This will be a combined review, both of us having received samples. For a description of Bob and Jim's evaluation procedure, see our reference page.
Doi Chaang coffee is grown just north of Chang Mai in Thailand, in the highlands of the northern part of South East Asia and the southern part of China where Vietnamese, Laotian and Chinese coffees are also grown. Of the coffees from this region, it is one of the best prepped, and has achieved the greatest market acceptance, earning scores over 90 at Coffee Review.
In the 70s and 80s, this area was the "Iron Triangle," where indigenous peoples grew opium for the warlords created by the Vietnam war. In Vietnam, in the 90s, the conversion to coffee flooded the market with cheap robustas and created the coffee crisis. United Nations experts also worked in Laos and Thailand to convert the growers to coffee. However, the quality was initially as poor as Vietnam's, and the low quantities meant the growers could not make a living.
Doi Chaang Coffee is the result of Wicha Promyong's work (Brother Wicha, is a Buddhist monk). It is a cooperative wet mill for growers from two indigenous groups along with schools and a roasting plant for making coffee to sell to the Chang Mai tourist trade. His goal was to raise the level and price of the coffee to specialty grade so that it would provide a decent life for the people who grew it. In this he succeeded; the prep and cup quality of the coffee is specialty grade, and it makes a solid "conscience coffee" choice.
This is the first Thai coffee we've cupped, and I was more than curious to find out if the growers had succeeded in producing a real "specialty coffee" thus escaping the stigma attached to coffees from that part of the world. I cupped several different lots of this grower's coffee, both flat bean and peaberry versions, over a number of months, and the lot being reviewed here is the best one of the group.
The prep is very high quality and easily conforms with the requirements for Specialty Coffee. The coffee roasts evenly and can be roasted over a wide range of roast levels with good results in the cup.
And in the cup, the coffee is sweet with lively acidity, has a savory spiciness and fruit flavors that are a bit reminiscent of strawberry-rhubarb pie. In other words the coffee is both tangy and sweet at the same time with caramel to balance the high notes.
I did detect a slight papery/herbal quality that was very prevalent in the flat bean version but was much less obvious in the peaberries. I would have scored it higher had I not detected those notes. The darker the roast, the less obvious are these herbal flavors.
The coffee is medium-bodied with a medium-short finish.
Just like wine growing areas, each coffee growing area has its characteristic flavors, its "terroir," defined by climate, altitude, soil composition, and cultivation practices. One can get good coffees that do not have their area's characteristic taste; but a great coffee shows its terroir to its best advantage. But when a growing area is new, and its characteristic taste is unusual and not quite a crowd pleaser, what does "to the terroir's best advantage" mean?
Doi Chaang coffees have an unusual vegetal flavor, somewhere between basil and buttered asparagus. In this peaberry, the vegetal flavor is balanced by a good deal of caramel sweetness and complex distillates in the roast flavors, along with an Granny Smith apple acidity. I personally liked a roast stopped just ahead of a rolling second crack best. Sonoma wines used to have a bell pepper flavor before it was edited out; but the growers in Chinon are more positive towards the spinach notes in their reds. Given this mixed reaction in the wine world, I'm guessing this coffee will remain a minority taste. However, I urge people to give it a try, just for the experience, and because they may like it.
For me the vegetal note didn't work at all in espresso shots or in cappuccinos. The coffee is sweet and can take heat, which means you can be roast it from New England light to Vienna dark, and just change the balance between the apple-basil upper notes and the caramel-peat lower ones.
In about 1/3rd of the cups, there is a very slight peasy taint, picked up during transport, that led to my deducting two cupper's points.
Dry Fragrance: 4.1
Wet Aroma: 4.2
TOTAL (subtotal + 50): 87.4
Dry fragrance: 3.9
Wet Aroma: 4.1
Cupper's Correction: -2.0
TOTAL (subtotal + 50): 86.2