Unveiling the Rich and Robust Flavors: Exploring the Best Coffees from Sumatra

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Sumatra is known for producing some of the world's finest coffee beans, but what exactly makes them so special? In this article, we will explore the unique characteristics of Sumatran coffee and delve into the different varieties and flavor profiles that set it apart. We will also answer common questions such as the best Sumatra coffee k cups, the process of wet hulling, and the producers of Kirkland Sumatra Coffee. If you're a coffee lover looking to expand your horizons, join us as we embark on a journey to discover the best coffees from Sumatra.


Sumatran Coffee Bean Varieties


Sumatran coffee beans are highly regarded for their quality and unique characteristics. These beans are grown in specific regions of Indonesia, primarily in Sumatra. They thrive at altitudes ranging from 2,500 to 5,000 feet, which contributes to their exceptional flavor. Sumatran coffee is known for its low acidity, full body, and distinct earthy aroma.

While medium and dark roasts have been popular choices for Sumatran coffee in the past, there is now a growing trend towards lighter roasts. These lighter roasts bring out brighter flavors and are gaining popularity among coffee enthusiasts.

It's important to note that while Sumatra is famous for its coffee, there are other types of coffee grown in Indonesia. One notable example is Java coffee, which is often referred to as "java" in general terms. However, for the purpose of this discussion, we will focus solely on the varieties from Sumatra: Mandheling, Ankola, Lintong, and Gayo/Aceh.




Mandheling coffee is named after one of the tribes in the west-central region of Sumatra near Padang. It is highly regarded by many as the best Sumatran coffee variety available. These beans have a subtle acidity that adds complexity to the brew, with spicy notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. As you savor each sip, you may also notice hints of chocolate and licorice in the flavor profile. While some may argue that the Mandheling label is overhyped, it ultimately comes down to personal preference and taste.




Ankola coffee is grown near the port of Padang at elevations between 2,500 and 5,000 feet above sea level. Unlike other Sumatran coffees, Ankola beans are dry-processed, which gives them a more uniform appearance and slightly different flavor profile. These beans have a mellow acidity and offer a smooth and balanced cup of coffee.




The Lintong coffee variety comes from the north-central Lintongnihuta region near Lake Toba. These beans produce medium-bodied brews with the signature earthiness and notes of cedar and spice that Sumatran coffee is known for. Lintong coffee is praised for its ability to balance rich flavors with a clean aftertaste.




The Gayo region, located at an elevation of 4,200 to 5,200 feet above sea level, gets its name from the nearby Gayo Mountain. While the region itself may not be the standout feature, it is the aging process that sets Gayo/Aceh coffee apart. These beans can be stored for months or even years, allowing for a unique flavor profile to develop. Although the aging process doesn't necessarily make them better in a definable way, their relative rarity and complexity have gained them a high value among coffee enthusiasts.


Roasty Rankings: Our Top Picks for the Best Sumatran Coffees


We have curated a list of our top picks for Sumatran coffees that you shouldn't miss. These coffees offer exceptional flavor profiles and are sure to delight your taste buds.


Highwire Coffee Roasters – The Core Espresso


Highwire Coffee Roasters offers The Core Espresso, a signature coffee blend with a dense raisin sweetness and spicy chocolate notes. This blend complements milk-based drinks and is also excellent as an espresso. The Core Espresso features a combination of Ethiopian, Guatemalan, Papua New Guinean, and Sumatran beans, offering a complex and flavorful experience.


Bird Rock Coffee Roasters – Bird Rock Blend


Bird Rock Coffee Roasters presents the Bird Rock Blend, a full-bodied and roasty-toasty coffee with interesting peppery notes. This bold and dark coffee is comforting and pairs well with sweet breakfast foods. It combines seasonal ingredients to appeal to both beginner and experienced coffee drinkers.


Oren’s Coffee – Oren’s Special Blend


Oren’s Coffee offers the Oren’s Special Blend, a complex and smooth cup of coffee. This medium-dark roast blend combines Sumatra Mandheling, Colombian, and French roast beans, resulting in a unique flavor profile. The blend has a deep sweetness with hints of chocolate and dried plum, satisfying the palates of many coffee lovers.


