Hometown boy makes good … coffee

Lisa and Leo's Organic Coffee, grown in the fertile highlands of North Sumatra, Indonesia Photo courtesy of Lisa and Leo Wiriadjaja of  Lisa and Leo’s Organic Coffee

Lisa and Leo’s Organic Coffee, grown in the fertile highlands of North Sumatra, Indonesia
Photo courtesy of Lisa and Leo Wiriadjaja of Lisa and Leo’s Organic Coffee

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

The distinctive aroma of brewing coffee is like a siren song to many people, rousing them from bed and inspiring them to meet the day ahead, but the scent of green coffee beans roasting presents olfactory stimulation of a different magnitude. The coffee smell is foremost, but the air also contains traces of the bean’s origins – a sweetness like burnt sugar or cooked bananas, and a rich hit of dark, volcanic earth.

“Yeah, it does smell good, doesn’t it?” observes coffee roaster Wade Lyles, displaying a gift for understatement. Granted, the young man is an old hand at roasting by now, having trained on complex Diedrich gas-powered roasting machines in Omaha, and learned techniques around the world from Djakarta to Australia to Singapore.

Wade has always had a walkabout spirit and started traveling in his teens, serving with Americorps and working with various charities. Learning the coffee business has led him onto more global trails, where his tall stature, easygoing nature, and southern drawl made him a curiosity and earned him a passel of new friends – sometimes through unusual circumstances.

“When I went to train in Australia, the airline lost my bag. It was winter and raining, and all I had was the t-shirt and jeans I was wearing on the plane…but when the other students heard what had happened to me, they got together and gave me some warm clothes to wear until my bag showed up,” Wade recalls. “They were really cool, really nice people.”

Even though he’s now roasting beans in the backyard of his grandma’s Darlington home, his habits and standards remain those of a professional. Wade keeps close watch on a small single batch roaster as the hopper full of beans gradually darkens from light green to copper to chocolate brown. In the quest for a perfect medium roast he must look and listen carefully, watching for the right color and waiting to hear a peculiar sound.

web Wade Lyles keeping keen eye on roaster

“It’ll crack twice if you wait long enough, but I like to drop mine after first crack because that’s when all the gases come out and flavor everything, and there’s just enough oil inside and out, ” he explains.

When coffee beans crack during roasting, it sounds a bit like clucking your tongue in the back of your mouth. Timing here is crucial, like listening to popcorn kernels bursting and waiting for the sounds to slow. Wait too long after the initial round of cracking and you end up with slick, burned beans that have already expelled much of their coffee oils.

“That’s what they do with French roast…It tastes burnt, like water with coffee oil in it,” Wade says. “But medium roast is awesome.”

Good coffee has always been a family passion, as Wade’s mom – my sister, the former Lisa Lyles of Hartsville – could attest. Lisa recalls standing in the grocery store coffee aisle as a little girl and feeling transported by the wondrous, exotic scent. Years later while doing church mission work in Africa, she dreamed of starting her own coffee farm in Zambia, but that dream locale changed to Indonesia after marrying Leo Wiriadjaja, a native of North Sumatra where their farm is located. The pair now own and operate Lisa and Leo’s Organic Coffee, growing and exporting heirloom varietal Arabica coffee beans to java lovers around the world. They are also developing EcoTourism programs so visitors can experience the full gamut of coffee growing and explore the beautiful forests and valleys of the North Sumatran highlands.

Complementing their fair trade and organic practices, Lisa holds a Q Grader certification, qualifying her as a top coffee grader and ensuring that Lisa and Leo’s coffee is never less than exemplary. The company now sells to retailers internationally and through their import hubs in Boston and Omaha.

Wade has traveled back and forth from the U.S. to the farm in Simalungun, Indonesia multiple times, helping to clear hillsides, plant coffee trees, harvest ripe coffee cherries in spring and fall, and rake beans across the drying house floor at the Tiga Raja Mill. He literally knows the coffee business from the ground up, and he hopes to share that expertise with folks here at home. Using fresh green beans from Lisa and Leo’s Organic, Wade roasts and sells under his own brand: Merantau Coffee.

“I’m selling it at farmer’s markets right now, and I hope to hook up with some local coffee shops and restaurants who want something different,” says Wade, while shuffling a batch of very hot and perfectly colored beans in a cooling pot.
Merantau’s hand-crafted medium roast makes for a bright, clean cup of coffee with a sweet finish. But preparation is key to getting the most out of any good coffee.

web green coffee beansweb roasted coffee beans

“If you have whole beans, don’t grind them until you’re ready to use them,” Wade says. And don’t put beans in the freezer; the cold alters the taste of the coffee oils.

Whenever possible, grind beans just before making coffee for the freshest taste. Just how fine a grind depends on your personal tastes and preferred brewing method. Coarse grounds (the consistency of potting soil) are great for use in a French Press, while Medium grounds (the size of Kosher salt) are better in filtered drip makers, and Fine grounds (the texture of table sugar) are ideal for espresso pots and machines. While many experts prefer using a burr grinder to achieve consistent results and a finer product, a blade grinder does a serviceable job for coarse to medium grinds.

“Once you’ve got the grind you want, you can brew it however you want, but mom and I like the pour-over method because it’s simple and small. You can toss one of those little plastic kits in a bag and go,” he says.

To learn more about Lisa and Leo’s Organic, visit their website at www.lisaandleosorganic.com or
follow them on Instagram @northshoreleo. To contact Merantau, email wade.tigaraja@gmail.com.

Coffee Brewing 101:

Brewing a good cup of coffee shouldn’t be complicated, and Wade suggests using a super simple pour-over brewer to get the cleanest cup with minimal mess. Follow this method for two cups of perfect java in less than five minutes:

Measure out 6 tablespoons of coffee ground to the consistency of Kosher salt. Nestle an unbleached paper filter into the brewer cone and place the grounds in the center. Start a timer when you’re about to add hot water just off the boil. Pour over the grounds until saturated and stir away any clumps. When the timer reads :45, add more water until the level rises about an inch from the brewer rim. At 1:45, fill the brewer to the top. When all the water has gently filtered through and the timer reads 4:00, remove the filter and grounds, swirl the coffee a little, pour and enjoy.

If you’re interested in picking up a pour-over brewer, the beautifully designed 8-cup Chemex costs $45, but you can get a perfectly good Melitta for $10.

web Wade Lyles

Merantau (ma-RAHN-tau): Indonesian term for one who leaves home to gather new skills and experiences, and then returns to share what they have learned.

Author: Jana Pye

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