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Best Sumatra Coffee: Buying, Roasting And Brewing Tips

If you want to start an argument amongst coffee aficionados, ask them what they think of Sumatra coffee. While some beans and blends are universally adored, Sumatran is more a ‘love it or hate it’ sort of brew.

But why is that so? And what can you do to make the most of this unusual bean? Read on to find out.

IMAGE PRODUCTS DETAILS
White Mansion poster of sumatra coffee Volcanica Coffee Sumatra Mandheling
  • Medium roast
  • Washed
  • Toffee, lemongrass, dried fruit
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AGED SUMATRA Peet’s Coffee Aged Sumatra
  • Dark roast
  • Wet-hulled
  • Honey, spice, dried fruits
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Out of the Grey Sumatra Mandheling Out of the Grey Sumatra Mandheling
  • Medium-dark roast
  • Washed
  • Smooth, full-bodied
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Caffe Vita Sumatra Gayo River Caffe Vita Sumatra Gayo River
  • Medium roast
  • Wet-hulled
  • Almonds, brown sugar, nougat
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Sumatra Coffee Facts

  • Starbucks is a major purchaser of the Sumatran bean, and they offer two varieties: regular and aged.
  • The aging process gives a spicy note that only adds to the unique flavors of this bean.
  • More than 90% of coffee beans in Sumatra is grown bysmallholders, on farms of around one hectare (roughly 2.5 acres) in size.
  • It’s often used aspart of a blend due to its flavor and low acidity. You’ll find it alongside South American beans, which typically have bright acidity to fill out the flavor of the blend.
Sumatran Coffee Industry

Sumatra Has Magical Growing Conditions for Coffee

The Indonesian island of Sumatra has the perfect climate for growing Arabica beans. The perfectly balanced soil, combined with the islands location on the equator create a tropical climate thats perfect for growing Arabica beans. (1)

One minute its glorious sunshine, the next moment rain is hammering down. These are conditions that gardeners spend hours trying to achieve in their greenhouses.

Indonesia is the third-largest coffee producer in the world, but coffee isn’t native to the area. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) brought coffee tree seedlings to the area in the 17th century, starting coffee production in Jakarta (Batavia) on the island of Java, and then expanding to other islands including Sumatra. (​2​​​)

Related: Did you ever wonder why coffee is called Java? Yes,it has something to do with Java, Indonesia. Here’s where you can learn more about how it became a popular term,

Sumatra Coffee Facts

Major Growing Regions

There are three main varieties of coffee beans sourced from the growing regions of Sumatra: Mandheling, Lintong, and Gayo.

Sumatran Coffee Growing Regions
  • Mandheling is grown in the north and is considered by many to be the best coffee beans that Sumatra produces.
  • Lintong, where the beans grown on a high plateau overlooking Lake Toba, is renowned for balancing a rich flavor with a clean aftertaste.
  • GayoPeaberry, grown in the northern Aceh region, offers the dense, intense flavor associated with these small, round beans.

Flavor Comes from the Processing

What gives these beans the flavour is the processing method: Wet hulling, or giling basah in the Bahasa language spoken in Sumatra. You might also (confusingly) hear this called dry processing, or natural processing.

Here’s an image showing how this process works once the coffee cherries are picked:

Sumatran Coffee Processing

Wet hulling means that the beans retain a higher moisture content than other methods. While many other of the best coffee-growing countries dry their beans to around 11% residual moisture, the giling basah method dries the beans to 50% moisture content.

Wet-hulled beans are a side effect of Sumatra having such a damp climate: farmers there have typically less than 4 hours of drying time a day. This method gives the coffee beans its unique flavor. (3)

Flavor Profile: What Do Sumatra Coffee beans Taste like?

  • Low Acidity (more low-acid beans here)
  • Earthy flavor; mossy, funky and mushroomy
  • Full body
  • Better dark roasted for sweetness
  • Aroma: Herby, woodland-y, umami

You’ll generally hear: Complex, full-bodied, and rich, but this can often be because roasters tend to prefer a dark roast (more on that later). With changes in roasting ideas, the flavor is becoming (a little) brighter and fresher.

PRO TIP: Consider using Sumatra coffee beans in a blend as it makes a great base note: it’s earthy and complicated and low in acid. it’s often partnered with coffee from Ethiopia (aromatic at the top end, and fruity) or South American (acidic).

Because this bean is so good in a blend, its been featured on our list of the best coffee beans. If you’re getting into blending, its a great place to start.

The Best Sumatran Coffee Beans

You can walk into Starbucks and buy pre-ground coffee. But if you’re following this blog the chances are we don’t need to tell you why you don’t want to buy off-the-shelf coffee. Although you will find these beans on the shelves of gourmet food stores, they’re probably best avoided for the same reasons.

1. Volcanica Coffee Sumatra Mandheling

Specifications

  • Roast level: Medium

  • Processing: Washed
  • Tasting notes: Toffee, lemongrass, dried fruit

Sumatra Mandheling coffee is a rare Indonesian coffee bean named after the Mandheling people who traditionally grew it. These beans are semi-washed and sun-dried, and brew a super smooth cup with a rich, full, and heavy body.

Packed with exotic flavors including wine, dried fruit, and brown sugar, and a wonderful aroma that includes hints of cocoa and brown spice. All of this is finished off with an earthy richness and a pleasantly thick, syrupy aftertaste.

Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified, Shade Grown, and even organic certified, too. These beans are also very affordable for Third Wave coffee (especially when Volcanica’s exacting standards are taken into consideration) and are medium roasted after you place your order to ensure they arrive at optimum freshness.

