Sumatra Coffee: Where To Buy It, And How To Enjoy It Best

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TOP PICK: Sumatra Gayo Peaberry (Volcanica)

Sumatran Gayo is consistently ranked among the best coffees worldwide for its sweet and clean flavour profile. You could say, therefor, that this offering from Volcanica is among the best beans in the world

For the price it's offered at, its a bargain. Roasted only AFTER you order to ensure freshness.

An Overview Of Sumatran Coffee

Sumatra has magical Growing conditions for coffee

Situated in South East Asia, Sumatra has the perfect climate for growing Arabica beans.

Right on the equator, the island enjoys tropical weather; one minute it’s glorious sunshine, the next moment rain is hammering down.

It’s the sort of conditions that gardeners spend hours trying to achieve in their greenhouses.

Indonesia is the third largest coffee producer in the world, but like many other places that grow beans, coffee isn’t native to the area.

The Dutch East India company (VOC) brought seedlings to the area in the 18th century, starting initially in Jakarta (Batavia) and then expanding to other islands including Sumatra.

At the end of the 18th Century almost all the coffee plantations in Indonesia were wiped out by Coffee Rust, a fungus that gives the underside of leaves an orangey appearance.

After a brief experiment with growing Liberian beans, most plantations were replanted with Robusta, and this makes up most of coffee from Indonesia today.

In Sumatra, they remained staunchly Arabica.

The flavor comes from the processing

What gives Sumatran beans the flavor that divides us, is the processing method: Wet hulling. You might also (confusingly) hear this called dry processing, or natural processing.

It works like this; once the cherries are picked, they are processed to remove most of the fruit. They’re then put into sacks and left to ferment overnight.

The following day, farmers pick through the beans by hand, remove the rest of the fruit and spread the beans out to dry.

After that, the beans are shipped to a warehouse for further drying and processing before they are distributed around the world.

Wet hulling means that the beans stay moist for longer, it’s a side effect of Sumatra having such a damp climate. It also gives the coffee it’s unique flavor.

Words used to describe Sumatran are things like earthy, mossy, funky and mushroom-y.

Chances are you’re doing one of two things now.

You’re either salivating or making a face like I just suggested you brew your old trainers; and that’s why Sumatran divides the world of coffee.

The Sumatran Flavour Profile

  • Low Acidity
  • Earthy Flavors
  • Better dark roasted for sweetness
  • Aroma: Herby, woodland-y, umami

Words often associated with the flavor of Sumatran Coffee are complex, full-bodied, and rich but this can often be because roasters tend to give Sumatran a dark roast (more on that later).

With changes in roasting ideas, the flavor profile is becoming (a little) brighter and fresher.

Honorable mentions

There are three main varieties of coffee sourced from Sumatra; Mandheling, Lington and Gayo.

Mandheling is grown in the north, and is considered by many to be the best coffee that Sumatra produces.

Lingtong, where the beans grown on a high plateau overlooking Lake Toba, is renowned for balancing a rich flavor with a clean aftertaste.

Gayo Peaberry is perfect for coffee lovers who are craving the dense, intensified flavor these round beans bring.

Consider using it in a blend

The key to using Sumatran in a blend is to complement it with coffee which provides what it lacks.

Sumatran makes a great base note: it’s earthy and complicated and low on acid.

PRO TIP: it’s often partnered with coffee from Ethiopia (aromatic at the top end, and fruity) or South American (acidic). Learn more about blending coffee here.

Sumatran brings its solid base and complex flavors to any blend.

If you’re looking to create a coffee that works on many levels, then there’s nothing quite like that funky, mushroom-y flavor. It truly is a unique ingredient.

Sumatran coffee is something that you should try for yourself.

It’s not an experience that’s easily described, but those who love it?

They really love it. 

It’s worth trying a cup to see if it becomes your new favorite brew.

The Coffee Industry in Sumatra today

For many people, their first experience of Sumatran comes in one of the big coffee chains – Starbucks. The coffee chain is a major purchaser of the bean, which it offers to customers in two varieties, regular and aged.

The aging process gives the Sumatran a spicy note that only adds to the unique flavors of this bean.

More than 90% of Sumatran coffee is grown by small holders, on farms of around one hectare in size. These micro plantations band together into cooperatives, and many of them have international certification to sell their beans as organically grown.

