Cheerio, fellow coffee enthusiasts. Welcome back to my table here in the corner of this cafe.
There was a time, long before I built the Table, even before I started working in the coffee industry, that I was an Indo/Pacific kind of guy. For a while there, while working Peet’s Coffee and Tea, I exclusively drank their Papua New Guinea Highlands. I’d even go into work every morning and tell my manager, Mallory, “I’m going to sell fifteen pounds of Papua New Guinea today,” and I usually at least came pretty close.
Then, the more and more I got into this thing called “specialty coffee,” I drank these Far East coffees less and less. Feel free to click your way through old reviews here at the Table to see for yourself – for every Asian coffee review you’ll find, you’ll find another ten Africas and another fifteen Latin Americas.
So, whenever I get the opportunity to review an offering from this region of the world, I lunge at it.
Ready to return to a first love of the Table’s? Feel free to pull up a chair.
So, as you all well know by now, The Wormhole here in Chicago has been featuring Stumptown Coffee Roasters on their pour-over bar for the past few weeks or so; we’ve been fortunate enough to sample many of those coffees here at the Table. Today, though, we’re sitting a table in the corner of Heritage Bicycles General Store in Lakeview. Heritage, of course, is the only cafe in Chicago that features Stumptown Coffee exclusively, which is nice to know for the soon-coming weeks when I’ll be going through the inevitable Stumptown withdrawals – The Wormhole, truly, has spoiled me.
Today’s coffee represents Stumptown Coffee’s first direct trade foray into Indonesian coffees. This coffee hails from an area well inland from the coast near Takengon and Lake Tawar, in the Aceh Province of the archipelago’s northern most island of Sumatra. Stumptown custom-curated this lot built this lot from three sub-regions around the lake: Kebayakan, Bintang, and Pantan Lues.
Much the way my friend, Claire, wrote in her review of Heart Coffee Roasters‘ Colombia Alto Palmar, Aceh Province was mired in political and military conflict for almost twenty years, between 1976 and 2005, as the FAM insurgency group (Free Aceh Movement) made waves trying to separate Aceh from Indonesian sovereignty. During this time period farmers in other parts of Sumatra and Java were replanting their farms with higher quality coffee varietals. Acehenese farms, which had been largely abandoned due to violence, were left planted with heirloom varietals that were originally brought to the province by Arab traders at the beginning of the 1900’s.
Stumptown has been working with a buying group, PT Gajah, since 2007 to not only bring this coffee to America, but also to continue improving the quality of the crops in this region. PT Gajah projects include building a centralized washing station, tracing coffee back to the farm level, and rewarding farmers for increased craft in their coffee cultivation. Organizations like USAID and DAI are also actively helping educate farmers about increasing quality due to cherry selection and advancements in processing techniques.
Origin: Aceh Province, Indonesia
Farm: PT Gajah
Elevation: 1300-1600 meters above sea level
Cultivars: Typica, Catimor, Bourbon, and Jember
Process: semi-washed, patio dried
Certifications: Direct Trade, USDA Organic
I can already tell, just from the aroma of this coffee, that we’re about to have a really great experience with this coffee. There’s a really pleasant blackberry scent rising out of the cup, mixed with sweet fumes of brown sugar – like blackberry pie.
The first sip is pretty harsh, but that’s just because my palate isn’t used to such a full-bodied coffee. However, I will say, for such a full-bodied, earthy cup of coffee, it is shockingly smooth. And somewhat sweet. While this cup is still hot, I’m picking up flavors of a sort-of burnt brown sugar – as if the blackberry pie we smelt in the aroma was baked a bit too long and the crust is crispy. There’s also a little bit of an herbal, spicy zing that tingles the tip of the tongue (juniper?).
As the cup cools off a bit, the earthiness dissipates and fruity elements start to come out; suddenly, this coffee is a mostly sweet cup of coffee, albeit still full-bodied. Now I’m tasting the muted sweetness of raisins, the slight bitterness of blackberries, and the juiciness of plums, all sitting atop of a river of caramel – a river of caramel that flows out of the cup, lazily over the bed of my palate, and finishing with a smooth, creamy, buttery sweetness.
Full-bodied; low acidity; earthy mouthfeel; smooth, sweet, clean finish.
the bottom line:
Sipping all of these Latin American (and even, to an extent, African) coffees over the past several months has really helped in getting me to the place of appreciating the finer, more delicate things about coffee – like flavor and acidity. Drinking the Indonesia Gajah Aceh, from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, though, was a lot like coming home; maybe more like coming home after being away at university for a few years and suddenly being way more educated than my parents.
The thing that immediately grabbed my attention when I first started getting hooked on coffee was how strong it was, what the mouthfeel was like, how big and bold it was; that’s why, I’ll admit it, I loved Starbucks so much when I first started getting into coffee – it was unlike anything else I was drinking at the time. The reason I love coffee now is over the past twelve or so years that I’ve been drinking it, I’ve come to appreciate all the little nuances, all the intricacies of a truly specialty coffee.
The Gajah Aceh really lends itself to being the Asian coffee you drink after drinking Latin American coffees for so long, when you want to employ your newly-discovered palate. It has that big, bold body and earthy texture that is so indicative of Indonesian coffees, but it also has some juicy plum and blackberry.
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.