Sumatra Coffee Guide – Best Brands, Beans, & Pricing

Sumatra Coffee Guide – Best Brands, Beans, & Pricing

Coffee is an integral part of life. Whether it’s used for perking up in the mornings, keeping motivated to get through the day, or just enjoying it for the flavors it presents, coffee is one thing that people the world over have in common.

The selections of coffees are endless; however, one of the most sought after is Sumatra coffee. This coffee has a very different taste and texture to it than the average coffee, and it is harder to find pure Sumatra, with a lower amount of annual production.

Grown in Indonesia and subject to its weather patterns, three types of beans fall under the umbrella of Sumatra coffee beans. This coffee has a lot more to offer than just flavor.

It offers an interesting history and origin story, and it’s the insight into the harvest and process that makes it so different from other types of coffee, as well as the brilliant taste. Take a glimpse into Sumatra coffee, where it came from, and why it’s so sought after. Before we delve deep, we will be discussing the most delicious, best Sumatra coffee beans and brands you can purchase!

Best Sumatra Coffee – It’s More Than Just A Name…

morning mug of favourite sumatran coffee

Sumatra coffee comes in three types: Mandheling, Lintong, and Gayo, so tastes will determine what brands are preferred. Lintong, a lesser known type from the District of Lintong Nihuta, is grown on a high plateau.

Its best known for its full body, concentrated flavor of herbal notes, spicy and rich aftertaste, accompanied by a chocolate flavor.

It’s also erroneously associated with the Kopi Luwak type of Sumatra. However, they are unrelated, as the Kopi Luwak coffee bean undergoes a much different process.

Gayo is grown on the Gayo highlands of Central Aceh, and is revered as having the cleanest taste of all Sumatran coffees, due to its special handling during processing. It boasts of a well balanced body, with fruity and herbal flavors.

Grown in North Sumatra, Mandheling has low acidity, a light, earthy aroma, and the flavor is described as chocolatey, woody, and herbal. It is considered by many to be the best of the three.

Sumatra Mandheling Coffee – One of The Most Popular Varieties

What most know as Sumatra coffee is the Mandheling variety of the bean. It comes as no surprise, due to the nature of its flavor, aroma, and the ease of harvesting, compared to its counterparts, Lintong and Gayo.

Sumatra Mandheling coffee is easy to find, both online and in physical locations such as Wal-Mart, Target, Starbucks, Amazon and independent coffee houses and various specialty stores, due to the world-renown fame it enjoys.

As the main variety of Sumatra, it can be purchased nearly anywhere for varying prices, according to the quality of the product. When looking for the best Sumatra coffee brands, Volcanica is rated the highest, offering both ground and whole bean options for purchase.

Gayo can also be purchased through this company, and appears usually as a blend in coffee shops and online, so it is much less recognized for its unique flavor and tones, and is slightly more expensive.

A Little Background On Sumatra Coffee Growth

sumatra coffee beans

Sumatra is the largest island in the Indonesian archipelago, with several active volcanoes, and has three major specialty coffee regions: Tapanuli, Lintong Nihuta, and Gayo.

Despite unpredictable weather, the tropical climate and beneficial location near the equator make Sumatra ideal for coffee plantations.

The mountainous areas in the interior serve to create micro climates for the coffee’s growth and production, from planting and harvest, through processing and preparation.

In addition to this, the production of hundreds of thousands of tons of coffee, annually, is in the hands of a small group of cooperatives and farmers. Due to the small groups of production, it is a commodity, and as a result, is very desirable.

Today, Sumatra is the home of one of the most popular coffees in the world, but it had its humble beginnings as an import into Indonesia.

The Sumatra coffee beans are identified not just by the fact that it resides in Sumatra’s western-most island, but by the bluish-green color at the raw bean stage that suggest a lack of iron in the soil.

The flavor is brought out in the wet hulling processing phase of the bean, unique among the various forms of processing coffee beans around the world.

While it is typically associated with a smooth taste and sweet body, Sumatra coffee beans pick up the flavor of the region they are grown in.

