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Coffee quality in coffee producing countries

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While packing for a recent trip to Mexico, my husband, a coffee importer and taster, told me to pack some coffee. I ignored him and boy was I sorry. We got to our hotel that advertised in room coffee makers only to find that they were charging 350 pesos for a small bag, enough to make two cups of coffee. I wasn't interested in making coffee in the room but when I ordered it after dinner I was shocked at the poor quality of the coffee. My husband said that because coffee is such a money making export countries ship the best quality out and keep what is left for consumption in the country.

I did order coffee at every different restaurant we went to but it was basically all the same. It was an experience for me to go 10 days coffee free. The first thing I did when we got home was brew and drink an entire pot.

Learn from my mistake, bring your own!

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There's much wisdom and truth in your husband's advice. It is possible, in some coffee producing countries, to find good coffee but even if one does there's a good chance it won't be prepared properly. If you're in Cozumel, Playa del Carmen or some other parts of the "Mexican Riviera", it's often easy to find Caffe Chiapas in some of the tourist oriented stores. It's a high altitude organic alturra (sp?) and makes an excellent cup but you'd best have your own grinder and drip filter system (I also learned the hard way). I also had some truly wretched coffee in Guatemala.

I went on such an odyssey to find decent coffee in Cozumel that I felt compelled to write a little journal of my experiences for coffeegeek.com

Seeking Espresso In Cozumel

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LOL! This reminds me of when I was roasting this wonderful organic Mexican from Nayarit; my customers who'd actually had coffee in Mexico wouldn't buy it because "the coffee in Mexico is awful!" I assured them that the coffee exported from Mexico was a different story and because they trust me many became converts.

My husband is going to Guatemala this fall and I'd like to send some beans with him, but I'm hesitant. Since it's sometimes used to throw off the drug dogs, it makes airport security rather suspicious when they find coffee in your bag (especially when you dump it from the original packaging into a ziplock like my friend Lynnette did on a recent trip to -- where else? -- Florida).

Amy in Michigan
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It's so true. My only trip to a coffee producing country had the same results. We were staying at the finest hotel in Guatemala City. The coffee was wretched! (Is that a word?)

They ship out all the quality stuff. The rest stays behind for the locals and the tourists, etc... Yech!


You gonna eat that?

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The same principle applies to many other products. In my home province of Nova Scotia, the bulk of the best apples (we're a major apple grower) get shipped to the eastern seaboard of the US. To get the good ones, you pretty much have to drive down to the Annapolis Valley and pick your own.

A former co-worker from New Zealand tells me that it's the same there, with lamb.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three


"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning


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The surfing would bear this story out - great waves & great coffee are often found in similar spots on the planet - but the best product is sent on and the right brewing gear, tough to come by...

But I have to admit some of the best coffee I've ever been served was in a coffee producing country - Hawaii. The 'garden isle' of Kauaii has pretty perfect surf (albeit - no guards and a pretty daunting paddle out) but I pulled into a java joint and had a cuppa kona that, well, knocked my socks off. Time stood still...

Hanaleai Java Kai

5-5183C Kuhio HWY

Hanalei, HI 96714

I never really *got* kona (so I've a lot to learn) - always thought it too expensive for what it was - but had my mind changed forever at that coffee shop. Equipment was high tech, bean roasted perfectly - I had better coffee than waves!


"When you look at the face of the bear, you see the monumental indifference of nature. . . . You see a half-disguised interest in just one thing: food."

Werner Herzog; NPR interview about his documentary "Grizzly Man"...

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Yeah, I remember when I asked my sister's Kenyan classmates at the Geothermal Institute about coffee-making in Kenya. They guffawed. "Pot on the back of the stove"was their consensus...so much for flannel drips, cold-water infusions, etc....

(On the other hand, I'd like it if people wouldn't laugh when I make coffee with a tea strainer. I happen to LIKE that sludge...)

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I suspect Ethiopia may be an exception to this apparent rule. I've never been fortunate enough to visit there but when I've had Ethiopian coffee prepared by Ethiopian people in the traditional manner as it is done in the Coffee Ceremony, it has been among the best coffe I've ever consumed.

I know that the "tinto" coffee widely consumed in Colombia is nowhere near to exhibiting the potential that better Colombian coffees have for quality.

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I live in a coffee producing country, and we may have some pretty decent coffee. The steaming hot mugs of Joe that I get in the office are perhaps the major incentive for me to get to work on time.

My morning addiction comes from this place – Aroma Paberik Kopi. In the middle of a very busy street lined with auto parts stores, is this old art deco styled building. Upon entering one is transported by the aroma of roasting coffee to another place in time. Everything in the shop gently whispers antique, from the old glass jars to the coffee grinders imported from Germany and the United States. Mr. Widya, a university professor is the proprietor, a very warm and friendly person who welcomed this strange camera-bearing woman with open arms and enthusiastically took me on a tour of the small coffee factory which was built and has been in operation since 1930.





