Sumatra coffee is a controversial topic among coffee connoisseurs. Some love it, others despise it. The unique spicy and earthy is definitely a matter of taste but if you have never tried it, we suggest you start with one of the premium gourmet coffees from the Sunda Islands that made our list.
What is the best Sumatra coffee?
The best Sumatra coffee is really a matter of taste. Everyone appreciates a slightly different flavor profile but these are the coffees that made our short list.
|Volcanica Sumatra Gayo Peaberry||caramel, peach, falling leaves, cocoa, and flowers|
|Cooper’s Cask Sumatra Dark Roast||cedar, cherry, dark chocolate, and tobacco|
|Klatch Coffee Sumatra Mutu Batak||raisin, plum, cocoa, cedar, and lavendar|
Interesting Facts About Sumatra Coffee
- Indonesia, the country where Sumatra is produced, is the world’s fourth largest coffee producer.
- Over 90% of coffee beans grown on Sumatra are produced by small coffee farmers.
- Starbucks is a huge purchaser of Sumatran coffee and frequently uses it in their blends.
- Sumatra coffee has two varieties: regular and aged.
- The aging process of Sumatra coffee is what gives it the unique spicy note that makes it famous.
- The famous Sumatra Mandheling coffee is named after the Mandailing natives that cultivate the coffee.
- Sumatra coffee is processed using a wet hulling method
- Sumatra is frequently used in blends because of its low acidity and earthy flavor.
Like many of Peet’s Coffees, this dark roast who’s sweeter taste is a crowd pleaser. It has a balanced flavor that is both earthy and sweet with herbal nuances. It makes a perfect everyday coffee.
This 100% Arabica, single origin Sumatra is cultivated and hand processed on small coffee farms. The coffee is then roasted in small batches to ensure quality and consistency in flavor.
The flavor is earthy and herbal with aromatic notes of sweet caramel.
The smell is distinctly Sumatran but the flavor is not as notable as some of the others on our list. While the earthiness is there, it is not as pronounced as other Sumatras.
As a bonus, it is certified Kosher and even available in K-cups.
This would be a perfect coffee for drinkers who find other Sumatras to be too funky and mushroomy.
Volcanica’s Gayo Peaberry coffee beans are grown in the Aceh region in Northern Sumatra. This region is known for both growing some of the best coffee beans in the country as well as using a processing system that produces exceptionally sweet and clean coffee beans.
Volcanica’s Gayo Peaberry is organically grown at high elevations. The growing conditions give it a bold full-bodied flavor that is indicative of a great Arabica coffee.
This medium roast, organic, Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified coffees is one of our favorites. Volcanica roasts and ships the coffee after your order has been placed to ensure you the freshest brewing experience possible.
At first, you may think that the vibrant acidity and sweet caramel and peach notes completely contradict the traditional qualities of Sumatra coffee. As you drink the coffee however, you begin to detect herbal hints of fresh fallen leaves, cocoa and flowers. This coffee offers a balanced flavor profile that finishes off with a gentle syrupy aftertaste that even the most finicky coffee connoisseur will appreciate.
In addition to the Sumatra Gayo Peaberry, Volcanica has one of the best Mandhelings we have found. This fabulous Sumatra Mandheling is one of our favorites.
Mandheling coffee beans are one of the most exported varieties in Sumatra and are well known for their smooth, syrupy yet heavy body,along with an herbal aroma and sweet chocolatey flavor notes.
Volcanica’s Sumatra Mandheling pays tribute to this earthy authenticity with a complex and delicious flavor. The coffee has a well balanced full body, low acidity, and distinctive notes of spice, brown sugar, and chocolate. Sophisticated palates can also detect a hint of wine and dried fruit.
This medium roast, shade grown, coffee is Fair Trade and RainForest Alliance Certified. Although it is on the pricey side, Volcanica offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Since Starbucks is one of the biggest buyers of Sumatra coffee in the world, naturally it would make our list.