Equator Coffees – Sumatra Queen Ketiara Coffee


Equator Coffees brings the Sumatra Queen Ketiara Coffee, a light-medium roast with earthy-sweet tobacco notes and subtle clove spiciness. This coffee originates from the Ketiara co-op in the Gayo region and is exclusively purchased from female members of the cooperative. It offers a unique flavor profile and supports programs that empower women.


Gimme! Coffee – Sumatra Gayo Highlands


Gimme! Coffee is known for its bold and flavorful Sumatra Gayo Highlands coffee. This smoky dark roast offers the earthy and exotic flavor profile that Sumatran coffee is renowned for. With notes of bittersweet chocolate, caramel plum pie, and toasted walnut, this coffee is sure to satisfy those who prefer a strong and intense brew.


Anodyne Coffee – Dark Roast Sumatra Gayo Mandiri


Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. presents the Dark Roast Sumatra Gayo Mandiri, a slightly earthy and chocolaty coffee with a classic Sumatran flavor. These dark-roasted beans are processed using the traditional Sumatran wet hulling method, which contributes to their unique taste. The coffee offers a rich and full-bodied experience that coffee enthusiasts will appreciate.


Volcanica Coffee – Sumatra Mandheling


Volcanica Coffee's Sumatra Mandheling is highly recommended for its earthy notes, wine, dried fruit, and brown sugar flavors. These semi-washed and sun-dried beans result in a super smooth and rich cup of coffee. The medium-roasted coffee is also Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance Certified, and organic.


Caffe Vita – Sumatra Gayo River


Caffe Vita offers the Sumatra Gayo River coffee, which is rich and flavorful with notes of tobacco and hops. This organic coffee is medium-roasted and produced near Lake Tawar in northern Sumatra. The coffee's unique flavor comes from the soil in which it is grown and the traditional Sumatran processing style, Giling Basah.


Starbucks – Sumatra Dark Roast


Starbucks, one of the largest buyers of Sumatran coffee beans, offers the Sumatra Dark Roast. This coffee features a strong, earthy, and herbal flavor profile that reflects the classic Sumatran taste. It is an excellent choice for espresso and pairs well with sweet breakfast foods. Starbucks also offers single-origin Sumatran coffee in their Reserve line, which represents their more premium coffee offerings.


Volcanica Coffee – Sumatra Gayo Peaberry


Volcanica Coffee presents the Sumatra Gayo Peaberry, a unique and sweet coffee with a crisp flavor profile. These wet-processed peaberry beans offer flavors of caramel, peach, wisteria, cacao nib, and fresh fallen leaves. The coffee has a lightly syrupy mouthfeel and a faintly floral finish. Like all Volcanica Coffees, it is Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance Certified.


Camano Island Coffee – Organic Sumatra Dark Roast


Camano Island Coffee Roasters' organic Sumatra Dark Roast is known for its ethical and sustainable practices. This dark-roasted coffee offers a flavorful experience with lots of dried fruit flavor and nuttiness. It has low caffeine levels, making it a delightful choice for mid-afternoon or after-dinner coffee.


What Makes Sumatran Coffee Special?


Sumatran coffee stands out due to multiple factors that contribute to its exceptional quality and flavor.


Environmental Conditions


Although coffee is not native to Indonesia, Sumatra provides ideal coffee-growing conditions. The tropical climate, volcanic soil, and high altitudes create a perfect environment for arabica coffee plants to thrive. The combination of sunny and wet days enables coffee beans to develop distinct and desirable flavors.


Wet-hulling Methods


The processing method used for Sumatran coffee plays a significant role in its flavor profile. Wet hulling, or "Giling Basah," is the traditional method employed for most Sumatran coffees. This method involves removing the coffee cherries' skins after harvesting, fermenting the cherries overnight, handwashing the mucilage off the beans, and drying them before roasting. Wet hulling contributes to the earthy and herbal notes that define Sumatran coffee. It is worth noting that wet hulling is favored in Sumatra due to the region's wet climate, which makes it challenging to dry coffee beans using other methods. Wet-processed coffees often have a delicate body and a clean and balanced taste.


What Are the Best Sumatra Coffee K Cups?


If you prefer the convenience of K cups, we highly recommend the Sumatra Mandheling medium roast K cups from the Fresh Roasted Coffee Company. These K cups offer the same exceptional flavor profile that Sumatra Mandheling coffee is known for. You can find them on Amazon.


