Coffee Story: Sulawesi Toraja “Mamasa”
With less than a week to go before we begin production roasts I asked Bob Benck, our Green Coffee Buyer, if he would share his excitement with the B&B fans. Here is what he told me:
I began roasting coffee at Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters in January of 1996. Under the watchful eye of my mentor, I was tasked with taking each coffee in our inventory to light, medium, and dark roast profiles. I performed this exercise to see how each coffee would respond and show up in the cup at different roast levels.
The machine I worked on was a tiny Probat BRZ double barrel sample roaster that can be a challenge to work with. The temperature gauges are inaccurate and the flame control is best judged by watching your flame through a little hole. The idea is to learn to make your roasting decisions based on how the coffee is responding; not to rely on what a temperature gauge or flame dial is telling you. With this particular roasting machine, time is the only standard of measure in roasting and at any given time you should be able to look at your coffee and tell whether it is progressing properly, or not, based on your idea of a roast profile.
After two months of working solely on this machine, I had roasted every coffee in the inventory three ways, each multiple times, and had in my estimation, achieved positive results. I soon moved to the large production roaster and began to manage production size loads on my own.
I was then asked to relay my training experience to all of my co-workers at our weekly cupping meeting where I was eventually crowned a “roaster” for Batdorf and Bronson. I gave a lot of thought to what I should share at the cupping meeting, and kept coming back to a single week of study during which I had focused most of my efforts on semi-washed Indonesian coffees. Specifically, a coffee called Celebes. Celebes was the name of the island nation during Dutch occupation which has since been officially changed back to Sulawesi.
The coffee struck me as unique and exotic, and left a lasting impression on me. It possessed flavors of minerals and earth, yet remained clean, sweet, and syrupy. In an effort to share my joy and enchantment with my co-workers, I decided to roast the Celebes (Sulawesi) to various profiles and brew them all with a French Press. On top of that I brought in a New York cheesecake to compliment the rich and custardy flavors I had enjoyed so much in the coffee (after all I am an east coast boy and I will jump at any opportunity to enjoy cheesecake). The coffee and the cupping event were a pleasure, a memory that has fueled my passion for coffee these last 18 years.
It has been a long time since we have enjoyed Sulawesi as an origin offering; as the samples we received over the intervening years began to taste more like soil and mold. With each successive crop the quality of product had been in decline. Until I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this Sulawesi Toraja “Mamasa” and how it performed on our cupping table.
The rest is well…not quite history (not yet anyway). Grab yourself a slice of cheesecake and enjoy this example of the best Sulawesi has to offer.