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.
Sumatran coffees can be the most earthy, low-toned, and rustic of the Indonesian coffee-growing world, flavors entirely sensed in the anterior regions of the palate. The flavor of Sumatra coffees result from how the coffee is processed, and to a lesser degree the types of coffee varietals planted. Sumatra coffees were once dry-processed, where the cherry is picked from the tree, laid out to dry, and then hulled to green bean in one step. This never worked well because the climate is so wet during the harvest in Sumatra, and rather unpredictable too. So now most Sumatra coffees are wet-hulled (called Giling Basah). Processing starts on the small-holder farms, where they pick the coffee and pulp off the fruit skin in a hand-crank machine. Then most farmers ferment the coffee in small containers to break down the fruity mucilage layer, others simply leave the bags of cherry intact overnight and pulp in the morning. Then they dry the coffee for a few hours on tarps or concrete, and sell it in the local market to coffee collectors. The collectors might dry the coffee a little more, but it is still exceptionally wet when they hull it (hence the term wet-hulled. This wet-hulling is not done anywhere else in the coffee world. The collector then puts the wet, soft green bean (called Kopi Labu, or pumpkin coffee) out on the tarps or concrete to dry. That's another unique aspect of Sumatra processing; nowhere else is the green bean exposed directly to the elements to dry. But in this wet climate, hulling off the outer parchment layer so soon makes the coffee dry much faster, and allows the collector to get it dried down to 14% moisture and sell the coffee to an exporter much sooner than other processing methods. The dried coffee, called Asalan, is prepared on gravity tables and hand sorted again by the better exporters to meet the standards of Grade 1. It takes some work to find a good Mandheling-type coffee, one that doesn't "cross the line" from pleasant earthy tones into the realm of dirty flavors (or worse of all, musty or moldy notes). Our Sumatra Grade 1 Mandheling coffee is from the Lintong Nihota are of North Sumatra. Mandheling is used as a trade name for these coffees but is not a region; It is a different Sumatran ethnic group that historically produced Arabica coffees.
This Mandheling coffee has an earthiness to the sugary aspects, that lie somewhere between grain-like brown rice syrup, and the malty side of unrefined sugars. The dry grounds have a strong scent of ripe berries, raw cane juice and fresh tarragon. Earthy aspects are stronger in lighter roasts, and Full City shows more along the lines of toasted sugars and smokey chocolate. This coffee really sweetens up with the addition of hot water, and takes on much more straight forward notes of brown sugar and butter, along with fresh fig. It's a very sweet crust, and breaking it releases a pungent waft of papaya along with rice pudding in the steam. The cup has a layers of fruit and sugars at both light and dark roast levels. City+ roasts are sweet and bodied, and with notes of kumquat, cane juice, and the tartness of kiwi. This Mandheling definitely has a tropical side to it, and darker roasts show elements of red fruit punch. They also have a bit of burned caramel, with that rustic, unrefined and almost smokey flavor. The finish has a slight dryness and bittersweet quality, reminiscent of Baker's Chocolate - but mostly as mouthfeel, and not flavor. This will make an interesting, rustic-tinged single-origin espresso.
Onan Ganjang is a town and sub-district in the Lintong area, on the southern shores of the huge volcanic cratar lake, Laut Toba. Coffees from this area have a specific cup profile that is different from Aceh coffees, from the far north. The coffees here are of mixed heritage; a few Bergendal Typicas exist mixed in with the predominate Ateng catimor types. This lot represents a third type, Onan Ganjang, named for the locality where it was widely planted (also sp. Onang Ganjang), but referring to a specific cultivar. To be clear, it's not a Typica type, and it could be a local mutation crossed between Hibrido de Timor and Ateng. But the tree itself is distinctive, healthy, disease-resistant, and produces well. In the cup, the difference is subtle but clear as well; classic flavors, less herbal than other Lintong lots, balanced. This is another Blue Batak slection, which refers to the highest quality parchment coffee and best milling and sorting techniques. Lintong coffees are farmed by the Batak peoples that are the indigenous tribe that works the coffee in this area. We offer the top grade, specially- prepared Lintong coffees as Blue Batak in honor of the Toba Batak people. Blue Batak is a near-zero defect prepartion, without the usual split beans, broken pieces and crud found in standard Sumatras. It is carefully density sorted and triple-hand-sorted.
This is definitely one of the sweeter smelling Sumatra coffees that we bring in. The dry fragrance is potent and has hints of malted sugar, sorghum syrup, banana, and tropical fruits, especially at lighter roast levels. Notes of chocolate really come to fore at Full City roast, and the coffee remains very sweet aromatically. The wet fragrance has dark caramel, chocolate, molasses and a note of honey wheat. There's no doubt this is Sumatra; but it is clean too, and without musty and earth scents you may come to expect from the region. The cup is very syrupy, with cherry cola and sarsaparilla notes, fading into cocoa bitterness. The light roast has malty sugars (maltose), and with a chocolate/caramel finish that reminds me of Rolo candy. Darker roasts have an herbal element, as well as a heavy, stone fruit nectar juiciness, and roast flavors balanced between cola and chocolate. Full City roast seems ideal for this coffee, but it has a profile that holds up just fine at City+ as well as Full City+. Give this one a whirl as an unconventional, but delicious, SO espresso.