Sumatra coffee is well-known in the coffee industry, although opinions differ regarding its popularity.
It comes from an island in southeast Asia in the region of Indonesia on the Pacific that’s known for growing Arabica coffee. It is located on the Equator, which gives it an ideal climate for growing coffee.
You’ll find Sumatra coffee in various coffee houses, such as Starbucks, a major purchaser of the coffee. That’s because it is a high-quality coffee appreciated by coffee drinkers all over the world. The famous Kopi Luwak coffee also comes from Sumatra.
The kind of coffee grown in Sumatra is spicy and low in acid. That’s why coffee sellers use Sumatra coffee as a blend.
Sumatra coffee blends are made using coffee varieties such as South American coffee beans that are higher in acidity.
More than 90 percent of the coffee produced in Sumatra is grown by small-scale farmers. But where did this famous coffee come from?
History of Sumatra coffee
Indonesia has grown coffee for a long time. A well-known brand from Indonesia is Sumatra coffee. It came from the Dutch colonialists who picked it from Ethiopia, where it grew in the wild.
The Dutch colonialists from the Dutch East India Company started coffee production in Sumatra by importing coffee seedlings in the 17th century. They did it to challenge the Arabs’ monopoly of coffee cultivation in the region.
The Dutch struggle with the Arabs for a slice of the Sumatra coffee market started when the Dutch governor in the Indian region of Malabar sent an Arabica coffee seedling to the Dutch Governor of Batavia in Jakarta.
Unfortunately, the coffee seedlings failed to grow due to flooding.
The Governor of Batavia later received a second shipment of coffee seedlings in 1699 that grew successfully. The resulting crop marked the beginning of the Sumatra coffee trade by the Dutch East India Company. They exported the first batch of Sumatra coffee to Europe in 1711.
Sumatra soon became the largest coffee-growing country globally, giving fame to Java coffee. Some people say that Java coffee got its name from the bags that transported Indonesian coffee during that time, which were labeled Java.
Today you’ll find Sumatran coffee called other names depending on the story behind it and the region it’s grown, such as Sumatra Mandheling coffee ( which is the name of a tribe in Sumatra ). Others are Gayo, Ankola, and Lintong.
How Sumatra coffee is grown in Indonesia?
Indonesia is the 3rd largest coffee producer worldwide. Coffee farmers grow Sumatra coffee at elevations of 750 – 1,500 meters above sea level.
The soil and climate in Sumatra give its coffee an earthy, chocolatey, mushroomy taste. The island has fertile volcanic soil and a hot, humid, and tropical climate ideal for growing arabica coffee.
Indonesia also grows a substantial quantity of Robusta coffee at low altitudes in the Southern region of Indonesia. In fact, Robusta makes up 75 percent of Indonesia’s coffee exports.
The Dutch introduced Robusta coffee to Sumatra, hoping it would be more disease resistant than Arabica, which was susceptible to leaf rust and other diseases.
However, gourmet coffee drinkers probably prefer Sumatra’s Arabica beans which, although containing less caffeine than Robusta, is less acidic.
Some coffee varieties grown on the island are Typica, Arabica, Linie S, and some Ethiopian varieties brought to the island in the 1920s.
Typica was the first variety of coffee plants grown in Sumatra and Java when the region started growing coffee. However, the Typica coffee was almost entirely wiped out by disease.
Maybe that’s why several commercial Arabica coffee varieties have been mixed with Robusta to make Sumatra coffee more disease resistant. Some examples are Hibrido de Timor and Catimor.
However, some local varieties of Typica are still grown in high-altitude areas of Sumatra.
Another disease-resistant variety grown in the area is Linie S which is a mutation of coffees such as Bourbon and Liberica from India.
There are also coffee varieties that were brought to Sumatra in the 1920s from Ethiopia called Rambung and Abyssinia.
Types of coffee grown in Sumatra
Mandheling, Ankola, and Lintong, all grown in Sumatra, produce some of the world’s best-tasting premium gourmet coffees. Full-bodied, with more earthy flavors than Java Arabica, distinct herbal tones, and low acidity, these coffees stand out. Because of their low acidity, they are especially appealing to those who are sensitive to the usually healthful organic acids found in coffee.
Now let’s see the individual characteristics of these Sumatra coffees.
Sumatra Mandheling Coffee
Mandheling is a trading name for Arabica coffee from Sumatra’s northwestern region. It was named after the Mandailing people of Sumatra, who grow coffee in the Tapanuli region. Northern Sumatra and Aceh are the origins of Mandheling coffee.
Sumatra Mandheling coffee is grown near Port Padang in the Black area, on the volcanic slopes of Mount Leuser (west-central Sumatra).
Between June and December, these beans are harvested and processed either by wet hauling or sun-drying.
The wet hauling impacts a rich body and flavor to the Mandheling coffee, which is complemented by herbal notes and a spicy finish. Most other methods hull coffee at roughly 10-12 percent moisture level, whereas this method, hulls the parchment off the bean at about 50 percent moisture content. The dark color of the green beans is also a result of this process.
