Green Coffee Offerings : Indonesia : Sumatra
Upcoming Crop Comments
Getting great coffee out of Sumatra has been tricky in the past, but we know the guys who can get it done and understand our requirements. New arrivals are here now, as well as an aged Aceh coffee.
About Sumatran Coffee
Arabica coffee production in Sumatra began in the 18th century under Dutch colonial domination, introduced first to the northern region of Aceh around Lake Tawar. Coffee is still widely produced in these northern regions of Aceh (Takengon, Bener Mariah) as well as in the Lake Toba region (Lintong Nihuta, Dairi-Sidikalang, Siborongborong, Dolok Sanggul, and Seribu Dolok) to the southwest of Medan.
In the past, Sumatra coffees have not been sold by region, because presumably the regional differences are not that distinct. Rather, the quality of the picking, preparation and processing of the coffee determines much of the cup character in this coffee. In fact, Sumatras are sold as Mandheling (Mandailing) which is simply the Indonesian ethnic group that was once involved in coffee production (see note below). The coffee is scored by defects in the cup, not physical defects of the green coffee. So a fairly ugly-looking green coffee can technically be called Grade 1 Mandheling.Indonesians are available as a unique semi-washed process and (rarely) fully-washed coffees. Semi-washed coffees are best described as "wet-hulled", localy called Giling Basah, and will have more body and often more of the "character" that makes Indonesians so appealing and slightly funky. In this process, the parchment coffee (the green seed with the parchment shell still attached) is very marginally dried, then stripped of the outer layer, revealing a white-colored, swollen green bean. Then the drying is completed on the patio (or in some cases, on the dirt), and the seed quickly turns to a dark green color.
There is a tendency to over-roast Indonesians. The reason is that they don't show as much roast color, and have a mottled appearance up until 2nd crack and even a bit into it. Don't let this make you think you have to roast them dark (although they can be nice this way too). Great Indonesians will be wonderful roasted just to the verge of 2nd crack but NOT into it at all. So ignore the wierd beans you see green, and ignore the mottled appearance of lighter roasts, and focus on the what you get in the CUP.
With prices high, you expect quality would be up to, but in general this is not the case: what's the incentive to pick and prepare the coffee better when the market guarantees a premium anyway? It's why we buy very selectively from Sumatra and cup our lots hard. What I have seen is blends of old crop and new crop early in the Grade 1 window (Nov-Jan in particular), which is a deceptive practice. Nonetheless, roasters need Sumatra and I am sure someone buys it ... someone who doesn't cup their lots that is! Problems aside, we have been able to find great Sumatras in both the rustic and the fancy triple-pick categories because we have established good relations directly with the sources.
Mandheling is an older Dutch spelling of Mandailing, which is an ethnic group, not a region. Here is an interesting anecdote on the use of Mandheling in the coffee trade. The grading of Sumatra coffees can be confusing. Many of our lots are standard, old-style Grade One grades that result in the classic, rustic, earthy flavor profile. But we also offer many super-grade lots throughout the year, so-called Triple-Pick coffees. These can be as complex, and intense, or sometimes more refined and broader in the overall range of flavors. For more about the different styles and classes of Sumatra, here are some additional comments. I also included a google map marking Takengon and Lake Toba here. For more pictures of Sumatra than you would ever care to see, visit our travelogs for the Lake Toba- Lintong area, and the Lake Tawar-Aceh area.
Tom with Eko and Eduardo in Lintong Nihota, talking coffee agronomy, no doubt.
Very mature old coffee trees in Takengon area of Aceh, where our "Classic Mandheling" comes from.
Our Unroasted Sumatran Coffee Offerings:
will need to read the reference
to interpret terms and numbers used below). Check out the Sweet Maria's Coffee Home Roasting Forum for more conversation about home roasting this and other coffees.
