Coffee cultivation in Indonesia began in the late 1600s and early 1700s, in the early Dutch colonial period, and has played an important part in the growth of the country. Indonesia is geographically and climatologically well-suited for coffee plantations, near the equator and with numerous interior mountainous regions on its main islands, creating well-suited microclimates for the growth and production of coffee. Indonesia is currently the fourth-largest producer of coffee in the world.
Indonesia and coffee have a long history. Initially, coffee grew wild in Ethiopia, but via Yemen, the Dutch colonialists brought the plant to Indonesia in 1699. Here it thrived, and Indonesia quickly became the largest coffee producing nation in the world. The coffee was exported from Jakarta on the island of Java, and that’s how Java became almost synonymous with coffee everywhere in the world.
This isn’t that strange since the bags the coffee was packed and exported in all said ‘Java.’ A bit like how tissue is often called a Kleenex, even though it’s a brand name.
Sumatra Coffee Facts
- Sumatra is an Indonesian island with fertile volcanic soil.
- The taste of the coffee from Sumatra is often described as earthy, creamy, chocolaty, and even mushroomy
- The beans are typically low-acid (but this also has to do with the roast and processing)
- The most famous subregions of Sumatra are Lintong close to Lake Toba, and Gayo in the Northern Aceh region.
- Sumatran coffee is often processed with the ‘gilling basah’ method.
Coffee from Sumatra is known for being low-acid coffee. There are several reasons that this is the case, but the way the local farmers process the coffee is the most important one. The process is known as wet hulling or ‘giling basah’ in the local language. It’s a more crude and random way to process the cherries compared to the washing method popular in Latin America.
Compared to coffee that is washed at a station and dried more carefully, this leads to a more earthy and less acidic taste. The body and mouthfeel are enhanced, but the subtle notes of stone fruit and berry are muted.
The process helps give the beans an earthy spicy flavor with strong smoky notes at a darker roast. The smokiness of dark roast Sumatran beans make it perfect in blends to add a little extra punch, and the medium/light roasts make for an excellent single origin cup.