When you first come across the term "monsoon coffee," it may have you scratching your head. I mean, what kind of a strange name is that for coffee? But, you’ll be happy to know that there's nothing strange about this coffee's flavor.
When you first come across the term “monsoon coffee,” it may have you scratching your head. I mean, what kind of a strange name is that for coffee? But, you’ll be happy to know that there’s nothing strange about this coffee’s flavor.
Also known as Monsoon Malabar, this specialty coffee hails from southwest India on the Malabar coast. Here, the Indian Ocean’s monsoon winds weave their magic on these coffee beans, resulting in a brew like no other.
Today, I’m here to tell you all about this rare coffee. I’ll dive into the depths of flavor and tradition that reveal the secrets behind this coffee’s name. I’ll also detail the unique aging process that gives this coffee its exceptional flavor.
Overview: What Is Monsoon Coffee?
So, what is monsoon coffee? First and foremost, Monsoon Malabar coffee is a rare specialty coffee. It undergoes a one-of-a-kind processing and aging from seasonal monsoon winds. Moisture-rich winds significantly influence this coffee’s final flavor profile, hence its name.
As it happens, Monsoon Malabar coffee is unique to the southwest of India. This coastal region encompasses Kerala, Karnataka and the Tamil Nadu Nilgiris mountains. Like champagne and Parmigiano Reggiano, Monsoon Malabar enjoys protected status under India’s Geographical Indications of Goods Act.
And because of that, it draws in java nerds like me; those always on the lookout for an exotic coffee experience. No wonder, it’s a top choice for novices and coffee experts alike who want to sample single-origins or coffee bean blends from lesser-known producers.
Monsooned Malabar: A Brief History
A coffee processing technique like monsooning is rare, and you guessed it: Malabar coffee has a fascinating history.
As I’ve stated above, the origins of this coffee trace back to the coastal region of Malabar in southwest India. It has a distinctive mellow flavor that comes from the local processing and aging technique that occurs during the monsoon months.
Let’s go way back in history to understand this process better.
During the 16th Century, British traders shipped green coffee beans from India to Europe using wooden sailing ships. These sea voyages to Europe were long and arduous. In fact, it took, on average, four to six months to sail a shipment of beans from the southwest coast of India, around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and into Europe.
On these journeys, green Malabar coffee beans, stored below the ship’s water line, soaked in the humid sea air.
As a result, these monsoon coffee beans underwent noticeable changes along the way. They swelled to twice their original size, and changed color due to the enhanced moisture absorption.
The result? A significant change in the coffee’s final taste and cup characteristics. Best of all was the coffee’s distinctive spicy and earthy notes. Furthermore, drinking this full-bodied coffee coated the mouth and tongue long after the first sip. It also exhibited desirable lower-than-normal acidic qualities.
Over time, monsooned Malabar coffee gained popularity in Europe. The processing technique became intentional, cementing this delicious coffee in the Coffee Hall of Fame.
Coffee lovers all over the world still treasure monsooned beans today for these very reasons. It’s a monument to the climatic and historical factors contributing to this coffee’s unique flavor.
How Is Monsoon Coffee Processed?
The monsooning process begins with the harvesting of green coffee beans from Arabica plantations across the Malabar coastal region. Ripe coffee cherries undergo natural processing after harvest. Next, machines use water to remove the cherries’ outer pulp. This technique leaves the beans with mucilage on, resulting in coffee beans with lower acidity.
The next stage in the process involves spreading the beans out in custom-built, open-sided warehouses. Here, the beans await the arrival of moisture-laden monsoon winds from the Arabian Peninsula.
Next, comes the critical step in this coffee processing technique. It occurs only during the monsoon season. Green coffee beans soak in moisture from the wet monsoon winds and rains for three to four months.
During this time, they’re hand-raked and hand-turned at regular intervals to equalize moisture absorption.
At the end of this monsooning process, the beans will have changed in color and appearance. They swell, almost doubling in size, changing from a pale green to a pale yellow color.
This process not only changes the monsoon coffee beans to pale gold but also produces beans with lower acidity. Interestingly, this process also helps the beans develop a unique honey, chocolaty and malty sweetness.
Now comes quality control. Workers dry, mill and hand-sort the beans to remove any that didn’t swell properly. After this, producers dry and store the processed Monsoon Malabar coffee. The coffee will then undergo re-bagging, after which it’s either stored, roasted or exported.
What Does Monsoon Coffee Taste Like?
Much like an aged whisky or cheese, monsoon coffee has a distinctive, location-specific and complex taste. In fact, Malabar on the southwest coast of India is the only place in the world where coffee beans are processed in this way.