This dark roast is strong and earthy with the classic herbal Sumatra flavor profile and a touch of spice. This particular brew should be tolerated by most coffee drinkers since the notes of herbs and spices aren’t as prominent as some of the Sumatras on this list. Rather, it has a medium to heavy body typical of a dark roast, yet is still quite smooth.
Like Peet’s, this coffee has much milder Sumatra flavor notes. It is a great coffee for those who are just venturing into the world of Sumatra or those who find a strong, earthy flavor a bit much.
If you are looking for a great tasting Sumatra at a bargain, look no further than Koffee Kult. At around $12 a pound, the price of this premium quality coffee is hard to beat.
Koffee Kult’s Sumatra is a Mandheling made from 100% Arabica beans. Each batch is roasted to perfection by small batch roasters. Each batch is roasted to develop a rich flavor that is deep and syrupy. The earthy and chocolatey notes are combined with a delicate brown sugar like sweetness. The resulting brew is both creamy and complex with a smooth finish.
Klatch Coffee only buys coffee beans that have been graded and hand sorted before arriving at their facility. They describe their Mutu Batak as “not your father’s Sumatra.”
The company prides itself on having developed an expertly balanced coffee, while still preserving the elements associated with Sumatra. This new generation of coffee preserves the zest, syrup, freshness, and earthiness that separate Sumatra coffee from the rest.
Klatch Coffee’s Sumatra Mutu Batak is a medium roast coffee with a delightfully complex flavor profile. Containing notes of raisin, plum, cocoa, and cedar this coffee does not disappoint. WIth each sip you will detect hints of sweet herbs, fresh green peppers, and even lavender.
If you are looking for a quality USDA certified organic Sumatra, Camano Island Coffee’s Sumatra Dark roast tops our list of organic Sumatras. Camano Island Coffee uses ethical and sustainable growing practices to produce all of their coffees. This shade grown coffee is also Fair Trade Certified.
This premium fresh roasted coffee is bagged and shipped within 48 hours of roasting to ensure you get the freshest tasting cup every time.
This dark roast coffee has a rich flavor with a full body and distinctively vibrant low-key acidity. Rich and sweet, the flavor profile taste of dried fruit, complemented with slightly smoky notes and a hint of caramel. It makes the perfect after dinner treat.
This Sumatra dark roast from Cooper’s Cask is one of our top favorites. Their small batch Indonesian coffee beans are organic and Fair Trade certified.
This coffee from the Lintong region of North Central Sumatra is roasted to a full dark complex flavor that is rustic with earthy undertones. It has a smooth and creamy, heavy body with an impressive flavor that is both earthy and spicy. The flavor profile is also smokey with notes of cedar, cherry, dark chocolate and tobacco.
This is definitely a complex coffee and you are likely to pick up the intricate flavor notes of something different in every cup.
While this coffee is not as interesting or complex in flavor as Volcanica’s MAndheling, Coffee Bean Direct has a quality Sumatra at a considerably lower price point.
Their Sumatra is a dark roast that falls somewhere between French and Italian roasts and the beans can be a bit oily. The coffee itself is smooth and aromatic with a low acidity. The flavor profile tastes of nuts with hints of chocolate but still maintains the earthy flavor that defines Sumatra.
One of the reasons this coffee has such a low price point is because it is only sold in bulk. Five pounds is a lot of coffee, so unless you are a serious coffee consumer, we suggest you store it in an opaque, airtight container in the freezer to preserve its freshness.
What is Sumatra Coffee?
Sumatra coffee refers to coffee grown on Sumatra, one of the Sunda Islands of Indonesia. In fact, Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world. Along with Java, another one of the Sunda Islands, is one of Indonesia’s most famous coffee producing regions.
When prepared properly, Sumatra coffee has an intriguing and complex flavor. It usually has a medium body, earthy and spicy flavor, and a considerably lower acidity than most dark roasts.
History of Sumatra Coffee
Typica coffee plants, the precursors to modern Sumatra coffee beans, were brought to Indonesia by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century. Looking to break up the monopoly that Arab merchants held on the coffee trade at the time, this company found Indonesia’s micro climates perfect for coffee cultivation.
