Your essential guide to Sumatra coffee
With its rich taste, complex flavours and unique harvesting process, there’s much to celebrate when it comes to Sumatran coffee. From its origins to luxurious varieties, below, we present our coffee drinkers' guide to Sumatra coffee.
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What is Sumatra coffee?
Sumatra coffees come from Indonesia’s paradisiacal Sunda island of Sumatra, the largest Indonesian island in the Malay Archipelago. The Sunda Islands also include Borneo and Sulawesi, and the area is known as the ‘green coffee belt’. This coffee-growing region is blessed by tropical weather and a hot and humid climate that create perfect coffee-growing conditions.
Unlike other coffee varieties, coffee from this region has its own processing method called ‘Giling Basah’. Typically in the green coffee belt, when coffee seeds are removed from the cherry, they’re left to dry until there’s 11% moisture content. However, due to Sumatra’s frequent rainfall, coffee seeds are left to dry until they’re at around 50% moisture content. Beans are then “wet-hulled” to complete the drying process. This machine-led process of wet-hulling involves friction-like movements that remove the coffee beans from their protective coating (known as the parchment). During the process, the wet-hulling machine helps ferment the coffee beans, contributing to their signature, earthy flavour.
When it comes to roasting Sumatra coffees, green coffee beans tend to end up as a dark roast. This roast type enhances the coffee’s unique characteristics and counteracts the high variance that’s caused by a multi-stage processing method and wet-hulling machines. This roast profile also adds a greater level of richness to the beans.
Sumatra coffee characteristics
What does Sumatra coffee taste like? Compared to other countries, Sumatran coffee beans generally have a full-bodied flavour profile with earthy, chocolatey notes. Due to the moist climate in which it’s grown, coffee beans have lower brightness and acidity that allow you to focus on their muted earthy tasting notes. Like a fine Scotch whisky, tasting notes can also include peat, moss, wild mushroom and pepper, as well as herbaceous tones.
A brief history of coffee in Sumatra
Lured by excellent climates and growing conditions, the Dutch introduced coffee plants to Indonesia in 1699. After seeing how well they grew on the island of Java, production quickly spread to other islands in the region, including Sumatra.
In the 1710s the Dutch began exporting harvested coffee back to Europe via the Dutch East India Trading Company. Outside of Arabia and Ethiopia, Indonesia was the first place where coffee was widely cultivated, with Europeans adoring the delicious and complex flavour profiles of Indonesian and Sumatran coffees.
Indonesia became a powerhouse of global coffee production and remained that way in the 21st century. Today, it’s the world’s fourth-largest coffee producer, exporting about 400,000 tons of coffee each year.
Where is Sumatra coffee grown?
Across the Sunda Isles’ green coffee belt, coffees are grown in Takengon and Bener Meriah in the north Aceh region and Lintong, Sidikalang, Dolok Sanggul and Seribu Dolok around the stunning Lake Toba. These areas offer prime growing conditions for the coffee beans with coffee trees growing at altitudes of around 1,110 and 1,600 meters above sea level. Sumatran soil is also enriched with minerals and nutrients, thanks to andesitic volcanic sediment. These create fertile ‘Ando soils’ from sediments left by different volcanoes, and is why coffees from this area are sometimes referred to as volcano or "volcanica" coffee.
Did you know... these three coffee facts?
- Sumatra is responsible for one of the world’s rarest coffee varieties: Kopi Luwak. Produced in a truly unconventional way, Kopi Luwak comes from coffee cherries eaten and excreted by palm civet cats. This exceptional coffee dates back to the 19-century, when Dutch colonists banned local farmers from harvesting their own plants. Luckily, locals discovered a native animal (a civet) was leaving partially digested beans on the forest floor, which when cleaned and roasted made a delicious brew.
- Green coffee beans from Sumatra have a distinctive bluish hue before they are roasted.
- Despite Indonesia being the world’s fourth-largest coffee producer, 92% of coffee beans from Sumatra come from small, independent farmers or cooperatives. This means coffee farmers produce high quality, artisanal products, and by buying Sumatran, you’re supporting local farmers and communities.
