What is Sumatra Coffee?
Everyone loves their morning cup of joe. This fragrant, aromatic beverage packs flavor and warmth into each cup, and makes a perfect addition to the morning ritual. But if you’re new to coffee, you may not know much about the beans you’re bringing home from the store. Sure, you can see if your beans have the “100% Arabica” label, or what roast they are, but there’s a lot more that goes into your beans than that. One of the most controversial coffee regions in the world is Sumatra. Let’s go over this unique bean that causes arguments among coffee experts.
Sumatra coffee is a coffee that comes from the island of Sumatra. Like any beans, the region where the crop is from has a pronounced impact on the flavor. Everything from the humidity to the precipitation to the altitude can change the subtleties that go into the flavor of each cup. Sumatra has a pretty unique climate, and so the beans have a distinct, one-of-a-kind flavor. However, some coffee drinkers don’t like this complex taste. There a few factors that go into this, and these beans have a pretty interesting backstory.
Where Does Sumatra Coffee Comes From?
Sumatra is one of the largest islands in the world and is part of the Indonesian archipelago. It crosses right over the equator, giving it an incredibly humid, hot climate with plenty of sun. It’s also a volcanic region, right next to the well known supervolcano, krakatoa. The local economy began to revolve around coffee production in the mid 1880s, around a volcanic lake. Ever since then, the region has been one of the largest coffee exporters in the world.
You can find both Arabica and Robusta beans here, and though the island of Java was so famous that we actually call the drink “Java,” Sumatra is the largest coffee exporter in Indonesia. Unlike African and South American coffees, Indo-Pacific coffees have a deeper, bolder flavor with less acidity and citrus. This comes from the region’s climate, and Sumatra’s growing conditions are particularly unique.
Why It Tastes So Good
Coffee is a very sensitive plant, especially the higher quality Arabica species. It needs to have a high humidity, precipitation, and temperature, needs to be at a specific altitude, and has to have a specific amount of sun exposure. While any region will need to have those traits, Sumatra has a very specific set of conditions that create its unique flavor.
The island has year round crop production due to the fact that the equator runs right through the middle. So even though it’s always going to be hot, one side will alway be a little hotter. It’s also the most humid coffee growing region on earth, which makes its beans particularly earthy. It is also almost exclusively made of volcanic soil, which makes the beans richer. So Sumatra coffee has its distinctive flavors because of these unique growing conditions.
How It Tastes
Sumatra has a very complex flavor that isn’t everyone’s go-to. Most of the time when you picture that iconic coffee flavor and smell, you’re actually imagining a south American coffee like Colombian, or an African coffee like Ethiopian. Sumatran coffee has a very complex, savory flavor that doesn’t quite fit the mold of standard coffee flavor profiles. And while roasts have been getting lighter and lighter over the past couple of decades, Sumatra beans almost always taste better as a dark roast.
You can describe these beans as earthy, complex, winey, natural, and rich if you like them. Or you can call them muddy with overtones of fungus and soil if you dislike them. The flavor of these beans is not the most popular in the world, but you can find coffee connoisseurs who’s favorite beans come from Sumatra
Is Sumatra Coffee Better Than Other Coffees?
This is, of course, a matter of opinion. But these are particularly divisive beans, since their flavor can be seen as complex or paltry, depending on the taster. But one thing’s for sure, you can easily find high quality, gourmet Sumatra coffee. Those who drink these beans love them, and they’re considered a delicacy among certain coffee circles. It’s certainly a nice break from the popular fruity, acidic light roasts and American coffees. So let’s break down how beans from Sumatra fair against other coffees.
The bright flavor
Coffee’s rich, complex, and aromatic flavor is what sells this drink to most coffee drinkers. Sure, the caffeine is nice, and a delicious cold brew is perfect on a hot day, but taste is usually the deciding factor. It’s also usually the deal breaker when it comes to coffee from this region. While the classic coffee flavor is bold, toasty, and has hints of nuts and caramel, recent trends have pushed the industry to floral, citrusy coffee.
Sumatra Coffee is definitely not going to give you that bright flavor. It’s characteristically dark, with complex earthy flavors and a bold finish. Whether you make espresso or pour over, you’re really going to taste the region’s humidity and volcanic soil. Of course, it’s all preference here, so just try it out to see if you like it.
Your morning revolves around that caffeine fix. It’s the best thing to have right out of bed, and it prepares you for the long day ahead of you. While some people have a caffeine intolerance, or worry about getting a caffeine crash, that energy boost is a huge part of why people reach for this delicious beverage every morning. Fortunately for coffee enthusiasts and fans of the flavor profile, Sumatra coffee is just as caffeinated as any other beans. It just depends on what variety you get.
If you want your coffee to be decaffeinated, you can easily find these beans in decaf. The decaffeination process happens after the beans are farmed, so any coffy can have the caffeine removed. Or if you want it the other way around, you can go for some Robusta coffee beans, which have double the caffeine content of the more popular Arabica beans. The only region in the world that only grows Arabica is Colombia, so you can easily find more caffeinated and affordable Robusta beans from Sumatra.
We’ve already started to touch on the differences between Arabica and Robusta beans, but it’s one of the most important parts of the bean buying process. While most of the coffee produced in the world is Arabica, Robusta beans are much more resilient, cheaper, and have more caffeine. This comes at the expense of flavor, which is why most coffee fans opt for Arabica beans for that delicious morning cup.
Sumatra grows both Robusta and Arabica beans, though you’ll get huge differences in the flavor. All of the taste notes and flavor profiles discussed so far have been about Arabica beans. So while you can find Robusta Sumatra coffee beans, they’ll have a much more rubbery, undesirable flavor than their Arabica counterparts. The main advantages, of course, are the cost and caffeine content. They have twice the caffeine and cost half as much, bringing the dollar-to-caffeine ratio to 4 times as high as Arabica.
How Should I Brew Sumatra Coffee?
While beans and roast profile play a huge role in how your coffee tastes, nothing is more important than the brew method. Sure, the actual composition of your beans comes from everything that happens before you actually buy your beans, but different grind sizes, water pressure, heat, and more extract different flavors out of your roast.
You can never go wrong with espresso. Unless you have a cheap medium roast, espresso always does a great job of extracting the best of the flavor compounds. The fine grind consistency and the water pressure will always get you an excellent drink. Drip is also a great option. It gets you a bare-bones cup of coffee every time, and works with nearly any roast.
You may want to avoid pour over, since that does a better job of getting the acid out of your beans. The combination of low water pressure and slightly fine grind size work to make your coffee brighter and fruitier. French press is a bit iffy for most coffee drinkers. It makes an incredibly strongbrew, which can be either good or bad with beans from Sumatra. The important thing is to keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to experiment.
Adding More Flavor to Your Cup
One of the best parts about drinking coffee is that you get to experiment. Each roast and brew method has a unique flavor profile that you can’t find anywhere else. No beans are “just coffee,” and you can get wildly different tastes out of different beans. You don’t have to pick only one, and Sumatra coffee can be the perfect way to add variety to your usual coffee routine. It has an extravagant flavor that’s hard to find anywhere else. So even if you decide that it isn’t for you, it’s at least worth a try to add some more variety to your coffee.