Monsooned Coffees: The Super Grades

Monsooned coffees are truly one of a kind. Unlike most high-grade specialty coffees, which are washed (or “wet processed”) by growers to ensure consistency and eliminate defects, monsooned beans are spread on warehouse floors in the west coast of India during the monsoon season. While there, moisture-laden winds from the Arabian Sea blow over the coffee through the open walls of the warehouse. The beans do not get wet, however, as the warehouse still has a roof.

During this 12- to 16-week process, the beans soak up moisture, swell in size, change color, and, most importantly, shed their acidity, turning monsooned coffees into the lowest-acid coffees in the world. In the cup, the coffees boast abundant body and a smooth, pleasant earthiness.

Monsooning simulates the process that Indian coffee used to undergo more than a century ago, when it was shipped in wooden sailing vessels around the African continent for four to six months on its way to the markets in Europe. Modern shipping better preserves the initial condition of the coffee, but at the expense of several unique flavor characteristics.

WHAT IS SUPER GRADE?

 

Josuma’s Monsooned Malabar-AA Super Grade and Monsooned Robusta-AA are superior to similar grades carried by other importers and brokers in the U.S. These Super Grade coffees are exclusive to Josuma. We ensure their superiority by employing several quality-control initiatives during processing.

First, we start with the very best raw material. We procure natural Arabica and Robusta beans for monsooning from large growers who would normally convert these beans to washed coffees. By paying a higher price than other importers, we receive fully ripe and uniform beans, while the growers earn a premium equivalent to the one they would have earned by selling washed coffees.

Paying fair prices is important. If we don’t pay a premium for the best coffees these estates can offer, we will receive the inferior greens and yellows that estates segregate before the washing process each day, as well as the floats and lights (defects) that separate out during washing. We might also receive unripe beans from the previous round of picking.

In addition, we purchase these coffees as “whole crop cherries” and contract with specific monsooners to process our coffee. Rather than using Cherry-AB, the minimum grade required by the monsoon process specifications, our monsooners start the process with Cherry-A to make a truly Super Grade coffee.

Most natural Arabica and Robusta coffee in India comes from small farms that don’t meet Josuma’s quality standards. Because the farms can’t afford costly labor, they cannot pick the coffee beans in several rounds, but rather must strip the bushes in one round and dry the ripe, overripe, and green cherries together. These same growers also typically don’t have proper drying yards and are forced to dry their coffees on paved public roads or other ill-suited areas. As a result, when most monsooners buy 250-bag lots of coffee from the Indian trade, they invariably receive lower-grade coffee cobbled together from the work of several small farmers. The result is poor-quality monsooned coffee, no matter how efficient the monsooning process might be.

Aspinwall & Co. is the principal supplier of the monsooned coffees imported by Josuma. The royal family of Travancore owns Aspinwall, an old-line British company headquartered in Cochi, Kerala State. Among all the companies that monsoon coffees in India, Aspinwall has been involved the longest, and has the most actual monsooning experience from which to draw.