2. Peet’s Coffee Aged Sumatra

Specifications

  • Roast level: Dark

  • Processing: Wet-hulled
  • Tasting notes: Honey, spice, dried fruits

The coffee aging process is unique to tropical environments, where humid air allows the beans to sit for extended periods without ever drying out. This process helps to bring out more complex flavors, while also mellowing the coffee’s intensity for a smoother cup.

Peet’s Aged Sumatra starts with beans sourced from North Sumatra, which are aged for up to two years before being dark roasted. The result is a coffee that’s heavy on spice and woody notes, but with a taste of honey and dried fruit to sweeten the palate. All Peet’s coffees are hand-roasted to order, then shipped the same day to preserve freshness.

3. Out of the Grey Sumatra Mandheling

Specifications

  • Roast level: Medium-dark

  • Processing: Washed
  • Tasting notes: Smooth, full-bodied

This Sumatra Madheling coffee from Out of the Grey is a great opportunity to get quality beans at an affordable price. The Virginia roaster buys only Grade 1 beans that have been double-picked or triple-picked. Fewer defects mean a more even roasting and a more consistent, better-tasting brew for you.

This Sumatra coffee has all the hallmarks of the region, with a full-bodied flavor, sweet syrup finish, and low acidity. These beans are also available as a decaf option if you want to experience the unique Sumatran flavor without the caffeine kick.

4. Caffe Vita Sumatra Gayo River

Specifications

  • Roast level: Medium

  • Processing: Wet-hulled
  • Tasting notes: Almonds, brown sugar, nougat

Caffe Vita started out as a small cafe and roastery in Seattle in 1995, but now boasts cafes in three cities across the country and a strong wholesale offering. The brand is known for its direct-trade, organic coffees, so this Sumatra Gayo River is a prime example of their range.

The beans come from the Jagon Valley in the Aceh region. The highly fertile climate allows for multiple harvests per year, ensuring a fresher supply of this excellent coffee. In the cup, you’ll get a rich and full-bodied brew, with toasty nutty flavors and dessert-like sweetness. As an added bonus, the packaging is made from 100% renewable materials.

How to Brew Sumatra Coffee Beans

The gutsy flavor of Sumatra coffee is brilliantly suited to espresso (like some Chinese coffees). But it can be a little tricky pulling the perfect espresso shot with wet processed beans. Be prepared to practice a little.

Keep your temperature lower so you don’t burn the already heavy body. Don’t run your shots too long. And do your best to keep your flavours balanced, so as to highlight the strengths of the coffee

Don’t have an espresso machine? You can also use an Aeropress or stovetop espresso maker. These take a little bit of getting used to, but when you have the knack it’s simple.

Alternatively, its great for cold brew. Set your grinder too coarse, and use our French Press cold brewing method to produce a chilled and flavorful cup. Cold brew allows flavors to develop but is even lower acidity than a regular cup of Sumatran so it’s ultra-smooth. Being low in acid makes cold-brew kinder to your teeth and stomach, and it’s packed full of antioxidants too.

How To Roast

Wet hulled coffees are slightly harder to roast…Wet hulled beans tend to have an extra 1% moisture than other coffee methods, so you’ll need to heat the the coffee a little bit more towards the start of the roast.

Sumatran Roast
  • Roasting – Use a dark roast; It adds sweetness to the earthy flavour notes and brings out the natural chocolate flavors of the beans.
  • Cooking – Yes, sumatra coffee beans are great for cooking! Not only does coffee add to the flavor of meat dishes, but it also helps to tenderise (giving you a melt-in-your-mouth experience). Try using it as a marinade or a spice rub for your BBQ’s meat.

Nikmati Kopimu (Enjoy Your Coffee)

Whether the idea of a forest-floor tasting coffee appeals to you or not, everyone should try a cup of authentic Sumatran brewed Coffee at least once. You might not like it on its own, but you will at least get an understanding of what this bean brings to the table.

FAQs

Sumatra coffee is generally shade grown in small farms. It’s the climate combined with the wet hulling ‘giling basah’ processing that gives this beans its unique flavour, however. 

Sumatra is mostly Arabica coffee. The islands unique climate create the perfect conditions for Arabica coffee. The constant mixture of sunshine and rain create an environment where the coffee plant thrives.

No, Sumatra coffee does not have more caffeine than other Arabicas. Robusta beans have more caffeine than Arabica, but most coffees from Sumatra are Arabicas. If you’re looking for highly caffeinated beans, you may want to see this list.

In general, Sumatra is a region known for producing coffee low in acidity levels. When compared to other popular beans (such as Kenyan coffee), yes: sumatran coffee is low in acidity.

  1. Coffee varieties in Sumatra. (2016, December 14). Retrieved May 30, 2019, from https://www.fivesenses.com.au/blog/coffee-varieties-in-sumatra/
  2. How coffee went from the hands of the Dutch to the world. (n.d.). Retrieved May 30, 2019, from https://www.thejakartapost.com/life/2018/01/19/how-coffee-went-from-the-hands-of-the-dutch-to-the-world.html
  3. Lynch, R. (2018, September 02). Indonesian Wet Hulled Coffee: Your One-Stop Guide. Retrieved May 30, 2019, from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2015/10/indonesian-wet-hulled-coffee-processing/
Julia Bobak
I love trail running, rock climbing, coffee, food, and my tiny dog — and writing about all of them. I start every morning with a fresh Americano from my home espresso machine, or I don’t start it at all.

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