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India

India produces a variety of coffees, but the one offered by the Roasterie is a monsooned coffee. There is nothing like India’s monsooned coffee. It is truly unique. We struggle a little to describe monsooned coffee, because many of the words we’d use might sound disparaging: Woody. Musty. Leathery. Think of a very old library.

But drinking monsooned coffee is an adventure! It is truly exotic, in every sense of the word. In some parts of the world, particularly Scandinavia, monsooned coffee is quite popular. We admit that here in the U.S. it is perhaps an acquired taste, precisely because it is so very exotic. So, in addition to the Indian Monsooned Malabar we offer here in our Origin coffee section, you’ll also find it among the beans in our Gotham Espresso blend in the Espresso section. If you’re an espresso fan, Gotham is a great way to acclimate yourself to monsooned coffee. If you’re an adventure-seeking coffee aficionado, jump right in and try our Indian Monsooned Malabar. We dare you!

The odd history of India’s “monsooned” coffee

The story of monsooned coffee is a strange and fascinating one. Like Madeira wine and India Pale Ale (IPA) beer, monsooned coffee is a product of the unexpected effects of long-distance shipping in a bygone era.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. About 150 years ago, coffee was regularly shipped to Europe from Malabar on the west coast of southern India, carried in the holds of wooden ships. Back then, before steamships and the opening of the Suez Canal, the trip took months and months. The route to Europe was all the way around Africa, and the coffee was packed raw in open containers. Over the long journey, the coffee beans were exposed to constant humidity from the sea air. By the time the beans arrived in Europe, they had transformed. They looked quite different, pale yellowish in color and swollen from the excessive moisture. They also tasted very different, having been leached of acidity and taken on a distinctive woody, leathery flavor and aroma, with a heavy, syrupy body.

By the early 1900s, the world had changed. The Suez Canal had opened in Egypt in 1869, creating a new shipping channel between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, which dramatically shortened the journey from India to Europe. Ships powered by steam engines, rather than wind and sails, made the journey even faster. Steel ships replaced wooden ones and better protected the coffee beans from extended exposure to humidity. So the coffee arriving in Europe from India was less weathered from the journey than in years past. To our modern sensibilities, this sounds like a good thing. But it wasn’t at all what the European coffee drinkers were used to! They had developed a taste for the big yellow beans, and that’s what they still wanted. 

The solution was monsooning, an ingenious process developed to mimic the extreme conditions of old-fashioned shipping. It’s done by aging the coffee for several months in open warehouses in the town of Mangalore on the Malabar Coast. There the coffee is exposed to the elements, including the seasonal monsoon rains. But it’s not simply left there to soak in the downpour; monsooning is actually a very painstaking, labor-intensive process to control the amount of moisture allowed to affect the beans. It involves spreading the beans onto patios where they’re turned and raked, stacking them in sacks precisely spaced apart to allow air circulation, unpacking and repacking the sacks at intervals — all depending on what the unpredictable weather conditions bring, and all under very close and careful monitoring, to produce the perfect monsooned coffee.

India’s patron saint of coffee

There’s a great legend about how coffee came to India. Coffee originated in Ethiopia, but the first fanatical coffee drinkers were likely from nearby Arabia, where coffee has been enjoyed for at least 800 years. They loved coffee so much, the story goes, that they never traveled without coffee beans. But coffee was such a jealously guarded treasure that beans taken abroad were required by law to be boiled first, in order to render them infertile. This part of coffee lore serves as an explanation for why the rest of the world waited so long to begin cultivating coffee: no viable beans ever made it beyond Africa and Arabia.

Our story skips ahead to the 17th century, when an Indian Muslim named Baba Budan traveled to Arabia on a pilgrimage to Mecca. On his return home, he managed to smuggle seven fertile coffee beans to India. That precious handful of coffee beans is credited with the birth of coffee cultivation in Karnataka, India. The coffee was planted on Bababudangiri, a mountain named for Baba Budan, now considered a saint. From there, coffee has been generously shared with the rest of the world.

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  • India Monsoon Malabar

    India Monsoon Malabar

    India Monsoon Malabar

    You’ll notice heavy oak, cedar and leather tones. A very mild body and acidity help to draw out a surprising playful grapefruit note in the finish.

    $12.84

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