The Monsooned Malabar is one of India’s most exquisite coffee beans – adored as much for a resplendent mouthfeel, as it is for its vivid and eventful heritage. During the heydays of the colonial rule in India, green coffee beans grown around the Western Ghats were shipped in great quantities to Europe, as they are even now. A story goes that when batches of coffee that were loaded onto clipper ships (so called for the rapid speed at which these ships would ‘clip’ through the ocean) set sail from ports along the Malabar coast, travelled around the Cape of Good Hope, and landed in Scandinavia, the roasters noticed that the coffee bean had slightly swollen in size and paled in colour, due to the absorption of moisture from the rain-laden Monsoon winds. Roasting and brewing the beans also revealed a change in its character – the cup had assumed a mellow, earthy flavour and an agreeable body that was now devoid of much of the original acidity. They quite liked it.
While the British have left, the legacy of the (now GI-tagged) Monsooned Malabar remains. The process of nautical monsooning, or exposure to the humid winds drifting across Indian subcontinent, is now a carefully crafted process where the beans are laid out in godowns across the Malabar coast. They must be painstakingly tended and shoveled lest they spoil due to fungus. The beans are so prized that it is extremely difficult to find them retailing in India – nearly the entire production is exported to the Western world, where it remains one of the most sought after beans for coffee aficionados.
I first encountered the Monsooned Malabar at the legendary Devan’s Coffeeworks in Meher Chand Market, Delhi, which is still the best place to buy coffee beans and gear in the NCR. The bean remained elusive till I spotted it again at Marc’s Roastery in Auroville, Puducherry. These days, you may have more luck buying a packet of Monsooned Malabar online from websites such as The Indian Bean or Blue Tokai; it is at its peak two to seven days after roasting and I like to enjoy them with the humble French press, which lets a robust body through to carry that wonderful mellow flavor.
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A self proclaimed food geek and coffee nerd, Amit Patnaik enjoys his time in the kitchen as much as he loves dining out. He runs the food blog Pursuit of Yummyness and contributes to The Hindu in Chennai.