The Dutch Colonial Government ruled the majority of the region, and after determining the Islands were ideal for growing commercial crops, began experimenting with planting.
In 1711, the first green coffee was exported to Europe, and within 10 years, Indonesia was exporting up to 60 tons of green coffee beans per year.
By 1870, coffee plantations filled the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi. The demand for coffee encouraged an industrial revolution and the building of train tracks and roads to make shipping to major ports easier.
Unfortunately, leaf rust disease all but wiped out the Sumatra coffee plant at the end of the 19th century and an attempt to replace it was made with Liberica coffee. Experimentation with Robusta came next, and is now 75% of Indonesia’s coffee export.
Sumatra Coffee Growing Regions
Sumatra coffee is typically harvested from the Sunda Islands, specifically the island of Sumatra. The Sunda Islands are a group of islands located in the Malay archipelago, which is part of the green coffee belt. The islands are divided into two principle regions: the Greater Sunda region and the Lesser Sunda region.
Sumatra, along with other well known islands like Java, Sulawesi, and Borneo are members of the Greater Sunda region. This region is so well known for coffee growing that coffee even earned the nickname Java from one of its islands.
Though Indonesia consists of 17,508 islands, Sumatra is one of the most well known when it comes to coffee production. It’s unique tropical climate is ideal for Arabica coffee cultivation and its fertile soil can be attributed to the andesitic volcanic sediments that come from multiple volcanoes.
The majority of the coffee produced in Sumatra comes from three main regions: Lintong, Mandheling, and Aceh.
Contrary to popular belief, Mandheling is not actually a specifically located coffee growing region. Mandheling, actually refers to the Mandailing people of Sumatra. Sumatra coffee that is referred to as Mandheling is usually grown in Western Sumatra near Lake Toba.
The coffee from this region is spicy and syrupy with a complex body and is considered by many to be the best coffee Sumatra has to offer. As a matter of fact, Mandheling coffee is so well known that it has basically become a brand in itself.
Another coffee growing region in Sumatra is Lintong. Lintong is grown in a central northern area of Sumatra called Lintongnihuta. This region is located on a high plateau overlooking Lake Toba. The high altitude and rich soil in the Lintong region is perfect for growing coffee.
Coffee from this region has an earthy flavor with spicy cedar notes. Lintong is known for balancing this rich flavor with a slightly less heavy and clean aftertaste.
The Gayo region of Sumatra is held with high regard amongst Indonesian coffee lovers. The beans of this region are grown in the highlands that surround Gayo mountain.
This region is well known for embracing the wet hulling processing method, giving the coffee grown here that signature earthy Sumatran flavor.
The region around the Gayo mountain on the north portion of the island is known as the Aceh region. Produced near the lake of Tawar, the coffee produced here is among some of the cleanest and least complex of the Sumatra coffees.
This region is well known for producing Gayo Peaberry coffee which is intense and fruity in flavor with a lighter body and a fine smooth acidity.
What makes Sumatra so special?
While the coffee plant is not native to Indonesia, the unique climate of Sumatra is pretty much a coffee farmer’s dream come true when it comes to producing Arabica beans. Its positioning near the equator creates a unique tropical climate that coffee beans love and the well balanced, volcanic soil provides essential nutrients for plant growth.
While the weather conditions can vary, the combination of sunny and wet days in Sumatra’s tropical climate, along with the high altitudes available, creates the perfect coffee growing environment.
How It’s Processed
So how exactly are those herbal, earthy flavors created?
Obviously, there are a number of factors that affect how your coffee ultimately tastes. Soil composition, altitude, climate, and how it is roasted are all important factors but many people don’t realize that the way the coffee is processed before roasting also greatly affects its flavor.
Interestingly enough, the one thing that divides the coffee community on Sumatra coffee is how the beans are processed. The unique flavor, loved by some and hated by others is a result of a process called wet hulling.
Sumatra’s coffee is processed in a traditional way, unique to the Sunda Islands. Instead of washing and then dry processing the beans, Sumatra uses a process known as “gilling basah” or wet hulling.