The amazing thing about Aroma’s coffee is that the beans are stored and aged for years! Can you imagine 5 years for Robusta and 8 for Arabica?!. The beans from East Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi and Flores are centrifugally separated and sun dried for 7 hours before going into the wood burning roaster that was manufactured in 1938.





I am by no means a coffee connoisseur but I hope to learn more about the world of coffee. In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy my French pressed Arabica and raise a glass of kopi tubruk Robusta to you!


I sincerely apologize for the large pics, still trying to get the hang of the new imageGullet

Yetty CintaS

I am spaghetttti

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Thank you spaghetttti! Fascinating story and wonderful pictures (I especially like the way they are so artistically framed and arranged - where'd you learn how to do that? :wink::biggrin: ).

Everything that you show us about that operation is so appealing aesthetically... from the building to the equipment and even the coffee storage bins.

I'm a a bit puzzled but also intrigued by the exceptionally long storage times you mention for green beans. Does he use a special method of temperature and humidity control? There seems to be a prevailing sentiment among commercial coffee roasters here in the US that the current year's crop is generally desirable (beans no more than 12 months old) and that beans up to two years in age may often be used successfully but there are concerns about using beans older than that.

Would you be kind enough to pose a few questions to Mr. Widya for us?

  • - What does the centrifugal separation process do for the beans prior to roasting?
    - Is the outdoor sun always consistent enough to allow the 7 hours of drying before roasting?
    - Is this additional drying done on nets or on concrete or in bins of some sort?
    - Are the beans intentionally aged to develop richer, more unique flavor profiles?
    - Is the Flores variety one from Indonesia or a nearby region? I'm familiar with Flores Guatemala but it's not in the prominent coffee growing area of that country.

How interesting that there are multiple varieties of aged coffee available. Aged Sumatran and Sulawesi are often available through specialty bean importers and brokers here in the US but rarely do I see other aged varieties listed. Also - it's very rare to see a cafe or coffeehouse offering an aged coffee.

Are aged coffee fairly popular among the general population of coffee drinkers in Indonesia? Lastly... in light of the fact that you have some high quality Robusta varietals there... are they popular for consumption as straight varietals or are they used in blends or for espresso coffee (not even sure if espresso is consumed to any extent in Indonesia but I am curious).

Thanks again for a great report!

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Fascinating story and wonderful pictures (I especially like the way they are so artistically framed and arranged - where'd you learn how to do that?  :wink:  :biggrin:  ).

Hey, I learned from the master, right phaelon56? Thank you verrrrry much! :wub:

Whew, I love those questions and I actually know all the answers! Yeah, right. :raz: This is the only one that I do know:

Is the Flores variety one from Indonesia or a nearby region?  I'm familiar with Flores Guatemala but it's not in the prominent coffee growing area of that country.

Flores is an island in the southeastern part of Indonesia in the province of East Nusa Tenggara. Besides cinnamon and tobacco, coffee is a major commodity produced in Flores. My best friend is originally from there and when she comes back to Bandung from visits home, she always brings me back some coffee. I'm not sure which variety, but it's strong and has slightly sour undertones. Does that make it a variety of robusta?

Ok, so I've printed your post, Owen, and will bring it to Mr. Widya. He really loves and takes much pride in his shop, I'm sure he'll be delighted to help. I'm gonna do some major eGullet plugging, and tell him all about the cool host of the Coffee & Tea Forum.

Yetty CintaS

I am spaghetttti

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it's strong and has slightly sour undertones. Does that make it a variety of robusta?

Not necessarily. A slight but agreeable sourness might be an inherent quality of that particular bean but is not necessarily associated with Robusta varieties.

When coffee is produced by the espresso method (i.e. in a commercial espresso machine vs. a stove-top Moka coffee maker), improper extraction or brewing temperatures that are too cool can cause sourness but it's generally not a pleasant one.

High quality robustas are often used in Italy and sometimes in the US as a component in espresso blends. They add a prodigious amount of crema to espresso shots (which most people desire as the crema is where the crucial flavor components are most evident and it adds to the pleasant mouthfeel of a shot). Robustas can also add a hint of bitterness in the flavor that is for many people's tastes a desirable things in that it adds to the complexity of the flavor profile.

Robust also has a noticeably higher caffeine content that Arabica beans.

Here in the US, home roasters can easily find access to one each of various Indian, Indonesian and African Robustas but there are rarely more than 4 - 5 varieties in total to choose from. I've been told that many of the highest quality Robustas are snagged at auction by the Japanese brokers, who will often pay the highest price.

Regrettably, Robusta has a bad reputation in this country among much of the serious coffee drinking community because so much low quality commodity grade Robusta is used by the big food conglomerates to make the supermarket brands such as Folger's, Maxwell House etc..

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