This is probably the most unusual coffee we have on the menu. Not only is it from Thailand - which is unusal in itself, seeing that specialty coffee has only just starting to play an increasing role in the otherwise heavily instant-coffee-focussed sector over there - it is also a specialty grade ROBUSTA. Robusta is a different species of coffee from the more widely known Arabica. The vast majority of Robusta is low quality coffee that gets processed into instant coffee. In recent years though, there has been a slow but growing move towards producing higher quality specialty grade (or 'Fine') Robusta as well.
So what is the difference between Robusta and Arabica:
Robusta coffee as per the name is slightly more robust as a plant. It is less prone to suffer from climate fluctuations, pest and plant diseases. It generally grows at lower elevations and produces higher yields. It also contains significantly more caffeine compared to Arabica beans which helps it defend itself against insects and other plant pests (caffeine being a natural insecticide and anti-microbial agent). However, in terms of the flavour in the cup Robusta usually produces a less complex, less acidic and less fruity cup. Bad Robusta usually makes for a bitter, burnt and rubbery cup of coffee but if done right - as in the case of Hneng Khonlak - it can be quite a different story: this coffee, while still slightly less complex than the Arabica coffees on our menu - is super rich in it's chocolaty and nutty notes. It has this amazing buttery note that reminds us of freshly popped buttered popcorn, with hints of spices like cinnamon and coriander. As Espresso you get all the notes that we love about a proper traditional Italian Espresso - the chocolate, the depth, the body, the spicy earthiness - without the more unpleasant aspects of bitterness, astringency and burnt flavours. It is kind of like the reinvention of a classic that way. If you love espresso, this one is for you!
Thai Robusta has traditionally been processed for industrial use in instant coffee factories. This means that farmers strip-picked coffee, yielding a harvest that was full of underripe cherries and dried the coffee as natural process on dirt floors. Our green coffee partners for this coffee, This Side Up and Beanspire, have been working with a group of progressive farmers from the Kre Buri area of Ranong region, who have been trying to work on improving their quality so they don't have to rely on supplying their coffee to instant coffee factories. The group has been processing their Robusta coffees as fully washed coffee and there has been constant improvement in quality since they embarked on their specialty Robusta journey two years ago. Through hard work and the willingness to change they were able to secure prices that are twice as high as usual Thai market rate for industrial grade Robusta coffee.
'Dragon Fire' is a single farmer lot specialty grade Robusta that is part of this effort. It is produced by Thawat "Hneng" Khonlak, a young Thai farmer with a disability that constrains him to a wheelchair. Thanks to his amazing resilience he has continued to produce and experiment with Fine Robusta for the past several years. Hneng is a second generation Robusta farmer. His family has been growing Robusta and supplying industrial grade quality to instant coffee factories for many years. The farm is fully irrigated with 7 reservoirs and with an ecosystem that includes other food products such as fruits, fish and poultry for household consumption and income supplement. His approach to Fine Robusta includes experimenting with making his own compost and experimental processing methods. The move to Fine Robusta during the last couple of years has allowed him to fund his nephew's education and build a new house. This is in sharp contrast to the days when all the coffee was sold to instant coffee factories.
Dragon Fire - Fully Washed Robusta
Region: Kra Buri, Ranong
Altitude: 600 masl
Producer: Thawat "Hneng" Khonlak
Process: Fully Washed
Varietal: High Elevation Robusta
Tasting Notes: Cinnamon, Buttered Popcorn, Brazil Nuts
Recommended for: Espresso