Exploring the Unique Taste of Sumatra Coffee

10 min read MAR 30, 2023

Sumatran coffee is renowned amongst lovers of the beverage, as it was one of the first places to cultivate and harvest java commercially. This exclusive location has produced some of the world's most unique and high-quality coffee, making it the absolute option for those looking for something special.

The flavor of the coffee bean is so unique and complex that it evokes strong reactions from those who experience it; for some, its intense, full-bodied richness and earthy undertones are mouth-watering, while for others, it's off-putting. Regardless, this captivating concoction has been integral to morning routines worldwide for centuries.

From where is Sumatra Coffee sourced?

The stunning island of Sumatra, the sixth-largest in Indonesia, is majestically between its sister’s islands - Borneo and Java. This incredible landmass is home to a staggering 50 million people and is one of the three pillars of this dynamic Southeast Asian nation.

If experiencing the spectacular wildlife, the vibrancy of local culture, or the grandeur of its natural beauty, Sumatra proffers something for everyone. From pristine mountain ranges to long beachfront stretches, visitors will surely be captivated by this magical destination.

Sumatra, located on the equator between the Indian Ocean and Lake Toba, has a long history of coffee production that dates back nearly 140 years. Lake Toba is recognized as one of Earth's most impressive volcanic lakes, boasting breathtaking vistas for visitors to admire.

The area around the lake is known for its high-quality Arabica beans used in many specialty coffees worldwide. A trip to Sumatra will undoubtedly provide an experience - a spot rich in culture and unparalleled natural beauty. Enjoy some of the finest brews while taking in the maestoso views. ​​​​​​

Bonus-Info: Sumatra and Lake Toba, two places shrouded in mystery and rich in history, have always fascinated many. Around 75,000 years ago, the region experienced a super-volcanic eruption that was so powerful it may have caused the mass extinction of people living nearby while drastically altering global climate conditions. This event has become a topic of immense interest over the years.

What is Sumatra coffee? A bit of history

Coffee has a rich and fascinating history, with Indonesia at its epicenter. Originating in Ethiopia, Dutch colonizers in 1699 brought the first coffee to Java from Yemen. Since then, Indonesian coffee has become renowned for its unique flavor and superior quality, being sought after globally.

Indonesia is renowned for its exquisite Java coffee, which has firmly established itself as one of the world's leading sources. Its beans are harvested from various areas on the island and exported from Jakarta, becoming renowned for their unparalleled quality and earning a distinguished reputation across the globe. This coffee is widely regarded as some of the finest in history.

This phenomenon is not wholly unexpected, given that all the coffee was packaged and sold under a brand name synonymous with this particular product - 'Java.' Much like how people refer to any type of facial tissue as "Kleenex" instead of by its actual brand name, the same is true for this particular beverage. It has led to people generalizing and referring to any kind of coffee simply as "Java."

Unfortunately, due to the prevalence of myths regarding coffee from classic regions, many Sumatran coffees have been mislabeled and falsely promoted as 'Mandheling' (or 'Mandailing').

It has resulted in a misunderstanding of these unique coffees' true origins and characteristics. Consumers should be aware that not all coffees labeled 'Mandheling' necessarily originate from this region of Indonesia and should take care when choosing their coffee to ensure they get an authentic experience.

Contrary to popular misconception, "Kopi Luwak" doesn't originate from any special type of coffee bean but hails from a Sumatran tribal language. This name is used merely as an attractive advertising slogan by companies such as Kenyan AA and Kona coffee, with no real significance. Kopi Luwak has become a catchy phrase to draw in consumers.

Sumatra Coffee Facts

  • Sumatra is a tropical Indonesian island boasting nourishing and nutrient-wealthy volcanic soil.
  • Sumatran coffee is renowned for its unparalleled and intricate flavor, featuring hints of earthiness, creaminess, and chocolatey sweetness - even a trace of mushroom.
  • Due to their minimal acidity levels, beans offer a milder taste overall; however, the final flavor profile may differ based on the roasting and preparation techniques.
  • Sumatra has a well-earned reputation for its two remarkable subregions - Lintong, situated close to the breathtaking Lake Toba, and Gayo in northern Aceh.
  • The grilling bash method of processing beans is common among Sumatran coffee farmers.

Is Sumatra coffee lower in acid?

Sumatran coffee is celebrated for its low acidity, which can be attributed to local farmers' unique 'giling basah' wet hulling process. While more rudimentary than industrial washing processes used in Latin America, this traditional technique produces remarkable results.

Sumatran beans are known for their mild flavor and subtle sweetness - making them a favorite among coffee connoisseurs. By utilizing the giling basah method, the beans can retain a greater amount of flavor and aroma when compared to other countries' coffees.

Ensuring the best-tasting coffee is a laborious quest. It was astounding to discover how older Sumatran women used simple wooden sticks as pestles and mortars for their de-pulping process.

This ingenious technique allowed them to expeditiously separate the pulp from each fruit with better yields in shorter time frames while avoiding any potential human mistakes or errors that could lead to inconsistent performance across batches produced.

The coffee beans are collected and placed into a large container for fermentation each night. The following day, manual labor removes any remaining pulp before carefully laying them on an outdoor patio to dry and cure in the sun. After all the seeds have dried, they will be ready to be roasted, ground, and brewed into a delicious cup of coffee.

After the beans are collected, they are sold to a middleman who then transports them to a warehouse. Their parchment layer is removed and discarded at the warehouse before undergoing an additional drying process in preparation for overseas export. Once everything is ready, the beans are then shipped out of the country.