This unique process is what lowers the acidity in Sumatra coffee and gives it the famous, earthy and spicy taste that makes it unique.
Wet hulling is a processing method that accelerates the drying process. The humid and rainy climate of the Sunda Islands makes it difficult to dry the coffee beans in a traditional method. Since Sumatra does not have the luxury of slowly drying their beans, they have to use this non traditional method or risk losing their entire coffee crop.
This non-traditional accelerated drying process means that Sumatra coffee beans retain a higher moisture content (50%) than beans dried in a traditional method (11%).
Wet Hulling Processing Method
- After picking the coffee cherries, homemade machines are used to promptly remove the skins, leaving the remaining fruit intact.
- The fruit containing the beans are then placed into woven bags and left to ferment overnight.
- The next morning, farmers wash away any remaining fermented fruit by hand and a paper-like layer of parchment still remains around the bean.
- The beans are dried overnight and then shipped to a warehouse.
- Once arriving in the warehouse, the parchment is removed and the beans are allowed to continue the drying process.
- The beans are then transported to a port city where they are given a third drying period before being exported.
This complicated process keeps the beans moist for much longer, creating the unique and complex flavor of Sumatra coffee.
The combination of environmental conditions along with the wet hulling drying process, gives Sumatra coffee a lower acidity level which is responsible for its spicy and earth, sometimes even mossy flavor.
This low acidity level is why companies like Starbucks use it frequently in their coffee blends. The lower level of acidity balances out the fruity and floral notes of more acidic coffees.
Sumatra Coffee Flavor Profile
Since they are so controversial in the coffee world, many people often wonder; what does Sumatra coffee taste like?
Often you will hear Sumatra described as complex, full-bodied, and rich but this can be attributed to roasters roasting the coffee on the darker side. If roasted a little lighter, the flavor changes considerably, becoming a bit brighter.
Typically, sumatra coffee has a lower acidity, full body, with an earthy flavor that is mossy and reminiscent of mushrooms. The aroma is often described as umami with earthy and woodsy notes.
This umami flavor is why iit is often used in blends a a base note to balance out brighter and more acidic coffee flavors.
Whole Bean vs. Ground Coffee
We all know ground coffee is just plain convenient. Unfortunately, the moment you grind coffee beans, they begin to lose flavor and the essential oils in the beans begin to evaporate. If you want the freshest and tastiest Sumatra coffee…or any coffee…It’s best to stick with a whole bean variety.
Be sure to grind the beans no more than 15 minutes before brewing to ensure you get the strongest, and best tasting cup of coffee.
In the event that you absolutely must use pre-ground coffee, be sure to store it in an airtight container to slow the loss of precious essential oils, flavor, and aroma.
The deep earthy flavors of Sumatra coffee beans work best when roasted to a medium or dark roast.
A lighter roast preserves the delicate flavors of coffee beans. The wet hulling process itself destroys these delicate flavors so Sumatra is not well suited to a lighter roast and will end up tasting bland. Instead, Sumatra is often used in espresso and other dark blends since they hold up well to heavy roasting.
For the best tasting coffee, you want to choose beans that have been roasted as recently as you can so be sure to check the roast date before purchasing. You should also try to use the freshly roasted coffee beans within a week to a month after purchase, so buying in bulk is not a good idea.
How to Brew Sumatra Coffee
There are several great methods for brewing Sumatra coffee. The method you decide to use is up to you but here are our 5 favorite methods for brewing.
To make a french press of Sumatra, first grind the beans to a course setting. Add the ground beans to the press and slowly pour hot, but not boiling water over the beans. Allow the beans to steep for approximately 4 minutes. After the beans have steeped, slowly press the coffee grounds to the bottom and enjoy your brew.
Drip coffee is one of the most common and easy to use brewing methods.
For traditional drip coffee, add freshly ground beans to your coffee filter and then brew according to your machine’s instructions. We suggest a medium grind for drip coffee but you can alter the grind size to customize your brew.
The rich earthy flavor of Sumatra is well suited to an espresso brew, which uses pressure to brew the coffee.
