Sumatra coffees are famous for their peculiar flavor profile, low acidity, thick body, and rustic flavors that can often be described as earthy. Much of the flavor comes from the way Sumatras are processed, the wet-hull method, not to be confused with wet-processed coffee. The flavor of typical wet-hull Sumatra is polarizing among buyers. Some love it, but they must bracket this type of flavor profile because it would be considered unacceptable from any other origin besides Indonesia. Each coffee drinker has to discover if this type of flavor is right for them, or not; whether it's a go-to daily drinker, an occasional diversion, or flat-out unacceptable.
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.
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.
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.