The best Sumatra coffee in the world
At Coffee Direct, we are proud to sell two of the world’s best Sumatra coffees. Whether you choose our smooth Blue Sumatra or luxurious Kopi Luwak, these quality roasts allow you to sip and savour incredible Sumatra coffees at home.
You can find our Sumatran roasts on our website here or check out our below tasting notes and customer reviews.
Our single-origin Blue Sumatra is smooth and aromatic, with a well-balanced spiciness that is typical of Sumatran coffees. Its full body and low acidity create a beautifully intense brew, making this an ideal coffee for cafetieres, coffee for filter machines or coffee for espresso.
“Smooth, medium-strength coffee. My go-to coffee for every day, all day.”
Tony M. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Considered one of the most luxurious coffees in the world, Kopi Luwak translates as coffee (Kopi) and civet (Luwak), which are small catlike animals that pick, eat, partially digest and excrete the cherries used to make this bean.
This highly unusual process has unsurprisingly caught the attention of coffee drinkers globally, making it one of the talked-about coffee in history. With its intense aroma and smooth taste, our authentic, single-origin civet coffee is perfect for those who love their coffee seriously rich, flavour-packed and luxurious.
“The best coffee for a special treat, mild, with a beautiful aroma. Can’t be beaten for my homemade coffee once a day!”
Ian W. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Is Sumatra coffee Arabica or Robusta?
Arabica. Arabica coffee plants grow wonderfully in the Sunda Isles, which is why they’re the variety widely cultivated by local farmers.
Does Sumatra coffee have more caffeine?
Sumatra coffee is harvested from Arabica coffee beans which have around 1.5% caffeine content. Robusta coffee beans typically contain 2.7% caffeine, so generally Sumatra coffee has slightly less caffeine than Robusta varieties.
Is Sumatra coffee good for espresso?
Yes, thanks to its wonderful earthy notes, Sumatran coffees are perfect for espressos, whether they're made at home or in your favourite cafe.
Is Sumatra coffee low acid?
Yes, due to the tropical climate and moist growing conditions of the region, this type of coffee is slightly lower in acidity compared to others.
Is Sumatra coffee strong?
When it comes to the strength of a Sumatran brew, coffee beans from this growing region are generally classed as medium-strong. These beans also have slightly less caffeine content than Robusta beans.
What is the difference between Sumatra coffee vs Colombian coffee?
A coffee bean from Colombia will taste completely different from a coffee bean produced in Sumatra. Within each country’s growing regions, there will also be a variety of flavour profiles, and there are other factors to consider, such as how coffees are roasted. Coffee flavours will differ considerably if you are drinking a light roast, a medium roast or a dark roast.
If you're interested in exploring the different coffees the world has to offer, we have over 100 different gourmet coffees from all around the globe. Why not sign up to our Discovery Club or Coffee of the Month subscription? Both subscriptions have been created by Coffee Direct's top coffee aficionados to ensure you enjoy the best, freshly roasted coffees the global coffee industry has to offer, in the comfort of your home.
What foods go well with Sumatran coffees?
Being complex in flavour, coffee from this growing region pairs well with both savoury and sweet foods. For example, its delicious, earthy taste makes it a great accompaniment to a breakfast mushroom omelette, while its chocolatey tones harmonise nicely with a few chunks of creamy milk chocolate.
Where can I buy coffee from Sumatra?
If you're wondering where to buy Sumatra coffee, Coffee Direct offers two premium Sumatran coffees. Like all our coffees, you can order whole bean coffee or opt for a bag of pre-ground coffee, which is expertly ground to the perfect grind size for your home brewing method of choice - whether your go-to home brew is made using a bean-to-cup machine or a french press.
You can shop our Sumatran range on our website here. Make sure to check out our latest customers' reviews to hear what other coffee lovers have to say about our truly unique roasts. If you're looking for exclusive deals or recommendations for your next bag of beans, you can also sign up to our Coffee Direct newsletter. Simply pass on your name, email address, and tick the T&C box to join our list.