brewing you a mug of Dark Matter Coffee’s Monsoon Malabar.

It feels good to be reviewing Dark Matter Coffee again. If you’ll recall, one of the very first coffee reviews I did for this website was Dark Matter’s Papua New Guinea Peaberry—I absolutely raved about it then, and I continue to rave about it today. But in the past few months, I’ve got really caught up in the coffee shops that feature guest roasters and have forsaken beloved Dark Matter in the process. So, since I am planning on reviewing Star Lounge Coffee Bar next Monday (the coffee shop associated with Dark Matter), I figured I’d do a write up of another of their roasts—their Monsoon Malabar. Furthermore, it’s been a good long while since I had a great Indo/Pacific coffee; so the Malabar serves two purposes here.

This coffee hails from and is unique to the Malabar Coast of India—specifically Karnataka and Kerala—which borders the Indian Ocean. This is actually the first coffee from India I’ve had that wasn’t in a blend, so I was eager to learn more about it. From the research I did, I concluded that Indian coffees are vastly underrepresented in the coffee market, because they’re so easy to overlook. A lot like Panamanian coffees (which I addressed last week), Indian coffees struggle with being too… blasé. They’re very mild, low-key, and subtle. While they do feature hints of fruits and spices, these flavors are generally nothing more than hints; it’s pretty widely agreed that Indian coffees lack the same qualities of other Pacific coffees (like Sulawesis or Sumatras). “Monsooned” coffee from Malabar, on the other hand, is a totally different beast.

The process, from beginning to end, involved in making a fantastic cup of monsooned Malabar coffee is fantastically intriguing to me. It’s similar to the aging process that a lot of coffee farms employ, in which cherries are left on the stem even after they’re ripe for the picking so that they can absorb more rain and air, thus intensifying the flavor naturally (see my review of Peet’s Coffee and Tea’s Aged Sumatra).

The difference in coffees from the Malabar coffee is that the cherries are picked when they are ripe, then rather than being washed and hulled, are first sun-dried in expansive barbecue pits. After that, the cherries are processed and cured, then stored away in warehouses until the monsoon season comes around. From June to September (about to 12-16 weeks), the beans are spread on the floor, exposed to the violent, sea-salt moisture-saturated winds of the monsoon while inside of a well-ventilated warehouse. In fact, the sides of these warehouses are built to open wide, and the winds circulate inside the building, making the beans swell in size by absorbing moisture. Farm workers spend a lot of their time during monsoon season repeatedly spreading, raking, and rotating the beans so that they all are touched by the winds kicking up from the Indian Ocean. After the season ends, the beans are micro-sorted again to remove fully “monsooned” beans from those that are not fully “monsooned.”

Because of this intense process, Monsoon Malabar results in a very flavorful, intense cup of coffee. As long as the roaster respects the amount of dedication that goes into the bean, anyway—which the fine folks over at Dark Matter Coffee do precisely.

Here’s what I’ll say about the Monsoon Malabar—it has a super intense, big, bold, deep flavor that does not stop. It’s intense immediately post brew, and it doesn’t lose any of that intensity even as it cools down to room temperature. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been inundated with so many Central American coffees over the past couple months that I’ve lost my palate for Indo/Pacific coffees, but the Malabar shocked me at first; with a lot of the coffees I’ve reviewed here, it took a few cuppings, and I really had to search through my glossary of coffee tasting terms to effectively describe what I was tasting because a lot of flavors were so subtle—the Malabar, on the other hand, jumped right out of its corner of the ring at the sound of the bell and dropkicked my palate.

The aroma was pungent, with a dominant spiciness that just didn’t quit. This carried over into the coffee’s flavor, mixing with the coffee’s thick burnt caramel and chocolatey tones. It featured a thick earthiness, and even, to a certain extent, oak woodiness—like a sweet malt whiskey that’s been sitting in an oak cask, almost; thick, musty, and sweet, but with a spicy kick. There were even elements of pipe tobacco smoke at the base of the coffee, laying dormant beneath all of those intense flavors.

The Bottom Line

Dark Matter Coffee’s Monsoon Malabar is an extremely formidable coffee—not for the faint of heart or fair weather coffee drinker. Like Guinness or Jameson, it may, in fact, even be a bit of an acquired taste. But if you like a challenging coffee that will put your palate to the test, this is the brew for you. It is heavy-bodied, pipe-tobacco smokey, spicy, and earthy with notes of a burnt bittersweetness—everything that an exquisite Indo/Pacific coffee ought to be—, so it lends itself well to cream and sugar (if you take your coffee that way—and if you do, tsk tsk). I imagine this coffee would also serve well as a component in an espresso blend, but in small amounts—the intensity and flavor of these beans would easily overtake other coffees in a blend if not blended in moderation.

I really can’t think of any coffee out there that even comes to close to being comparable with the Dark Matter’s Monsoon Malabar. It’s a truly unique, one of a kind cup of coffee.

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