Because Sumatra has great flavor but is low acidity, it is often used as part of a blend with other varieties.

You’ll find it alongside South American beans, which have acidity to spare to fill out the flavor profile of the blend.

How to brew Great Sumatran Coffee

The gutsy flavor of Sumatran coffee is best suited to espresso. That’s not the only way to brew it, and if you get a medium or coarse grind you can enjoy the flavor using your usual brewing method.

But in my opinion, to really savor the flavor? Grind it fine and make it an espresso.

Don’t have an espresso machine?

Watch this video from ehow food to learn how to use a stovetop espresso maker.

Although an espresso machine is the easiest way to get your hands on a brew full of crema, you can also use an Aeropress or use a traditional stovetop espresso maker. These take a little bit of getting used to, but when have the knack it’s simple.

Alternatively, Sumatran is a great bean for cold brew.

Set your grinder to course, 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 on acid makes cold-brew kinder to your teeth and stomach, and it’s packed full of antioxidants too.

Where to buy Authentic, Quality Sumatran Coffee Beans

Yes, you can walk into Starbucks and buy beans and pre-ground Sumatran 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.

Check out these sites to get your hands on some Sumatran Coffee:

IMAGE PRODUCT DESCRIPTION
hg-table__image Sumatra Mandheling (Volcanica)
  • Super smooth, rich heavy body, low acidity, exotic flavours
  • Organic and fair trade certified
  • Medium Roast
CHECK PRICE →
Sumatra Mandheling Reserve (Volcanica)
  • Dark roasted to bring out beautiful earthy flavours
  • Organic and fair trade certified
  • Brown sugar, winey, dried fruit
CHECK PRICE →
hg-table__image Sumatra Gayo (Volcanica)
  • Ranked as one of the best coffees worldwide (sweet and clean)
  • Organic and fair trade certified
  • Low acidity
CHECK PRICE →
hg-table__image Sumatra Gayo Peaberry (Volcanica)
  • Highest quality Sumatran Gayo available
  • Organic and fair trade certified
  • Low acidity
CHECK PRICE

#1 - Sumatra Mandheling (Volcanica)

Sumatra Mandheling is a rare Indonesian coffee that is uniquely named not after the region it’s grown in, but after the people that traditionally grew it!

These Sumatra Mandheling beans from Volcanica Coffee are a particularly good batch of these South Pacific wonders. They’re semi-washed and sun-dried, and brew a super smooth cup with a rich, full, and heavy body.

They also sport a very low acidity – a classic trait of Sumatran beans – and are 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.

As if this kick-ass flavor profile wasn’t enough, these beans also come decorated with, like, a million different certifications.

They’re Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified, Shade Grown, and even organic certified, too! So you can drink your cup ‘a joe each morning with the satisfaction that everything from the wage of the farmers to the ecosystem has been handled with the utmost care.

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 their optimum freshness.


#2 - Sumatra Mandheling Reserve (Volcanica)

If you’re a fan of low acidity coffee, this is an option you’re going to want to consider.

Now, if you’re scratching your head at the name, especially considering the last coffee on the list was named “Sumatra Mandheling”, we don’t blame you. The difference is simple, though: This Sumatra Mandheling Reserve is very similar to its “non-reserve” cousins, with the notable exception that they are dark rather than medium roasted.

If you’re ever going to dark roast a bean, Sumatran beans are the ones to pick.

Their full-bodied, well-balanced, and mildly acidic profile lends itself to a darker roast, and the earthier, brown sugar, and syrupy richness of the beans make them ideal candidates to be enhanced (rather than ruined) by a bit of extra time in the roaster.

Along with being dark roasted to bring out those beautiful, earthy flavors, these are also decorated with a plethora of certifications, including Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified, Shade Grown, and organic.

They are also a very affordable option for an elite coffee bean and, per Volcanica’s excellent policy, they are roasted after your order is placed, so they come to you at their peak flavor.


#3 - Sumatran Gayo Coffee (Volcanica)

mountains and islands surrounded by ocean water

This Sumatran Gayo coffee brews a sweet, clean cup ‘a joe that is both crisp and complex, earthy and spicy. It carries with it a lighter syrupy taste along with a very gentle finish.