Historical Humble Beginnings of Sumatran Coffee

During the 17th century, the Typica coffee plants (mainly found in the regions of Bergandal and Sidikalang), the precursors to the Sumatra coffee beans, were brought to Indonesia by the Dutch East India Company. They were looking to break the monopoly that the Arab merchants held on the coffee trade at the time.

The Dutch Colonial Government ruled the majority of the region after finding the islands suitable for commercial crops, and began experimenting with planting in Batavia (present day Jakarta), with some of the plants taking hold.

In 1711, the first green coffee exports were sent to Europe, and with that success, within ten years, the exports were up to sixty tons per year.

Indonesia, from then on, became the largest producer of coffee after Ethiopia and Arabia, and was Dutch East India Company until the 1790’s.

By the 1870’s, coffee plantations dotted the Indonesian islands of Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi, and encouraged industrial evolution, such as the building of trains and roads to match the supply with demand for the coffee.

At the end of the 19th century, the Sumatra coffee plant was all but wiped out by leaf rust disease, as was its attempted replacement of Liberica coffee.

Robusta coffee was experimented with next, took hold, and is now 75% of Indonesia’s coffee export, mainly from the southern end of Sumatra.

Best Sumatran Coffee Beans Hold A Subtle & Gentle Flavour

enjoying mug of sumatran coffee

Sumatran coffee is much loved, not because it presents a largely robust and bright flavor, but rather because the flavor is more subtle than others. The acidity is generally lower, but it does have its exceptions.

These exceptions are expressed in the different types of Sumatra coffee, and gain slightly different flavors to enjoy, due to the locations they are harvested from.

Considered an Arabica coffee due to its low acidity, it produces the sweeter flavors that range from maple syrup, toasted almond, to grapefruit or sweet fruity notes.

The sweeter, gentler taste and smell of Sumatran coffee beans is due largely, in part, to the processing it undergoes, from harvest to preparation and packaging.

A Different Approach With Sumatra Coffee Beans

Sumatra coffee comes from an island in Indonesia, where a process called “wet-hulling” is used to process the beans because of the unpredictable weather. This leaves less time to dry the beans, leaving them with 50% of their moisture before they are processed by machine.

This allows them to ferment in the process, and gain those earthy, complex flavors and lower the acidity and bitter taste.

Coffee beans grown in places like Africa and South America have other methods of processing and preparation, including wet, dry, and semi-dry processes.

However, those coffee beans are left with 9-11% of their moisture, producing a stronger flavor and higher acidity, despite the similar processes of preparation of the beans.

Sumatra, as an arabica coffee, tends to have a sweeter, softer taste to it; robusta beans have a stronger, harsh and nutty aftertaste.

Containing twice as much caffeine as arabica beans, robusta beans are more valued for their deep flavors, especially with espresso.

Sumatra Coffee Beans Have A Different Taste

Lintong is much more difficult to find, with the internet being the primary source of supply, outside of Indonesia. There is no real explanation as to why this strain doesn’t enjoy the same popularity as Mandheling and Gayo Mountain; however, the Lintong is no less enticing, and is an interesting flavor that should be experienced.

Northern Tea Merchants provides a more expensive, but higher quality product. It comes as a Lintong-only coffee, with no blends of the other two.

Amazon carries Lintong under an expensive brand called Wild Kopi Luwak, and a cheaper brand called Aspen Sierra Coffee Roasting Co.

Overall, the best locations for finding Sumatra coffee depends on personal preference and level of experience desired in the coffee.

Volcanica, Starbucks, and exclusively online shops such as Northern Tea Merchants, all carry Sumatra coffee types. The determining factor for which coffee tastes best is the palate of the customer, and the preparation process by the vendor.

The End Of A Journey

Sumatra coffee is much more than a coffee bean that comes from Indonesia. It’s a legacy with a history as rich as its flavor, and it has a foothold in the modern era where neither war nor plight could stop its growing popularity, and from rising to where it is today.

The history, the taste of the regions found in the coffee itself, and the intriguing differences in the regions are what’s truly amazing.

A new understanding of Sumatra and its coffee beans is ground in, brewed to perfection, and served with notes of history of where the plant originated, and how it’s changed. The different processes that give us the finished product coffee beans are what makes this island’s coffee special.

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