Coffee 101: Coffee Origins – Sumatra
With a population of 50-million people, Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world, and one of the three main islands that form the Southeast Asian country of Indonesia.
Dutch colonists initially brought coffee to Indonesia by way of Yemen in 1699. It wasn’t until more than a century later that the crop arrived in Sumatra, and by the late 19th century commercial production had begun on the island.
Sumatran Coffee at a Glance
Sumatra is located in Indonesia on the equator, which splits the island into two equal zones, each with its own unique climate. The fertile volcanic soil and lush rainforests found in these dual zones provide ideal conditions for coffee to thrive.
Approximately 90% of Sumatran coffee is grown by smallholders, who produce up to 600,000 bags per year. Sumatra’s long harvest season lasts from May to September, yielding coffee renowned for its low acidity, full body, and rich, earthy flavors.
This unique flavor profile, however, is largely a byproduct of Sumatran processing, and not its growing conditions.
Sumatran farmers implement a process known as wet-hulling, or Giling Basah. This method is somewhat cruder than the Latin America washing method, which results in beans that retain more moisture.
This moisture contributes to more earthy, mushroom-like flavor with hints of chocolate.
Mandheling, named for a Sumatran tribe, is considered to be Sumatra’s best coffee and grown in Northern Sumatra at elevations from 2,500-5,000 feet above sea level.
The two other main varieties of Sumatran coffee include the rich Lington close to Lake Toba and the sweet and clean flavors of Gayo in the Northern Aceh region. The infamous Kopi Luwak coffee also hails from Sumatra. This variety has gained some notoriety for being the coffee that hails from cherries extracted from the excrement of palm civet cats.