My Favorite Coffee, Part 1

An interruption in my much-belated Taiwan posts to tell you about my favorite coffee.

People (almost entirely non-coffee people, mind you) keep asking me what my favorite coffee is. I think they’re expecting an answer in the form of a country or growing region, but coffee is more complex than that. Even two coffees from the same farm can taste completely different from one another. Moreover, it’s hard to compare coffees if you’re only having one cup of each, which I tend to do. Developing the kind of taste memory necessary for comparing coffees that way is certainly one of my goals, but for now it remains just that, a goal.

Which is all a very long-winded way of whining about the question because I don’t really have an answer. Until now: yesterday I attended Jakarta Coffee Week, and as I was getting ready to leave the event, I stopped at the booth for Smoking Barrels Coffee, a roaster based here in Jakarta, and I tried their Java Malabar, a washed coffee (which Indonesians confusingly call dry-hulled, more on that some other time) from the Mt. Malabar region of West Java. It smelled like  tobacco, but tasted wonderfully fruity. Seeing that I was impressed, the roaster, named Jon—Jakartans seem to have a lot of English names—suggested I try their  most popular coffee, which is from the same region, but grown at slightly higher altitude and using a different varietal of coffee. (Yellow Caturra instead of Sigarar Utang; I’d heard of the former but never before of the latter.)

It was love at first sip: there was a sudden explosion of flavors in my mouth, which Jon described as a variety of tropical fruits. In my opinion, that’s an even better description than the three particular tropical fruits that are listed on the bag (oranges, pineapples, and passionfruit).  To put it in my own words, it tasted like somebody took every Indonesian fruit except durian and put it in a coffee. The coffee was natural-processed, but the sweetness in the cup was remarkably clean, perhaps because the fruit flavors were so pronounced.

So now I finally do have an answer when people ask what my favorite coffee is: the Malabar Yellow Caturra from Smoking Barrels. In case (hope?) I get a new one along the way, though, I’ve called this post “Part 1.” Stay tuned.



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