Sumatra Mandheling coffee beans are syrupy and full-bodied, with herbal, chocolate, clean earthy, woody overtones, spicy flavor, slightly earthy scent, and low acidity in the coffee they produce. It’s also worth noting that Mandheling coffee comes in two varieties: Catimor and Typica.
Sumatra Ankola coffee
Ankola is the market name for a high-end gourmet coffee grown near the port of Padang in Sumatra at heights ranging from 2,500 to 5,000 feet above sea level.
One of the major distinctions between this Sumatra species and Mandheling is that Ankola is dry-hulled, whereas Mandheling is wet-hulled. Ankola’s predominant flavor is sweet, which you won’t find in the other types. However, this is due to the dry processing that it undergoes.
Sumatra Lintong Coffee
Takengon and Sumatra are the origins of Lintong coffee. Lintong coffee is grown in the Lintong Nihuta District, located in the south of Lake Toba. This region contains the highest coffee-growing heights in North Sumatra, ranging from 1,400 to 1,550 meters above sea level. Some consider it to be the best coffee on the planet. Giling Basah, also known as wet hulling, is used to process it. The flavor is medium-bodied rather than full-bodied compared to Mandheling. It also includes earthy notes, which are typical of Sumatra coffee. Dark chocolate, toffee, grapefruit – savory and lively flavors with full-bodied earthy undertones and notes of cedarwood and spice characterize Sumatra Lintong coffee.
Sumatra Gayo Coffee
It is not as well-known as other Sumatra coffee varieties. The Gayo region is known for its coffee that has matured for a long time. Gayo coffee is grown near Lake Tawar and Lake Takegon in a valley.
Their coffees are grown in the shades and don’t have any chemicals applied to them. This preserves the flavor of the coffee beans, which are natural and unmodified. This region’s coffee is often prepared on the farm using traditional wet processes. Gayo Mountain coffee is of a higher-tone and lighter body than Lintong and Mandheling coffees which are from the east of Sumatra due to the Gilling Basah processing.
This coffee is a freshly refined version of a classic wet-hulled Sumatra, with the famed soil notes subtle, elegant, crisply cacao- and peach-toned. The rich scent of Sumatra Gayo is reminiscent of spices, herbs, and fresh figs.
Their flavor is unusual, and as a result, they are highly desired, and it develops over months, if not years, of storage. However, just because something is cherished does not mean it is superior. It is also more expensive.
How is Sumatra coffee processed?
Sumatra coffee beans are processed using a method known as Gilling Basah. Gilling Basah, a word borrowed from the Bahasa language, refers to a wet hulling method of processing coffee.
Wet hulling is a crude coffee processing method that involves de-pulping the coffee cherries immediately after harvest. That is one of the reasons Sumatra coffee is low in acid.
The de-pulping method is old-fashioned. Farmers use big wooden poles to remove husks from coffee berries. However, some farmers de-pulp the coffee beans using homemade machines.
The de-pulped or skinned seeds are then put in large sacks to ferment overnight. The next day, the farmers wash mucilage or fermented coffee fruit and skin from the berries by hand, leaving the parchment behind.
The fermented coffee beans are partially dried and shipped to warehouses where processors peel off the parchment from the coffee beans. The coffee continues to dry in the warehouse and during transportation to the end destination.
The Sumatran coffee beans have a deep blue color because of the wet hulling processing method. Drying Sumatra coffee after the wet hulling process concentrates the flavors and gives it a spicy, herbal finish. It also leaves the beans with a higher moisture content than other coffee processing methods.
While traditional coffee processing methods leave coffee beans with about 11% residual moisture, the Giling Basah method leaves the beans with a 50% moisture content.
The moisture levels are higher in coffee processed via wet hulling because the coffee beans are processed for a short time. That’s because Sumatra is a wet area. Farmers usually have less than 4 hours to dry coffee in a day.
Wet hulling leaves Sumatra coffee beans with a woody herby aroma and an earthy, mushroom flavor. It gives Sumatra coffee an earthy and chocolatey taste and makes it less acidic, enhancing its mouthfeel.
The low acidity in Sumatran coffee Indonesia makes it an excellent base for coffee blends. Coffee suppliers blend it with beans from South America, which are also acidic, and those from Ethiopia, that are fruity and aromatic.
The low acidity in coffee Sumatra beans makes them better for dark roasting, which brings out their sweetness. However, dark roasting mutes the berry tones of the coffee, making it less appealing to specialty coffee drinkers.
Therefore, Sumatra coffee is popular among coffee drinkers who appreciate the qualities of dark flavored coffee.
It’s good to note that not all Sumatran coffee beans are wet-hulled. Another form of coffee processing is dry hulling, which involves washing and drying coffee beans after harvesting.
Dry hulling gives coffee beans a pleasant acidity that most coffee buyers prefer. An example of Sumatra coffee that is dry hulled is Ankola coffee.
When farmers process Sumatra coffee through dry hulling, suppliers classify it among other famous coffee brands, such as Colombian coffee.