This coffee is from a distinctly unique origin; the volcanic island in the middle of massive Lake Toba, adjacent to the Lintong highlands of Sumatra. Being located on the island of Sumatra, Samosir is the largest "island within an island" in the world. It rises up above the level of Lake Toba to nearly the same altitude as the Lintong plateau, so the potential for quality coffee production matches that of the area. Yet the coffee was never sold separately from the regional blends, despite having a unique terroir. This is a microlot of coffee only from small producers on the island. This coffee has potent earthy/rustic character that fans of classic old-school Sumatra coffees will find immensely attractive. It might go against common sense, but I find Sumatras like this more complex in the lighter roasts than in the usual darker roasts they receive. The main reason is that many commercial roasters use color and surface texture as indicators of roast level. They roast coffee until the bean looks attractive. But with a Sumatra like this, you will mostly likely hit 2nd crack at the point where the surface texture and varied bean color evens out and it looks pretty, in which case you have already gone dark in the roast. Try ugly for a change; City+ !
This is an intense coffee. The dry fragrance has powerfully rustic sweetness, foresty cedar notes, herbal, with sorghum molasses and sweet tobacco. Adding hot water, this wonderful chocolate-dipped banana scent emerges, laced with natural brown sugar aka Muscavado, and a hint of fresh earth and spice. The cup is very bold, with strong flavors of heavily caramelized sugars, bittersweet chocolate, and a fruited undertone of mixed melons. Their is a thick, syrupy quality to the mouthfeel of this coffee, and low-toned acidity one would expect from traditional Sumatra coffees with a darkly-hued character. The finish has some of the sweetness found in chicory root, and the sweetness of dark caramels persists into the long aftertaste. This makes interesting and intense espresso, but might be too herbal and rustic for some palates.
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Lintong Nihota is the town that has become synonymous with the entire southern part of Lake Toba area most of the coffee from the southern shores are sold as such. Lake Toba defines the landscape of the area, the largest volcanic crater lake in the world, and the result of the largest volcanic event on earth in the last 25 million years! It is huge, and the coffees from the north and eastern shores are quite different from the Lintong coffees. This lot is from one coffee collector known tersely as Joner. I met him several times and his dry mill was one of the larger and more professional (and cleaner) operations in the area. In a system where farmers sell to local collector, much rides on the long-standing relationships between the two parties, and the collector is really the key person to determine coffee quality. A good collector buys coffees direct, as Joner does, rather than in the local village coffee markets where quality is low, the wet processing of the coffees is haphazard, and everything gets mixed together. This coffee is a special preparation: It is prepared by density at Joner's mills, then it is density sorted once again and hand-sorted in Medan once again before export. And since my latest obsession is inspecting coffee under ultraviolet light while grading them, this lot still shows the normal wet-hulled issues, but is infinitely better than most Grade 1 "Mandhelings" and the like.
The dry fragrance has an unrefined sweetness of brown rice syrup and muscavado sugar, along with raspberry and boysenberry. Wet, you get a smell of raw Brazil nut up front, followed by a waft of well developed sugars. The crust is very sweet and has toasted caramel, vanilla extract, along with a hint of buchwheat pancakes. The aromatics are "clean", but not without the herbal qualities that are expected from Lintong coffee. The cup has a great rustic sweetness, with molasses, cinnamon stick, mulling spice, and a note of Darjeeling tea. Light roasts have a flavor of fresh hops and reminds me a bit of IPA. Full City roast level has dark malt syrup, caramel apple, and finish with fine Dutch cocoa powder. This coffee finishes long and sweet, has a weighty, juice-like body, and has great acidity across the roast spectrum. This Sumatra makes an interesting, and intense espresso shot as well. At Full City/Full City+ you can expect a deep sweetness, sharp acidity, and viscous body.