The processing changes the flavor

The process of cold brewing coffee does away with the meticulous washing and drying of coffee beans in a station, resulting in an earthy flavor much less acidic than other methods. This method also helps to enhance the body and mouthfeel of the drink, as well as bring out subtle hints of stone fruit and berry flavors. Thus, it provides a unique taste experience compared to traditionally brewed coffees.

Coffee lovers often overlook Sumatra when searching for their next specialty brews, yet they would be remiss in doing so - its intense flavor profile is a distinctive and delicious experience. Whether you are an experienced connoisseur or caffeine novice, something special in this timeless bean will tantalize your taste buds and sustain the pursuit of new tastes.

An expert in Sumatra recently declared that the local variety of beans is roasted within three months after harvesting. Their distinct processing makes them more delicate than other coffee varieties. Further, this rough nature implies a much shorter roasting window and emphasizes the importance of timing when getting the best flavor out of these beans.

Sumatran coffee beans proffer an exotic and convoluted flavor profile that can easily compete with the coffees of Colombia. Even if wet-hulled, washed, or dry-processed, these beans produce a cup of coffee that will delight even the most discerning palates. With its magnificent acidity and extraordinary characteristics, Sumatran coffee is a special treat.

Is Sumatra a dark roast?

Don't be fooled; coffee beans' origin and roast profile are two separate things. It all comes down to how skillfully a roaster can prepare each distinct product - it may be from your local cafe or an artisan one. If you're in search of something special from Sumatra, make sure you talk to those experts behind-the-scenes who know about such matters best.

Seeking the ideal flavor profile of full-bodied, low-acidity coffee? Opt for a Sumatran blend - roasters have been increasingly turning to this variety to satisfy discerning drinkers. Consequently, these special coffees are highly coveted.

Starbucks has famously become renowned for its selection of Sumatran beans, roasted to a darker shade, used as the base in espresso drinks or even single-origin beverages. It could be where the phrase "Sumatra roast" originated when referencing something exceptionally dark-colored.

Don't be afraid to try a cup of Sumatran coffee, even if it isn't the same as Starbucks. You may be pleasantly surprised and find yourself delighted with its unique flavor. Step out of your comfort zone and discover something new – you won't regret it.

Types of Coffee Grown on Sumatra

With its long-standing coffee culture, Indonesia proffers many unique and unparalleled coffees. From the robusta beans in Sumatra to the arabica grown on Java Island, this Indonesian paradise has something for everyone.

  • Centuries ago, Typical plants were first introduced to the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. However, their presence is nearly erased after they succumbed to leaf rust shortly after that. Fortunately, some local varieties miraculously survived in remote high-altitude regions in Sumatra when all hope seemed lost.
  • Cultivating Indonesian arabica products is incredibly gratifying, and their blend of robusta heritage renders them even more resilient to illnesses. It applies not just to Catimor strains but also to Hibrido de Timor varieties.
  • Due to its remarkable resistance to diseases, Linie S - a varietal crafted through the union of Liberica and Bourbon beans - is swiftly gaining popularity in India.
  • Since the late 1920s, coffee connoisseurs have been raving about Ethiopian varieties Abyssinia and Rambung cultivated in Sumatra. These exquisite coffees display a unique depth of flavor and complexity that will captivate even the most refined palate.

Indonesia is renowned for its vast reserves of robusta coffee, which, although exorbitantly inexpensive and produced at lower altitudes, tends to be quite bitter in flavor. This type of beverage is mainly enjoyed within the country or used as an instant variety back home - trust me, after having tried it myself, I can confidently say it won't meet the standards of a Westerner's refined palate.

The Coffee lover's Verdict:

Coffee connoisseurs and lovers cannot help but bow down to the "coffee gods" when they come across single-origin Sumatra beans. After all, Indonesia is one of the prominent nations in coffee production and has been a vital part of its history. If you're among those who appreciate quality beverages as part of the third-wave movement, then these Kerinci, Lintong, or Lake Toba coffees are worth your while.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the origin of Sumatran coffees?

Sumatran coffees are believed to have originated centuries ago when Typica plants were first introduced to Java and Sumatra islands. These survived in remote high-altitude regions in Sumatra when all hope seemed lost. Two specific varieties of Ethiopian coffee, Abyssinia and Rambung, have thrived in Sumatra since the late 1920s.

Are there any unique features of Sumatran coffees?

Yes. The blend of robusta heritage renders these Indonesian arabica products incredibly resilient to illnesses, and their flavors are usually full-bodied with low acidity. Furthermore, they tend to have earthy and chocolaty notes with a hint of spice. Sumatran coffees are often described as "inky" or even "black tar-inated" due to their exceptionally dark color.

What is the best way to enjoy Sumatran coffee?

The best way to experience all that Sumatran coffee is by brewing it as a single-origin cup of pour-over or French press. It will allow you to extract maximum flavor and aroma from your beans and tailor the strength and intensity of your brew according to personal preference.

Is Sumatran coffee suitable for a Westerner's palate?

Yes, it is. Sumatran coffees boast an unparalleled depth and complexity that will please even the most discerning palate. Their washed varieties offer an immensely satisfying experience each time. The quality of Sumatran coffee may not meet standards for some instant varieties or robusta blends - but this does not mean that they cannot be enjoyed by those with a refined palette from the West.

What is the Coffee lover's verdict on Sumatran coffee?

The Coffee lover praises Sumatran coffees highly, offering them up as a must-try for all those who appreciate quality beverages as part of the third-wave movement. Their washed varieties offer an immensely satisfying experience each time - so try it.

Is Sumatran coffee better than other varieties?

That is subjective! Nevertheless, there is no denying that the unique flavor profile of Sumatran coffee makes it stand out from other regions in the world. Its robust character and well-rounded flavors have made it a famous choice for coffee lovers across the globe, so be sure to try it.

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