Sumatran coffee


If you want to start a discussion among coffee lovers, ask them what they think of Sumatran coffee.

While some beans and blends are universally loved, Sumatran coffee is more of a drink that you like or don’t like. But why is that so? And what can you do to obtain the most out of this unusual bean? Read on to discover more about it.


An Overview of Sumatran Coffee

  • Sumatra is an Indonesian island where the equator passes precisely through the island’s center, creating two climate zones.
  • Women are mainly responsible for planting, growing, harvesting, and transporting the coffee.
  • The processing method used for the coffee is called ‘wet hulling (literally wet peeling)’ and gives the coffee its unique earthy, mossy, strange, and mushroomy taste.
  • Three primary coffee brands from Sumatra are Mandheling, Lington, and Gayo.
  • Kopi Luwak is another unique coffee from Sumatra. The coffee is notable because the luwak eats the berries, and the bean is excreted again.

Magic growing conditions

Sumatra is an island in Southeast Asia with the perfect climate for cultivating Arabica beans. Directly below the equator, the island enjoys tropical weather; one moment, it is wonderfully sunny, and the next, it rains. They are the kind of circumstances that gardeners spend hours trying to accomplish in their greenhouses. 

Indonesia is the world’s third largest coffee producer, but like many places where beans are grown, coffee is not native to the area. The Dutch East India Company brought seedlings to the site in the 18th century. First in Jakarta (Batavia) and then to other islands, including Sumatra.

In the late 18th century, nearly all of Indonesia’s coffee plantations were wiped out by coffee rust, a fungus that gives the undersides of the leaves an orangish appearance.

After a short experiment with the cultivation of Liberian beans, most plantations were replanted with Robusta. And today, most of the coffee is from Indonesia. In Sumatra, they remained faithful to Arabica. 

The processing creates the taste.

The processing method is wet hulling, which gives Sumatran beans the flavor that divides us. This is also known as dry processing (confusingly, we know) or natural processing.

It goes like this. Once the cherries are picked, they are processed to remove most fruit. Then they are bagged and allowed to ferment overnight. The next day the farmers go through the beans with their hands, remove the rest of the fruit, and spread the beans out to dry. The beans are then shipped to a warehouse for further drying and processing before being distributed worldwide. 

Wet hulling means the beans stay in moist longer. It’s a side effect of Sumatra having such a humid climate. It also gives the coffee its unique taste. Words used to describe Sumatran coffee are earthy, mossy, strange, and mushroomy.

You’re doing one of two things right now. You start drooling or make a face like we suggested making coffee in your sweaty old shoes. And that is why Sumatra divides the coffee world. 

Flavor profile

  • Low acidity
  • Earthy flavors
  • Best dark roast for sweetness
  • Aroma: Spicy, woody, savory

Words often associated with the taste of Sumatran coffee are complex, complete, and rich. However, this can often be because roasters tend to dark roast Sumatran coffee. When you choose a lighter roast, the flavor profile becomes (a little) brighter and fresher. 

Coffee brands

Three primary coffee brands originate from Sumatra; Mandheling, Lington, and Gayo.

  • Mandheling is produced in the north and is considered by many to be the best coffee Sumatra has.
  • Lingtong, where the beans are grown on a high plateau overlooking Lake Toba, is known for its rich flavor and clean aftertaste balance.
  • Gayo Peaberry is perfect for coffee lovers who crave these round beans’ full, intense flavor.

 Consider using it in a blend.

The key to using Sumatran coffee in a blend is to supplement it with coffee that offers what it lacks. This coffee acts as a base; it is earthy and has low acidity.

Tip: The coffee is often combined with coffee from Ethiopia (aromatic and fruity) or South America (sour). 

Sumatran adds its solid base and complex flavors to any blend. If you’re looking for a coffee that works on many levels, nothing beats the taste of this coffee. It is a unique ingredient.

Sumatran coffee is something you have to try for yourself. It is not an experience that is easy to describe. But people who like it, they like it. It’s worth trying a cup to see if it becomes your new favorite drink. 

The coffee industry in Sumatra today

Starbucks is one of the most considerable buyers of Sumatran coffee and offers regular and aged coffee. The aging process gives the Sumatran coffee a spicy hue that only adds to the unique flavors of this bean. 

More than 90% of Sumatran coffee is grown by small farmers on farms of about one hectare. These micro-plantations unite in cooperatives, and many have international certification to sell their beans as organically grown.

Because Sumatran coffee has a great taste but low acidity, the coffee is often used as part of a blend with other coffees. Usually, they are supplemented with South American coffee, which has acidity in abundance. 

How do you make great Sumatran coffee?

The taste of Sumatran coffee is best suited for espresso. That is the only way to enjoy it, and if you use a medium or coarse grind, you can enjoy it with any preparation method. But to enjoy the taste? Use a fine grind and make it into an espresso. 

While an espresso machine is the easiest way to prepare a crema-packed drink, you can also use an Aeropress or a traditional moka pot. 

Alternatively, Sumatran coffee is an excellent bean for cold brew. Set your coffee grinder to coarse and use a cold brew method you like. Cold brew allows flavors to develop but offers an even lower acidity than regular coffee, making it very smooth. The low acidity makes cold brew coffee better for your teeth and stomach. In addition, it is also full of antioxidants. 

Best roast profile?

Most coffee roasters offer dark-roasted Sumatran coffee. It adds sweetness to the earthy tones and brings out the natural chocolate flavors of the beans. If you want to experience the traditional experience of Sumatran coffee, that’s the way to do it. 

Alternatively, you can also try lighter roasted beans. Stop just before the second crack if you want to experiment with roasting coffee at home. The beans may look slightly mottled and pale, but grind them and try a drink. You will find that your coffee has the spice complexity and earthy flavors that make Sumatran coffee so famous. 

Nikmati Kopimu (enjoy your coffee)

Whether an earthy taste appeals to you, everyone should try a cup of pure Sumatran coffee at least once. 

You may not like it, but you will at least get an insight into what this bean offers. And if that’s the last time you try this coffee, you can at least join the discussion next time when a fellow coffee lover brings up the topic.