Sumatra

Sumatran.  Why drink it?

In short, it’s Lake Toba, it really is a natural wonder that was the site of the biggest volcanic explosion of the last 25 million years.  Its size and beauty mirror wonder. A wonder that flags a great coffee.  Interestingly, here though, the coffee farmers are not really coffee farmers, they are subsistence organic farmers who are growing a little coffee as a cash crop.  They don’t drink the coffee and probably don’t know much of its agronomy.  It is the natural living wonder of Lake Toba, its fertile soils, organic farming methods and its method of processing that drives the unique body and flavor intensity of Sumatran coffees.

Markets

The principal coffee growing region of Sumatran is around Lake Toba followed by Lake Tawar and into Christian unsettled areas.  Of recent, the coffees from around Lake Toba were called Blue Batak Mandherlings.  Blue because the beans have a blue tinge from the way it is processed.  Bataks were the Christian tribe that used to predominately grow it in this region.  Mandheling because when the Japanese over ran the region in the Second World War, this is what they called the region.  Which was then passed to the name of the coffee beans.

It is a sort after coffee, it has a price premium because there is limited quantity.  Quantity is limited due to the size of the relatively small region and because Starbucks uses it for its espresso, perhaps taking up to 80% of what is produced. One year I remember not being able to get any!  The methodology of processing in the region was unique, they hull the coffee, that is remove the final layer of skin from the bean very quickly compared to other processing methods.  This is known as wet hulling. The hulling is done within a few days from picking compared to weeks and results in the bean carrying more moisture creating a different look and taste.  It is therefore limited supply and processing that drive the price premium rather than the actual coffee farmer.

Coffee Farmer

Hulling Machine

 

The bulk of the coffee is grown in small landholder plots by fundamentally, subsistence farmers.  They grow what their family needs and any small surplus of fruit and vegetables or coffee is sold for cash.  A farmer might produce two 60kg bags of cherry.  A limited quantity.  The farmer picks the cherries and uses a basic or homemade pulping machine to remove the skin and some of the flesh off the cherry.  This they place in a plastic sack, sweat, that is ferment the beans overnight and then wash the result, parchment being two beans wrapped in a husk.  The farmer then sells this parchment to wholesalers in Lintong.

In Lintong there are say 15 local, established family businesses that have small simple shop fronts and the farmers and sell their coffee to the highest bidder.  It’s here that a specific skill comes in, you have to bid for this famer’s coffee based upon the look and smell of the coffee.  Because some of the coffee arriving can certainly look rather grotty the purchase is driven by identifying aromas of great fragrant grass, earthiness and tea.  You want to identify the good stuff, buy low and pass that coffee on at a premium.

Lintong Markets

These coffee wholesale businesses in Lintong are all run by women and they are seemingly very good at their jobs. They may turnover $500k per week in green coffee sales.  The areas around Lintong remain Christian but they are also a matriarchal society, the women are in charge.  Men can be kept as ornate objects that should look good, be entertaining and hang around.  Certainly, the hotel I stayed at the husband sat around all day, recited poetry, amicably chatted and drank coffee all day every day.

Low acid, very earthy and mushroomy coffees are my favourite from the area.  Though there is now more variety entering the market.  It can be great for a lingering espresso.  As a coffee drinker you are getting quite a rare style coffee.  But because the coffee is not traceable back to the famer perhaps it loses some of its appeal.  It can only really be traced to the lot that the wholesaler has bought, never repeatable but its real origin lost as a drop in the sea.  That’s a distinction between Sumatra as an orgin, Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia say to Centrals and Colombians, where farm and Co-operative identification and controlled wet processing are more prevalent.  Creating better traceability and enticing the farmer to grow better coffee for a better price is happening.  It’s again, a unique coffee from a unique origin.

"Blue Bianca" is produced in the highland plateau of Onang Ganjang by small holding farmers.

This is a truly unique coffee that stands out from the crowd. Distinctive, bursting with character, and setting a standard for top end Indonesian coffee.