What Is Wet Hulling?


Wet hulling is a processing method commonly used for Sumatran coffee. It involves partially drying the coffee cherries and then removing their hulls while they are still wet. This process gives Sumatran coffee its distinct flavor profile, characterized by earthy and herbal notes.


Who Makes Kirkland Sumatra Coffee?


The Kirkland Sumatra coffee available at Costco is primarily sourced from Kopsen PKG in Central Aceh, Takengon. The cooperative, formed in 2016, consists of 345 farmers from four neighboring villages who have been growing coffee since 2012.


Is Sumatra Coffee Good for Espresso?


Yes, Sumatra coffee is an excellent choice for espresso. Its full-bodied flavor and low acidity make it perfect for a strong and rich espresso shot. Additionally, its earthy and chocolatey notes complement milk-based drinks like cappuccinos and lattes.


How would you describe the typical tasting notes of Sumatra coffee?


Sumatra coffee is known for its distinct flavor profile. When tasting Sumatra coffee, you'll notice a combination of earthy tones with subtle hints of chocolate, caramel, and spices. Some batches of Sumatran coffee have a slightly fruity or herbal taste, while others exhibit a smoky or nutty flavor. Overall, Sumatra coffee is praised for its full-bodied texture and balanced acidity.


Sumatra vs Colombian coffee: Differences?


Sumatra coffee and Colombian coffee have distinct characteristics that set them apart. Sumatra coffee is known for its full body, low acidity, and earthy flavor. It offers complex tasting notes with hints of chocolate and brown sugar. On the other hand, Colombian coffee is recognized for its mild flavor and high acidity. It often features fruity and nutty undertones. The choice between Sumatra and Colombian coffee ultimately depends on your personal preference for flavor and acidity.


Sumatra Coffee Facts


  • Starbucks is a major purchaser of Sumatran coffee beans, offering two varieties: regular and aged. The aging process imparts a unique spicy note to the beans, enhancing their distinct flavors.
  • Over 90% of coffee beans in Sumatra are sourced from smallholders who cultivate farms of approximately one hectare (2.5 acres) in size.
  • Sumatra coffee is often used as part of blends due to its rich flavor and low acidity. It pairs well with South American beans, which contribute bright acidity to complement the blend's overall taste.
  • Sumatran coffee beans are also available in various grocery stores, with some being selected as top choices for the best grocery store coffees.

Sumatran Coffee Industry


Sumatra Has Magical Growing Conditions for Coffee


The Indonesian island of Sumatra boasts ideal growing conditions for Arabica coffee beans. Its equatorial location, combined with perfectly balanced soil, creates a tropical climate that cultivates exceptional coffee. This region experiences sudden shifts in weather, with glorious sunshine followed by heavy rainfall. These natural conditions mimic the carefully controlled environment of greenhouses, allowing coffee farmers to produce high-quality beans.

Indonesia is the third-largest coffee producer globally, although coffee isn't indigenous to the area. Coffee tree seedlings were introduced to Jakarta (Batavia) on the island of Java by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in the 17th century. Coffee production later expanded to other islands, including Sumatra, giving rise to the vibrant coffee industry within the country.

Related: Have you ever wondered why coffee is referred to as "Java"? The term is associated with Java, Indonesia. To learn more about how this term became popular, follow this link: Why is Coffee Called Java?

Sumatra Coffee Facts


Major Growing Regions


Sumatra coffee is sourced from three primary growing regions: Mandheling, Lintong, and Gayo.

Sumatran Coffee Regions

  • Mandheling coffee originates from the north and is widely regarded as the best variety of Sumatran coffee beans.
  • Lintong coffee is grown on a high plateau overlooking Lake Toba, resulting in a rich flavor profile with a clean aftertaste.
  • Gayo coffee, also known as Aceh coffee, is cultivated in the northern Aceh region. This variety offers intense flavors and features small, round beans known as "peaberry."


Flavor Comes from the Processing


Sumatran coffee beans derive their unique flavors from the distinctive processing method called wet hulling, or "giling basah" in the local language (Bahasa). Wet hulling involves pulping the coffee cherries immediately after harvest through mechanical pounding. This process retains a higher moisture content in the beans compared to other processing methods.