Where can you buy fresh Sumatra coffee?
Sumatra coffee is available in two varieties. These are aged Sumatra coffee beans and regular Sumatra coffee beans.
Suppliers often use aged Sumatra coffee beans in blends with other coffee beans due to their spicy notes.
You may buy aged Sumatra beans to use in a blend. Otherwise, regular ones are okay for brewing your daily cup of coffee.
Sumatra K-cups for coffee machines and pre-ground Sumatra coffee is available too.
You can buy a bag of Sumatra coffee beans from coffee houses like Starbucks that roast their beans.
Some reliable online coffee suppliers also sell Sumatra coffee. Outlets like Costco also sell Sumatra coffee off the shelves.
Speciality coffee shops also trade in gourmet coffees like certified sumatra organic coffee.
If you have trouble finding the best roast coffee from Sumatra, look for reviews from coffee drinkers on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and coffee websites.
Sumatra is processed using the wet hulling method. Therefore, it should not stay on the shelves for long. Always ask for fresh Sumatra coffee beans when buying coffee for home use.
Old coffee, no matter from which region, will taste stale and have little or no flavor.
Ensure you buy fresh Sumatra coffee beans by purchasing your beans from certified coffee producers and roasters.
Organizations such as the Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance,
Organically, and Shade Grown provide certifications to excellent single-origin coffees from Sumatra.
These certified coffees are grown and packed to acceptable standards and will arrive at their destination in peak condition.
If you prefer Kosher coffee, some Sumatra brands are also Kosher-certified.
Choosing the right Sumatra coffee beans
Manufacturers roast Sumatra coffee within three months of harvesting. That’s because of Sumatra coffee’s short shelf life.
Many people think Sumatra coffee is mainly a dark roast, but the process of roasting Sumatra coffee differs among processors and coffee companies.
While Sumatra coffee can be roasted light, medium, or dark, these coffee beans are often on the darker side. Some people feel dark roast Sumatra coffee makes the best brew. It is rich, full-bodied, and low in acid.
Sumatran coffee’s herbal, earthy flavor and low acidity is due to the wet hulling process that leaves some moisture in the beans.
Coffees with a low amount of acid are packed with antioxidants and are easier on the teeth and stomach. They do not damage your teeth or cause stomach irritation.
Tips on how to brew the best Sumatra coffee
Sumatra coffee is suited to making espressos, but you need to use the correct technique to brew your coffee. That’s because Sumatra coffee beans are wet-processed beans.
To get the best brew from Sumatra coffee, keep the temperatures lower than average and use a coarse or medium grind to get the best flavors from the coffee beans. A french press will help you to make the best tasting brew.
And when pulling espresso shots, brew them for a shorter period. Sumatra coffee beans are also ideal for making cold brews. That’s because you get most of the flavor from your coffee grounds. It also does not result in a highly acidic brew.
You don’t have to buy an Espresso machine to brew espresso coffee using Sumatra coffee beans; you can also use an Aeropress coffee maker to brew it. It’s enough to prepare a mug of flavorful Sumatra coffee.
While Sumatra coffee tastes good on its own, you may add sugar, vanilla, or hazelnut creamer to it.
You can also blend Sumatra coffee with other beans if its flavor is not to your liking. It tastes great when combined with South American coffee or Ethiopian coffee.
The way you store Sumatra coffee will determine the taste of your brew. Therefore, buy it in small quantities and store it in a tightly shut container because it gets stale quickly.
You may like to grind your coffee in advance, but that’s not the best way to treat Sumatra coffee. Always grind it fresh whenever you want to brew coffee to get the best flavors from it.
Benefits of drinking Sumatra coffee
You may drink coffee such as Sumatra coffee as a pick-me-up, but it can also provide you with several other benefits. These are;
Rich in antioxidants
Sumatra coffee is rich in antioxidants that can reduce the effects of free radicals in your body.
Free radicals accelerate aging and cause chronic ailments such as cancer and diabetes.
Women who drink coffee can lower their risk of contracting type 2 Diabetes.
Drinking at least 2 cups of coffee a day will provide your body with antioxidants and prevent free radical damage.
Fights neurodegenerative diseases
According to research, people who drink at least three cups of coffee a day lower their risk of contracting neurodegenerative disorders.
The caffeine content in coffee triggers the release of feel-good neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain, keeping it healthy and alert.
Having at least two cups of coffee a day can protect you from getting Dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s, among other neurodegenerative diseases.
Boosts mental alertness
Coffee can help you boost your concentration, especially when you feel dull or want to concentrate on a complicated task.
The caffeine in coffee blocks the brain receptors that make us feel tired, helping us to focus on tasks or feel more alert.
Whether you are a regular coffee drinker or someone who prefers specialty coffees, you should try Sumatra coffee at least once in your life.
It will give you an appreciation of coffee grown and processed in Indonesia. You will especially appreciate the unique flavors that wet hulling gives Sumatra coffee.
It will enable you to differentiate it from other coffees that undergo dry hulling, which involves completely drying and roasting coffee beans after harvesting.