April 2016 Newsletter
Vietnam was an interesting experience indeed. I managed to
contact a few green suppliers at the Singapore Coffee & Tea Expo,
so I thought I had a reasonable chance of getting to a farm, but
it wasn't to be. Time, distance and translation difficulties
meant that I had to be content with inner city offices.
One of the first things that became apparent was that Vietnamese
green coffee sellers regard "Weasel Coffee" AKA Kopi Luwak as a
great money spinner. Now I've expressed my opinion of Kopi Luwak
in the November 2010 newsletter and the tasting samples I was
offered gave me no reason to change it. It's still crap.
What made me totally cynical about Vietnamese Weasel Coffee is
the sheer volume of it available. The Palm Civets would have to
consume AND excrete a significant portion of the country's total
crop to produce that much, not to mention every grower being up
to their ankles in Civet poop. As with other "storied" coffees
(Jamaican Blue Mountain, anyone?) the amount being sold far
exceeds the amount actually being produced.
The other thing that quickly became clear is that by far the
largest part of the Vietnamese coffee growing, processing and
shipping industry is still set up to deal with low quality high
volume robusta production.
I tasted half a dozen or so Vietnam Arabica coffees. Translation
problems meant that it wasn't possible to establish exactly what
types of Arabica were involved, nor were precise growing region
and processing method information available. Visual observation
of the green coffees would seem to indicate that wet processing,
Giling Basah processing and dry processing (September 2015
newsletter) were all in use in different areas.
The roast levels of the coffees I tasted were all much darker
than a standard cupping roast, but despite that it was clear that
the majority of the samples suffered from faulty processing. The
one sample that wasn't faulty, which appeared to be a fully
washed bean, was at best bland and uninteresting.
One thing that was clear is that at present there is not much
demand from the growers themselves for them to be able to grow
the more profitable but more difficult Arabica beans. Indeed, the
Vietnam government is having trouble convincing farmers to
replace old, lower yielding robusta trees with new ones. Until
the producers themselves get behind Arabica growing and
processing I don't think we'll see much specialty grade Arabica
out of Vietnam. Trees, infrastructure and grower attitudes will
all need serious upgrading before that happens.
A few hundred miles away in Sumatra, Indonesia the attitude is
quite different. There the Wahana Estate has been experimenting
with both different bean varieties and different processing
methods to the standard Giling Basah. In particular they've been
trying "Dry" or "Natural" processing where the coffee cherry is
dried out completely before the beans are removed. So this
month's special is:
Sumatra Wahana Natural
This coffee has the low acidity and heavy body of typical
Sumatran coffee but does NOT have the typical "mushroom" or
"forest floor" taste. Instead it has some delicate floral notes
in the front palate, followed with a distinctly spicy aftertaste
with flavours of clove and allspice and a really smooth finish.
Until next month