Sumatran Coffee Processing

Wet hulling is attributed to Sumatra's damp climate, which limits drying time to less than four hours per day. The higher moisture content and quick processing contribute to the unique flavor profile of Sumatran coffee. Other countries typically dry their coffee beans to around 11% moisture content, whereas giling basah dries the beans to 50%.


Flavor Profile: What Do Sumatra Coffee beans Taste like?


  • Sumatra coffee is characterized by its low acidity, making it an excellent choice for those seeking a less acidic option. For more low-acid bean options, click here.
  • When tasting Sumatra coffee, expect an earthy flavor with notes reminiscent of moss, funk, and mushrooms.
  • Sumatran coffee is full-bodied, capturing the rich texture and depth of its flavor profile.
  • For optimal sweetness, Sumatra coffee beans are often dark roasted.
  • The aroma of Sumatran coffee is herbaceous, evoking the fragrances of woodlands and umami.

You'll frequently encounter descriptions such as complex, full-bodied, and rich when referring to Sumatra coffee. Roasters tend to prefer a dark roast, which intensifies these characteristics. However, recent developments in roasting techniques have also brightened and freshened the flavor profile of Sumatran coffee.

PRO TIP: Sumatra coffee beans are commonly used as a base note in blends due to their earthy, low-acid nature. They pair excellently with Ethiopian coffee, known for its aromatic and fruity qualities, as well as South American coffee, which offers acidity to enhance the blend's overall flavor. If you're interested in blending coffee, Sumatra beans are a fantastic starting point.


How to Brew Sumatra Coffee Beans


Sumatra coffee's bold flavor is exceptionally well-suited for espresso preparation, similar to certain Chinese coffees. However, it may require some practice to achieve the perfect espresso shot with wet-processed beans. To ensure the best results, consider the following tips:

- Lower the temperature to prevent burning the already heavy-bodied coffee.

- Don't overextract the shots; keep them from running too long.

- Balance the flavors to accentuate the coffee's unique strengths.

If you don't have an espresso machine, you can also use an Aeropress or stovetop espresso maker. These alternative methods require some adjustment and practice, but once you get the hang of them, they produce excellent results.

Alternatively, Sumatra coffee beans lend themselves well to cold brewing. Set your grinder to a coarse setting and utilize our French Press cold brewing method to create a chilled and flavorful cup of coffee. Cold brew not only allows the flavors to develop fully, but it also has even lower acidity compared to regular Sumatran coffee. Additionally, it is gentle on your teeth and stomach while providing an ample dose of antioxidants.


How To Roast


Roasting Sumatran coffee beans, specifically wet-hulled ones, requires slight adjustments compared to other coffee roasting methods. These beans typically contain around 1% more moisture, necessitating slightly higher initial heat during roasting. Here are some tips for roasting Sumatra coffee:

- Opt for a dark roast level, as it enhances the coffee's earthy flavor and brings out its natural chocolate notes.

- Explore culinary uses for Sumatra coffee. It adds flavor to meat dishes and aids in tenderizing, resulting in a melt-in-your-mouth experience. You can use it as a marinade or a spice rub for BBQ meats.


Sumatra Coffee Growing Regions


Sumatran Green Coffee

Sumatra coffee is typically categorized into three main types: Mandheling, Lintong, and Gayo. The majority of Sumatra coffee, approximately 90%, is cultivated by smallholder farmers on their plots of land. These farms are typically around one hectare (2.5 acres) in size. Interestingly, coffee trees can be found growing freely along the roads in regions such as Lintong, showcasing the widespread presence of coffee cultivation.


Sumatra Mandheling Coffee


The term "Sumatra Mandheling" is actually a trade name rather than a specific coffee growing region. It originates from the indigenous Mandailing people in Northern Sumatra. Anything labeled as "Sumatra Mandheling" may be a blend of beans from various regions in North Sumatra, such as Tapanuli or Aceh.


Lintong Coffee


Lintong is a region located near the southern end of Lake Toba. The high altitude, coupled with pleasant weather conditions, contributes to the unique flavor profile of Lintong coffee. It offers an earthy and complex taste, with subtle hints of spice, slightly brighter acidity, and a cleaner mouthfeel compared to other Indonesian coffees.


