Sumatra is an Indonesian island known for its rich coffee-growing heritage and culture. Its coffee is so well-regarded that it has earned a place among the world's most prized and sought-after varieties.
The History of Sumatran Coffee
The story of Sumatra coffee is an intriguing tale that goes back centuries and involves many different players and events. It all began in the late 17th century when the Dutch were colonizing the region and seeking to expand their influence and wealth. The Dutch East India Company, also known as VOC, was a powerful force in the region, and it played a crucial role in the early history of Sumatra coffee.
The story goes that the Dutch governor of Malabar, in India, sent a Yemeni or arabica coffee seedling to the Dutch governor of Batavia, now known as Jakarta, in 1696. The seedling was an exotic and valuable commodity, as coffee was still a relatively unknown and exclusive product at the time.
The first shipment of seedlings failed due to flooding in Batavia, but the second shipment was sent in 1699 with Hendrik Zwaardecroon, a VOC official who had experience with growing coffee in Sri Lanka. Zwaardecroon oversaw the planting and cultivation of the coffee plants, and they grew and thrived in the fertile soil and tropical climate of Sumatra.
By 1711, the first Sumatran coffee beans were exported from Java to Europe by the VOC. This marked the beginning of Sumatra's coffee industry, which would soon become a major economic force in the region. The VOC played a central role in the development and expansion of the industry, and it worked to promote Sumatran coffee to European markets.
Over the next few decades, Sumatra coffee grew in popularity and demand, and the VOC continued to invest in the industry. By 1717, more than 2,000 pounds of coffee beans were shipped from Java to Europe, a testament to the success and growth of Sumatra coffee.
The Unique Flavor of Sumatran Coffee
Sumatran coffees are known for their smooth, sweet body that is balanced and intense. Depending on the region, or blend of regions, the flavors of the land and processing can be very pronounced.
When Sumatra coffee is properly roasted, there are notes of cocoa, tobacco, smoke, earth, and cedar wood that will show in the cup. Occasionally, Sumatran coffees can show greater acidity, which balances the body. This acidity takes on tropical fruit notes and sometimes an impression of grapefruit or lime.
The unique taste and quality of Sumatra coffee can be attributed to several factors, including the island's volcanic soil, tropical climate, and traditional processing methods. Sumatra's coffee farms are often small-scale, family-owned operations that use traditional methods to grow and process the beans.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Sumatra coffee is its processing method, which is known as wet-hulling or Giling Basah. This method involves removing the outer skin of the coffee cherry and leaving the beans to ferment for a short period before being washed and dried. This process gives the coffee a unique flavor profile and helps to accentuate its body and complexity.
Challenges and Setbacks
Despite its popularity and success, Sumatra coffee has faced challenges and setbacks over the years. In the early 20th century, for example, the industry was hit hard by a devastating coffee leaf rust epidemic that destroyed many of the island's coffee trees.
In recent years, Sumatra coffee has also faced competition from other regions and producers, as well as challenges related to climate change and sustainability. Many farmers have struggled to adapt to changing weather patterns and growing conditions, while others have faced economic pressures and market volatility.
The Future of Sumatra Coffee
Despite the challenges it faces, Sumatra coffee remains a prized and sought-after commodity. The island's unique terroir and traditional processing methods continue to produce a coffee that is unlike any other in the world.
In recent years, there has been a growing movement to promote sustainability and fair trade practices in the Sumatran coffee industry. Many farmers are now working to implement sustainable farming practices and to ensure that they are receiving fair prices for their coffee.
There is also a growing interest in specialty Sumatra coffees, such as single-origin coffees from specific regions or estates. These coffees offer coffee drinkers a unique opportunity to experience the full range of flavors and aromas that Sumatra coffee has to offer.
Sumatran coffee is a complex and fascinating beverage with a rich history and culture. It is a coffee that is both familiar and exotic, and it continues to be enjoyed by coffee drinkers all over the world.
Today, more than 90% of Indonesia’s coffee is grown by smallholders on coffee farms averaging around one hectare. Coffee is produced in small size farms and is process by the system “Gilling Basah” (wet hulling). The coffee has a very characteristic bluish color, which is attributed to the processing method.Sumatran coffee is a beautiful deep blue-green color with the appearance of jade.
Sumatran coffees capture the wild jungle essence of this tropical Indonesian island, often with an earthy, deep, complex, full-bodied coffee that exhibits low-acidity smoothness. A great Sumatran coffee is creamy, sweet, with a touch of butterscotch, spice, and mustiness.