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What is Sumatra Coffee?
Sumatra refers to a type of coffee grown in Indonesia, specifically in the Sunda islands.
When Sumatra is prepared properly, it is just as intriguing as it is complex. Sumatra isn’t the heaviest bodied coffee out there, but it usually has at least a medium body. Sumatra usually features relatively low acidity that often accompanies darker roasts.
Sumatra Mandheling and Lintong
Two particular Sumatran coffees of note are Sumatra Mandheling and Sumatra Lintong.
Coffee enthusiasts have long held Sumatra Mandheling in high regard as a top coffee from Sumatra. Mandheling is primarily grown in Diari, a region near Lake Toba and tends to have a herbal aroma with notes of licorice and chocolate.
Lintong is also grown in the area of Lake Toba, but additionally in the Lintongnihuta district and in the Kecamatan. Lintong is grown in direct sunlight, without any chemicals. The clay soil Lintong is generally grown in contributes to an earthy flavor profile and woody and herbal notes are also common in Lintong (for example, cedar and sage -like in the Sumatra Lintong we sampled from Peach Roasters!)
Mandheling and Lintong: Often Labeled As “Dry Processed” by Sellers, but its Complicated!
For both of these coffees, the fruit is extracted from a bean using a number of unusual approaches, including a twist on traditional wet processing. Farmers remove the skin from coffee cherry crops immediately after harvesting and then allow the beans to ferment overnight.
For Lintong coffee, the loose fruit pulp gets rinsed off of the beans manually during the day. From there, the coffee with parchment skin gets dried out and, afterwards, the parchment skin is removed.
In contrast, with Mandheling coffee, the fruit pulp dries on beans once removal of skin has commenced (which is the process of partially-washed coffee in Brazil). Most Sumatran coffee is exported out of Medan, the capital city of North Sumatra.
Sumatra: Rich and Low-Toned- But Often Inconsistent
The unusual processing methods of Sumatra result in coffee that varies wildly in quality, but achieves the unique low-toned richness and body characteristic of Sumatra.
Almost all Sumatra enthusiasts love these low-toned characteristics- but have varying individual preferences regarding the specific flavor notes. For instance, earthly Sumatra’s absorb the flavor of clay once they are dried on the ground directly. Musty Sumatra’s absorb a mildew taste, which some coffee enthusiasts are partial to.
However, given the inconsistency in quality, we wanted to sample a number of different Sumatras and assess which we thought were the best. Take a look below to see what we found!
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Peach Coffee Roasters Sumatra Lintong
Our overall winner was Peach Coffee Roasters Sumatra Lintong. As our overall winner, we wanted to go a bit in-depth about our experience with it.
The packaging of Peach Coffee’s Sumatra Lintong lists Pineapple, Cedar, and Sage as three characteristic notes. While the pineapple notes are more subtle, this coffee delivers a spicy, earthy aroma in spades- this is truly a cedar and sage forward coffee!
When grinding this coffee, we found it to be quite dense after weighing. You’ll need relatively less volume per brew.
When Aeropressed, Peach Coffee’s Sumatra Lintong offered the best representation of Sumatra we tried. The balance of cedar and sage encompasses the earthy flavors Sumatra typically aims for, but weren’t overpowering. This Lintong would be great as an everyday cup!
We’d highly recommend trying Peach Coffee’s Sumatra Lintong, particularly if you are trying to understand the characteristic Sumatra flavor profile.
Volcanica Coffee’s Sumatra Mandheling
We found Volcanica to be the best Sumatra Mandheling we sampled. It boasts low acidity, full-body, and distinctive notes of spice, brown sugar, and chocolate.
While these coffee beans are somewhat costly, they are medium-roasted consistently and carry Mandheling’s earthly and distinctive herbal taste. They are certified as Rainforest Alliance, shade-grown, and Fair Trade. Best of all, these coffee beans are volcanic soil-grown at an elevated level of 300 feet. This coffee comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee for customers from Volcanic. The organization promises coffee lovers a compact inventory, and as such, you know that beans will be delivered fresh.
Like many of Peet’s Coffees, this dark roast is somewhat of a crowd pleaser. It is pleasing and balanced with a flavor that is earthy yet sweet. We could easily see this being an everyday cup.
Our only critique of Peet’s would not be of the flavor per se, but that there is a lack of Sumatra-like resonance associated with its sweet smelling profile.
Overall, Peet’s Sumatra is a great tasting coffee and a great value amongst Sumatran coffee.
Sumatra Whole Bean Coffee from Starbucks
Starbucks’ Sumatra whole bean coffee (dark roast) was a pretty good coffee. It was a reasonably-priced bulk purchase at a lower price point than Peet’s. It’s taste is both spicy and earthy. Starbucks’ Sumatra would be well tolerated by most coffee drinkers that like dark roasts- it has very unoffensive low-toned notes of herbs and spices with a medium-heavy body that comes across as smooth. Like Peet’s, a criticism of Starbucks’ Sumatra is that it isn’t particularly indicative of classic Sumatran flavor.
This roast is quite dark- a bit too dark in our opinion- and quite oily as a result. We’d recommend carefully watching your extraction time when preparing this coffee- be conscious of amount of coffee you are using, brew time, and pressure.
If you lack a grinder, you can get unopened bags of Starbucks-produced coffee ground for free at any of their locations.
Coffee Bean Direct Sumatra Mandheling
The Dark Sumatra Mandheling is an alright option for whole bean coffee. Though it isn’t as interesting as Volcanica’s Mandheling, Coffee Bean Direct is reasonably priced. A downside is that we only found it in a relatively heavy size (five pounds). This limits the ability to consume it in its freshest form. An airtight, opaque container and a freezer (as we discussed in our article about coffee storage) are musts for buying such a quantity.
This coffee is dark-roasted, with a roast level between French and Italian. It is quite aromatic and smooth with low acidity and is a bit oily. The beans are nut-forward with chocolate flavors, but the flavor isn’t very complex or bold. Still, it did come across as a classic Sumatra. We found this less preferable than Peet’s/Starbucks’ but more akin to a true Sumatra.
Sumatra Mandheling Ground Coffee – Fresh Roasted Coffee by Koffee Kult 32 Oz
From West Sumatra’s jungles come the single origin Koffee Kult Sumatra coffee.
This coffee is deep, syrupy, and rich. Although this was an OK tasting coffee, the batch assessed by us was quite stale. Also, the package did not contain a roast date and lacked any particular aroma. With a price tag of around $10 a pound, this is an option for those in search of a bargain.
Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC Sumatra Mandheling
Though reasonably priced, we found this particular medium roast to lack of the distinctive first taste of other similar beans. It is minimally bitter and with a bold character, but not especially fresh-tasting. While there are some decent flavor notes, we detected notes of cardboard/paper, which were a distraction.
Be sure to check out our coffee review master list for more GREAT coffees!