Gayo (Aceh) Coffee


Gayo coffee, also known as Aceh coffee, is renowned for its superior quality. Grown in a mountainous region near Lake Laut Tawar at an elevation of 1,300-1,600 meters (4,265-5,249 feet) above sea level, these beans are considered Strictly High Grown (SHG). Gayo coffee stands out from Mandheling coffee due to its exceptional bean quality, and it is sold separately from the broader category of "Mandheling coffee."


Sumatran Coffee Production Methods


Sumatran Coffee Production

Unlike coffee growing regions in other parts of the world, Sumatran coffee beans (as well as those from other Indonesian regions) undergo a traditional processing method known as "Giling Basah," which translates to wet hulling in English.


Giling Basah (Wet Hulling)


Traditionally, coffee beans undergo either the wet processing method, where coffee cherries are pulped through washing, or the dry processing method, where cherries are dried before pulping. However, Sumatra coffee adopts a unique wet hulling technique. In this method, the beans are pulped immediately after harvest through mechanical pounding, either with sticks or machines. As a result, the beans maintain a high moisture content of 30-50%.

Wet hulling is essential in Sumatra due to the region's high rainfall and humidity, resulting in limited drying time for coffee farmers. This particular processing method has remained prevalent in the local coffee industry since it preserves the crop despite the challenging drying conditions.

The wet-hulled beans, along with any remaining pulp, ferment overnight and then undergo washing and further drying to reach the typical 12% moisture content required for exportable green coffee beans. Wet hulling contributes to Sumatran beans' unique flavor profile, imparting a blue-grey hue and reducing acidity while enhancing the beans' body.

It's worth noting that Sumatra coffee can also undergo washed or natural processing methods, which result in a more familiar acidity and clarity in taste.


Aged Coffee


Sumatran coffee beans are best roasted within three months of harvesting due to their unique processing method. However, some Aceh coffees are aged for several months or even years, allowing the beans to develop distinctive flavors. As a result, aged Sumatran coffee can taste extraordinary or possess an unconventional aroma.


Sumatran Coffee Roasting Methods


Due to the characteristics resulting from its processing methods, Sumatra coffee beans tend to have slightly higher moisture levels and less brightness compared to other varieties. Consequently, they are often roasted to a medium-dark level. The beans are heated to a higher temperature at the beginning of the roast and then roasted for a longer duration to bring out additional sweetness and richness.

It's worth mentioning that the misconception that all Sumatra coffee is dark roast mainly stems from Starbucks' preference for darkly roasting Sumatran beans for their espresso blends. However, reputable coffee roasters can provide beans roasted to optimize the coffee's best qualities and flavor.


Kopi Luwak


Kopi Luwak

When discussing Sumatra Mandheling or other Indonesian coffees, the topic of Kopi Luwak coffee may arise. This highly prized and rare coffee comes with controversial production methods. Here are the key details to know:

Kopi Luwak is not a Sumatra coffee. Kopi Luwak refers to coffee that undergoes a unique "processing" method involving palm civets. These small mammals eat coffee cherries, the cherries ferment within their intestines, and the beans are then defecated. Kopi Luwak is produced in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Kopi Luwak production often involves unethical and cruel practices. Initially, Kopi Luwak was gathered from wild palm civets in the jungle under the belief that they selectively consumed only the best coffee cherries. However, as international demand grew, caged production methods emerged. Civets are confined to battery cages and force-fed cherries to expedite bean production. The lack of transparency in the industry means that even coffee labeled as "wild sourced" is often from caged civets.

Genuine Kopi Luwak is labor-intensive and comes with a price tag of $100-$500 per pound. However, most coffee experts agree that its taste is thin, stale, and lacking flavor. It is generally advisable to avoid trying Kopi Luwak.

Best Sumatra Coffee - Black Ink Sumatran Coffee

In conclusion, Sumatra truly boasts some of the best coffees in the world, and it is easy to see why. With its unique wet hulling method, diverse flavor profile, and rich aroma, it is a coffee lover's paradise. Whether you prefer it as an espresso or in K-cup form, Sumatra coffee will never disappoint. From the lush growing regions to the expert roasters, every step of the process is carefully executed to bring out the distinctive earthy and spicy notes that make Sumatra coffee so unforgettable. So next time you're in need of a bold and flavorful cup of java, reach for a bag of Sumatran coffee beans and embark on a journey of sensory delight.

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