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This is a peaberry preparation of our Lintong-area coffee. Lintong coffees are from Sumatra, the island that is politically and geographically part of Indonesia. Lintong Nihota is the town that has become synonymous with the entire southern part of Lake Toba area. Lake Toba defines the landscape of the area, the largest volcanic crater lake in the world, and the result of the largest volcanic event on earth in the last 25 million years! It is huge, and the coffees from the north and eastern shores are quite different from the Lintong coffees. Lintong coffees are farmed by the Batak peoples that are the indigenous tribe that works the coffee in this area. The family of collectors we source this lot from works direct with the small growers, bypassing the local markets in most cases, where lower grade coffees are mixed in with the better lots. This peaberry can take light roasts as well as dark. Many commercial roasters use color and surface texture as indicators of roast level, and tend to go dark on Sumatras in general because of this. The peaberry has a different roast dynamic, and seems to be a more dense bean that the flat beans from the same region.
The dry fragrance of this coffee has a strong rustic sweetness in lighter roasts, caramel and chocolate, with raisin, banana and a hint of sweet tobacco. There's strong fruited scents that come out in the wet aroma, baked apple and mulling spices, cinnamon stick, caramel sauce. The cup fulfills the expectations set by the aromatics. There is dark dried raisin-plum fruit, a bit of rindy orange brightness, stewed rhubarb, spiced apple cider. This brightness paired with intense sweetness is unique in Sumatra wet-hulled coffees. The body is lighter than our other Sumatra offerings, but syrupy in texture. There's a dark malty note, as well as caramelized sugars, with a slight rustic overlay of cedar. The long finish has a nice cinnamon-laced black tea note that I find very pleasing. It has a clean fruited sweetness in the long aftertaste, making this one of the nicest cups for a pour-over brew of Sumatra, one that can change the minds of tasters used to simple, earthy coffees from this part of the world.
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Sumatra coffees are a grand exception in many ways. We would not accept the earthy tones, the low acidity, or other exotic and rustic flavors from other origins, especially in wet-processed coffees. But in Sumatra coffee, flavors seen as defect from other origins can be positive attributes! The unique flavors are due to the influence of the coffee varieties, the climate, and, last but not at all least, the processing method we call Wet-hull (or Giling Basah to locals). Here's an overview of the processing difference: Traditional Sumatras are from small-holder farms, where they process the coffee by pulping off the skin in a hand-crank machine, then ferment the coffee in buckets of water or small concrete tanks to break down the fruity mucilage layer. This is not so different from wet-processing, but by the time they leave it to ferment may or may not be enough to remove all the fruit, and they don't wait for the coffee to dry. Basically it is traded to collectors, middlemen, while the coffee has high humidity. When sold to the mill, it might be dried a little more, but it is hulled out of the parchment skin wet; hence the term Wet-hulled. The fact that the green coffee is then laid out to dry on patios is quite different than wet-processing, where the coffee is dried in the parchment. And it's also where a lot of Sumatra coffee is ruined, since it can absorb taints from the environment. This is a particular lot we really liked for it's sweet fruited character. It's from the Aceh (pronounced ah-cha) area in the North, from 1450-1600 meters. This lot has been hand-sorted a third time before export, hence it is called Triple Pick.
The dry grounds of this coffee have a deep, brooding sweetness. It's like heavy molasses, and with a strong waft of cacao nibs, and banana. There's an undertone of foresty smell in the aromatics that really develops in darker roasts. The wet grounds have a note of cola nut, and much in the way of caramelized sugars. There's a slight herbal-ness in the darker roasts, but this is evenly matched by the smell of burned caramel, and wafts of raw ginger and red berry are released on the break. The cup has layered chocolate roast taste, moderate brightness, and juicy body. Cocoa powder and dark chocolate are prime characteristics and are accented by pulpy fruits and even strawberry. The finish has a slight dryness and bittersweet quality, reminiscent of Baker’s Chocolate. City+ roasts brings out fruited notes of dark berry and dried papaya. Dark roasts highlight a slight herbal quality that you might expect from Mandheling-Aceh coffee, as well as a note of tropical fruit punch. This will make a great, and interesting single-origin espresso.
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To view reviews for out of stock coffees, visit our Sumatra Coffee Archives.
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