Finely ground coffee is placed into the espresso machine’s portafilter and tamped down. The machine will then force steam through the grinds resulting in a thick and full bodied coffee topped with a rich crema.
It can be a little tricky pulling the perfect espresso shot with wet processed beans so be prepared for a little trial and error.
The pour over brewing method is very similar to the drip brewing method. It’s primary advantage is that you have full control over the process while the drip method is left up to the machine.
Just like with the drip coffee process, you place the coffee grounds into the pour over filter. We suggest starting with a medium grind size but you can experiment with a larger or smaller grind to customize your brew.
Next slowly pour hot, but not boiling water over the grounds a little at a time. We suggest using a gooseneck kettle for more precision. The coffee will then drip into the lower carafe.
Sumatra is also great for cold brew. Cold brew in general is lower in acidity than regular coffee and since Sumatra coffee is lower in acidity in general, it is a perfect choice.
Start with one cup of whole coffee beans. Coarsely grind the beans and add to a large pitcher with 4 cups of water and allow to sit for 12 hours. After 12 hours, strain out the ground coffee and it’s ready to drink.
Cold brew can be stored in the refrigerator for several days so you can drink it throughout the week.
Kopi Luwak, also known as Civet coffee has become famous in the world of coffee aficionados. It is one of the most expensive coffees in the world. Unfortunately, it is also not the most ethically produced coffee and since we are discussing Sumatra coffee we thought it would be worth discussing.
What is it?
Kopi Luwak is more a method of processing the beans than a type of coffee itself. It is very closely connected to the Indonesian coffee industry and Sumatra is one of the main coffees used in its production.
This coffee is the product of partially digested coffee beans that have been excreted by the Indonesian palm civet. Yes, you read that correctly. It is coffee that has been eaten by the pal civet and then pooped out.
Coffee harvesters collect the excrement, remove the remaining outer skin, and thoroughly clean the beans before roasting and selling them. This time consuming and rather unusual process is why the coffee is so outrageously priced.
Many corporations tout these beans as the highest quality premium beans because the animals supposedly select only the best and ripest coffee cherries for consumption.
Why is Kopi Luwak problematic?
Other than the ewww gross factor, there are a number of other reasons you should not buy Kopi Luwak coffee.
First of all, there is a strong chance that the product you are ordering is fake, or at least highly diluted with beans produced by a less time consuming method.
Secondly, even if what you purchase is really Kopi Luwak, the animals used to produce the coffee are typically treated very badly. Since palm civets are small, nocturnal animals, producing Kopi Luwak coffee in a natural environment is difficult and has very little pay-off considering the amount of labor involved.
As a result, the animals instead are caged and force fed to produce more coffee faster.
Even if you don’t care about the ethical treatment of animals, this force feeding dispels the myth that the animals select the highest quality beans. As a result, you would be spending a ridiculous amount of money on a mediocre, substandard, overpriced coffee at the expense of helpless animals.
How is Sumatra coffee made?
Sumatra coffee is typically shade grown on small coffee farms at high altitude. It is then processed using the wet hulling process which is responsible for its unique flavor.
Does Sumatra coffee have more caffeine?
No, Sumatra has the same amount of caffeine as any other Arabica coffee bean. Robusta beans typically have more caffeine so if you want a coffee that packs more of a punch try a blend made with Robusta. Sumatra does however, have a lower acidity level than most coffees.
What kind of coffee is Sumatra?
Sumatra is usually Arabica coffee but can sometimes be made from Robusta beans.
Why is Sumatra coffee so good?
People who love Sumatra love the earthy and spicy flavor notes in the coffee. This flavor profile is achieved by the wet hulling processing of the coffee rather than the coffee itself.
Sumatra coffee advocates find the flavor profile of the beans to be unique, earthy, spicy, and exciting. Skeptics often refer to the flavor as funky and confusing.
Whether you are a Sumatra lover, skeptic, or still on the fence, the one thing we can all agree on is our love for premium coffee beans.
If you are a long time Sumatra lover looking for more variety or someone who has never tried this revered coffee bean and looking for a place to start, we have given you our top picks for your Sumatra journey.