The flavor profile of these exotic beans is LOADED, especially for the typically mellow beans of the region. Flavors include cacao nib, wisteria, peach, caramel, and even a hint of moist, fresh-fallen leaves!

Don’t let the “leaves” bit turn you off, though. These beans are on point! Everything from their region to their quality growing standards, wet processing, and overall ethical production, has ranked these clean and sweet beans as some of the best in the world.

When it comes to acidity, this coffee once again bucks against the norm. It has a markedly deep, vibrant acidity present in its enchantingly complex flavor, yet, at the same time, the beans are known for their overall low acid profile.

And then, of course, there’s that ethical factor that Volcanica brings to the table. These beans have been carefully sourced and run the typical gamut of certifications. They’re organically grown and both Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified.

The beans are medium roasted and shipped out after your order has been placed, giving you the freshest brewing experience possible.


#4 - Sumatra Gayo Peaberry (Volcanica)

peaberry from sumatra gayo

Carrying on with the Sumatra Gayo theme, next up is Volcanica’s Sumatra Gayo Peaberry, and you can rest assured we saved the absolute best for last. They’re the highest quality Sumatran Gayo available – especially when you consider that peaberry beans usually make up only 5% of a crop! All of this makes them the elite of the elite.

These beans are grown way up in the highlands in northern Sumatra around Lake Laut Tawar (we’re talking between 4,500 and 6,000 feet, making it a Strictly High Grown Coffee).

High grown and peaberry both imply that the beans are going to come brimming with flavor, and these don’t disappoint! Like their “non-peaberry” cousins above, these little guys pack a punch, delivering sweetly crisp, complex overtones with a myriad of flavors stretching from caramel and peach all the way to cardamom, clove, and even fresh-fallen leaves.

They bring a terrific combination of bright yet low levels of acidity; are wet-processed and sun-dried, and come with a couple of crucial certifications. Namely, they are both organic and Fair Trade certified, which means you’re getting a product that has been thoughtfully and ethically grown and harvested.

The beans are also medium roasted after you place your order as part of that stellar Volcanica freshness guarantee.

Best Roast?

Most roasters will give you a dark roast for your Sumatran.

It adds sweetness to the earthy notes and brings out the natural chocolate flavors of the beans. If you want the traditional experience of Sumatran coffee, that’s the way to go.

Alternatively, you might want to try a lighter roast.

If you’re home roasting you can experiment with this – instead of taking your beans through second crack, stop just before it.

They might look a bit mottled and pale, but grind them up and try a brew. You’ll find your coffee has the herbal complexity and earthy notes that makes Sumatran famous around the world.

How to Use Sumatran Coffee For Cooking

Because of it’s intense, herby flavor profile, Sumatra Coffee makes the perfect accompaniment to a meal.

But why not go one step further and use coffee in your cooking?

Not only does coffee add to the flavor of meat dishes, it also helps to tenderize - giving you a melt in the mouth experience.

Marinades

Add a little Sumatran to your marinade and let is seep into the fibers, leaving them moist and uniquely full-flavored with a caffeinated zing.

Alternatively, add some coffee to the braising liquid when you cook. It caramelizes as it reduces, giving an amazingly nutty, roasted flavor.

Spice Rub

Mix ground coffee, salt and paprika and use it as a salt rub before you throw your meat on the grill.

This works really well for pork, but you can also add a coating to the outside of burgers to add that certain something.

You could also combine ground coffee and cocoa to give a rack of lamb a mocha twist; a surprisingly delicious way to ring the changes.

Bake it

If you don’t like the sound of coffee with meat, then google up one of the many coffee bread recipes from around the world.

Sweet, or savory, there’s a recipe that will benefit from the earthy deliciousness of Sumatran.

Of course, if you’re from the deep south you won’t be surprised by the idea of eating coffee; it’s been a vital part of ‘red eye gravy’ for decades.

They were just well ahead of the trend.

This rich sauce is usually accompanied by country ham but why not experiment?

A Coffee, Chocolate and Walnut cake - Source:  Flickr, Shoko Muraguchi

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 pure Sumatra 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.

And if nothing else, you’ll be able to take part in the discussions the next time someone tries to start an argument amongst your group of coffee afficionados.

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