Good
Great
Fantastic
Fantastic
Great
Fantastic
Strength & Body
Acidity

$37.50 Each

Sumatran.  Why drink it?

In short, it’s Lake Toba, it really is a natural wonder that was the site of the biggest volcanic explosion of the last 25 million years.  Its size and beauty mirror wonder. A wonder that flags a great coffee.  Interestingly, here though, the coffee farmers are not really coffee farmers, they are subsistence organic farmers who are growing a little coffee as a cash crop.  They don’t drink the coffee and probably don’t know much of its agronomy.  It is the natural living wonder of Lake Toba, its fertile soils, organic farming methods and its method of processing that drives the unique body and flavor intensity of Sumatran coffees.

Markets

The principal coffee growing region of Sumatran is around Lake Toba followed by Lake Tawar and into Christian unsettled areas.  Of recent, the coffees from around Lake Toba were called Blue Batak Mandherlings.  Blue because the beans have a blue tinge from the way it is processed.  Bataks were the Christian tribe that used to predominately grow it in this region.  Mandheling because when the Japanese over ran the region in the Second World War, this is what they called the region.  Which was then passed to the name of the coffee beans.

It is a sort after coffee, it has a price premium because there is limited quantity.  Quantity is limited due to the size of the relatively small region and because Starbucks uses it for its espresso, perhaps taking up to 80% of what is produced. One year I remember not being able to get any!  The methodology of processing in the region was unique, they hull the coffee, that is remove the final layer of skin from the bean very quickly compared to other processing methods.  This is known as wet hulling. The hulling is done within a few days from picking compared to weeks and results in the bean carrying more moisture creating a different look and taste.  It is therefore limited supply and processing that drive the price premium rather than the actual coffee farmer.

Coffee Farmer

Hulling Machine

 

The bulk of the coffee is grown in small landholder plots by fundamentally, subsistence farmers.  They grow what their family needs and any small surplus of fruit and vegetables or coffee is sold for cash.  A farmer might produce two 60kg bags of cherry.  A limited quantity.  The farmer picks the cherries and uses a basic or homemade pulping machine to remove the skin and some of the flesh off the cherry.  This they place in a plastic sack, sweat, that is ferment the beans overnight and then wash the result, parchment being two beans wrapped in a husk.  The farmer then sells this parchment to wholesalers in Lintong.

In Lintong there are say 15 local, established family businesses that have small simple shop fronts and the farmers and sell their coffee to the highest bidder.  It’s here that a specific skill comes in, you have to bid for this famer’s coffee based upon the look and smell of the coffee.  Because some of the coffee arriving can certainly look rather grotty the purchase is driven by identifying aromas of great fragrant grass, earthiness and tea.  You want to identify the good stuff, buy low and pass that coffee on at a premium.

Lintong Markets

These coffee wholesale businesses in Lintong are all run by women and they are seemingly very good at their jobs. They may turnover $500k per week in green coffee sales.  The areas around Lintong remain Christian but they are also a matriarchal society, the women are in charge.  Men can be kept as ornate objects that should look good, be entertaining and hang around.  Certainly, the hotel I stayed at the husband sat around all day, recited poetry, amicably chatted and drank coffee all day every day.

Low acid, very earthy and mushroomy coffees are my favourite from the area.  Though there is now more variety entering the market.  It can be great for a lingering espresso.  As a coffee drinker you are getting quite a rare style coffee.  But because the coffee is not traceable back to the famer perhaps it loses some of its appeal.  It can only really be traced to the lot that the wholesaler has bought, never repeatable but its real origin lost as a drop in the sea.  That’s a distinction between Sumatra as an orgin, Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia say to Centrals and Colombians, where farm and Co-operative identification and controlled wet processing are more prevalent.  Creating better traceability and enticing the farmer to grow better coffee for a better price is happening.  It’s again, a unique coffee from a unique origin.

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