Sumatran Coffee, Murakami, and Silver Jews

This is an excerpt from Ira Coffee, a newsletter exploring coffee and creativity.

Pour Over Spotlight

Indonesia - Natural Ateng and Bor Bor

Natural | Light Roast | Indonesia | Ateng (Catimor), Bor Bor (Timor Hybrid)

Roasted by Regalia Coffee & Produced by Iwannitosa Putra

Sumatran coffees are known for their peaty, earthy flavors and full-bodied mouthfeel. When I was a door-to-door coffee salesman, I sold Sumatra to restaurants looking for an upscale yet familiar alternative to dark-roasted diner coffee.

Regalia Coffee is known for terroir-expressive coffees — fruity pink bourbons and elegant Ethiopians — so I was surprised to see a Sumatran appear on the menu.

Sumatran coffees have an intensely bitter and woody profile because of the way the coffee seeds are dried. In Latin America and Africa, coffee seeds are fermented, dried, and then stripped of papery casing called “parchment” prior to export. In Indonesia, however, the humidity and cloudy climate make it impossible for raw coffee to dry completely before the papery parchment layer can be removed. As a result, Sumatran coffee goes through “giling basah” or “wet hulling” a process by which a large motor mechanically strips parchment off from the coffee seeds.

Wet coffee seeds are soft to the touch (and squishable between fingers), so the hulling process chips and damages the coffee. The resulting product is raw coffee that’s distinctly gray and bluish in hue opposed to traditional “green” coffee, and a cup that’s devoid of any fruit or acidic qualities.

This coffee from Regalia is not giling basah coffee.

The coffee’s natural fermentation provides an initial pop of cherry-like tartness, which is then followed by a long, smooth finish of familiar earthy undertones.

Indonesia’s climate makes a natural-processed Sumatran very rare. This particular coffee is slow-dried for 30 days in spite of the region’s humidity.

Skeptics may criticize the coffee’s genetic origin (Ateng is the local nomenclature for catimor*, a crossbreed of robusta and arabica). But Indonesia is no stranger to coffee leaf rust, a disease that destroyed nearly all of the country’s typica varieties in the 1870s. Without the disease-resistant qualities inherited from its robusta heritage, this coffee may never have survived its own terroir.

*I for one, am a huge fan of anaerobic catimors, especially this one from Yunnan, China.


This coffee is a fresh take on a coffee that’s historically been dismissed as an inferior cultivar from a secondary arabica market.

While a washed Guatemalan or honey-processed Costa Rican may taste sweeter, this coffee brings a bright, modern twist to Sumatran coffees, while staying true to the region’s traditional earthy undertones and Regalia’s commitment to terroir.

It’s worth a try.

This coffee reminds me of prunella herbal tea, black cherry, and 70% single origin chocolate.

I brew it as a Japanese Iced Pourover (yields 4 cups which you can then refrigerate):

  1. Pre-wet your coffee filter.
  2. Add 540g of ice to the bottom of your Hario Carafe or Chemex (40% water mass).
  3. Grind 85g of coffee like coarse sea-salt (try an “in the middle” grind setting).
  4. Pour 820g of hot water over the coffee bed, for a 1:16 ratio.

Podcast Pairing

Dave Chang cites musician David Berman’s originality as having meaningfully impacted his cooking.

feat: Dave Chang & Marguerite Mariscal Zabar

“There’s a line in Random Rules, where he says all my favorite singers couldn't sing.

And I don't know of any line of any song that's moved me as much as that, and inspired me to find my own voice.

It’s something that I spoke to Jerry Saltz about in our podcast — about finding your voice regardless of whether you think you're good or not.

And I remember reading an interview of David Berman about that line.

All your favorite singers couldn't sing.

And it's something that doesn’t matter as long as you have something to say.

It doesn't matter if you're not technically perfect or have the perfect pitch.

Now, I can see a lot of similarities to cooking.

It doesn't matter if you're not the best technician, or if you're not the most proficient X, Y, and Z at cooking.

What matters most of all is: do you have an opinion?

Do you have a new perspective?

Do you make something delicious? Can you make something my favorite?

My favorite singers couldn't sing, is something that I've really meditated on.

I never got to know him, but his music changed my life.

And I wanted to share that with you guys because, David Berman, all my favorite singers couldn't sing and you are one of them.

You had a shitty voice, but my God was it beautiful to me.

What matters most of all is: Do you have an opinion? Do you have a new perspective?

Parting Idea

From Murakami in Novelist as a Profession:

Raymond Carver, a writer I love and respect, also enjoyed tinkering. He wrote, about another writer, that “he knew he was finished with a short story when he found himself going through it and taking out commas and then going through the story again and putting commas back in the same places.”

I know that feeling exactly, for I have had the same experience many times. You reach the limit. If you tinker any more you will only damage what you have written. It's a subtle point, easy to miss. The bit about replacing commas hits it right on the head.

So that’s how I go about writing my novels. Some people really like them, and others don't. It takes all kinds. I myself am far from satisfied with things I wrote in the past. I am keenly aware of how much better they could be if I wrote them today.

That's why I pick them up only if I absolutely must — they contain so many weaknesses!

All the same, I am sure they were the best that I could do at that time. That's because I know the absolute effort that went into them.

I spent as much time as I needed and exerted all the strength I had to bring them to completion. It was the equivalent of all out war, That satisfaction of having given it my all remains with me now. Seldom have I had to look back and say, “I wish I'd done that differently.”