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Aged Sumatra Mandheling 2002

November 29, 2005
Jim Schulman

For the coffee connoisseur looking for the freshest, snappiest cup, a fine aged Indonesian coffee is an exercise in cognitive dissonance. There's massive aroma, but earthy to the edge barnyard, with leather, peaty liquors, and smoky wood. Many coffee experts omit aged coffees from their list of offerings; but for others, it is a great treat, and they are on the lookout for a lot that makes the grade. George Howell is known as an advocate of very fresh, snappy coffees, and is not someone I would have expected to carry an aged coffee. I was wrong; and this lot of Mandheling, from the premier Lintong region, is on his list of roasted and green coffees.

There's a lot that can go wrong with the taste of aged coffees: the acidity can be so low that the cup becomes syrupy; the barnyard aspect can take over and make the coffee undrinkable; finally, the beans may just be old crop, rather than properly aged, and taste flavorless and dead. Aging requires the coffee be warehoused at the right humidity, turned frequently, and protected from mildew and fungi. So the question is how this lot came out.

I have a stake in this. As an espresso lover, I believe that about 1/4 to 1/3 aged Indonesians in a blend adds a great deal to the experience of the shot or short milk drink. While some of the experience can be had with fine blends using Monsooned Malabars from India, they are more aggressively woody, and lack the depth and subtlety of aged Indos. For this review, I roasted it twice, once to a City Roast to 430F, one to a rolling second, 445F.

Fortunately, this lot is a home run. If one had to imagine the perfect cup of aged coffee from George Howell's point of view, this would be it. There's still a decent amount of acidity, quite neutral, like candied lemon peel, adding snap to the cup. The bottom end is very clean, with only a small hint of earth, and port-like liquor flavors predominating. Because of the cleanliness, there is a wide latitude of roast. Light city roasts bring out the aromatics without being overwhelming, rolling second roasts, the peatier smoke notes. Like all aged coffees, it is not suitable for straight espresso shots, since the loss of materials creates a too light colored, underextracted shot, even at ultra-fine grind levels. However, as a blend constituent, it is wonderful.

Dry fragrance: 4,0
Wet Aroma: 5,0
Flavor: 8.5
Finish: 8.0
Acidity: 6.5
Body: 8.5
TOTAL (subtotal + 50): 90.5

  • Lighter Roasts: Strong port-like aromas with some acidity.
  • Darker Roasts: Peaty, smoky, and leather flavors predominate.
  • As Espresso: Extraction problems in straight shots, wonderful blender up to about 40%. Especially good in short milk drinks, too mild for long milk drinks.


UPDATED: June 27, 2005