The moisture-rich winds, rain and humid conditions of the monsoon season are integral to this process. They transform Monsoon Malabar coffee beans, giving them a mild and smooth character when roasted.
In addition, Monsoon Malabar gains a unique earthy and woody flavor profile due to the aging process. Often, hints of spice shine through, adding a layer of desirable complexity. You’ll likely taste nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper and cloves reminiscent of exotic Indian spices.
Surprisingly, this coffee bean may also have a chocolate, caramel or malty sweetness. These slightly sweet qualities contribute to the overall well-balanced taste of the final cup.
Still, I must tell you that Monsoon Malabar has a less-than-clean finish. As such, if you love coffees with a clean finish, this may not be the ideal choice. Although Malabar coffee tends to be smooth and full-bodied with earthy notes, it also has a somewhat muddy texture. This means a heavy mouthfeel that coats the mouth and tongue long after the first sip, despite the low acidity.
So, who on earth would enjoy drinking this intense and strong coffee? Specialty coffee lovers, that’s who! Most coffee nerds drink monsooned coffee purely for its rich history and the unique process of aging the beans. It’s a favorite among java lovers (like me) looking for less-than-traditional coffee varieties.
How to Brew Monsoon Coffee
How you brew Monsoon Malabar coffee depends on your preferences. The important thing is that you enjoy experimenting with various brewing methods to bring out the best flavors in your batch of beans.
However, hear me out; I do have a few good recommendations:
Espresso, French Press or Cold Brew Coffee
As a rule, I’d go with Monsoon Malabar coffee beans that have undergone a medium to dark roast process.
As this coffee is earthy and quite full-bodied, I recommend dark roast beans with a coarser grind before all other choices. This is perfect for brewing French press or cold brew coffee. The full body, lower acidity and smooth finish will shine through with these brewing methods.
What about for an espresso roast? Great question! I’d recommend a fine grind of dark roast Monsoon Malabar coffee. Feel free to add cream, milk and sugar to enjoy your espresso beverage as frozen or iced coffee.
Automatic Drip or Pour-Over Coffee
In contrast, I suggest light to medium roast beans if you’re brave enough to experience monsoon coffee beans in all their elemental glory. Remember to use a medium or medium-fine grind size better suited for drip coffee makers, pour-over drippers or siphon coffee makers.
One thing to note is that this coffee is earthy and full-bodied, much like Sumatra coffees. Unlike fruity, clean-tasting coffees from Ethiopia, Guatemala or Rwanda, it’s also quite strong and muddy. In other words, it’s an acquired taste, so keep this in mind when drinking it as a drip or pour-over.
How to Buy Monsoon Malabar Coffee Beans
For coffee lovers like me, buying Monsoon Malabar coffee is always a thrilling experience. But as with any other specialty coffee, I’d be super-careful to buy only authentic Monsoon Malabar coffee.
Check things like bean quality, roast profile and roast level. Also, look out for the roast date, which indicates the freshness of your beans. Pay special attention to the label and packaging, too. Information about the coffee’s origin and the monsoon processing technique is non-negotiable.
When it comes to buying this coffee online, platforms like Amazon offer various coffee options. You’ll likely find Malabar coffee beans there but I can’t attest to the authenticity.
Your best bet would be to search for reputable online coffee roasters. Unlike general platforms like Amazon, these Fair Trade or Direct Trade roasters likely carry a variety of specialty coffee beans. If you’re lucky, you may find unique and rare options like Monsoon Malabar. I’d also suggest visiting specialty coffee shops near you. Baristas are the best for recommendations on where to get the best coffee beans.
If none of these options work, attend coffee events in your area. Here, you can interact with local and international coffee roasters. It’s the perfect opportunity to discover and buy rare coffee beans, including Monsoon Malabar.
Final Thoughts: Not Be for Everyone, but a Must-Try
To sum up, Monsoon Malabar coffee shines as a specialty brew with centuries of history. The intentional exposure to monsoon winds during the monsooning process shapes the character of these beans like nothing else.
The secret to drinking Monsoon Malabar is to take your time and appreciate every sip, no matter how you brew it. I love its earthy, spicy flavor profile and mellow acidity.
Malabar coffee has truly captured the attention of connoisseurs around the world. I regularly drink this remarkable brew for its exotic and unique qualities, and recommend that you give it a whirl!
You may not be on India’s Malabar coast, but if you can get your hands on some monsoon coffee, I totally recommend it! Are you going to take the plunge and give it a go? Tell me all about it in the comments section!