The 12 Best Sumatra Coffee Beans (And What To Look For)

Sumatran coffee is something different in the world of coffee, firstly because it’s a rarity and secondly because of the way it’s processed. Coffee drinkers either hate it or love it, and there’s no middle ground.  Most of the flavor comes from the wet-hull processing method called giling basah, traditional in Indonesia, where the humidity is between seventy and ninety percent all year. 

The 12 best Sumatra coffee beans are sold by Volcanica, AmazonFresh, Copper Moon, Starbucks, Peach Coffee Roasters, and Infinity Beanz. Some are available from Amazon, but you can also order from the company. Poor quality beans can taste bad, so don’t compromise.

It is difficult to dry coffee beans in constant dampness, and standard processing would take much longer, costing the coffee producers money because they can’t quickly get their products to market. Wet hulling is a faster process that primarily counters the risk of bacterial growth causing defects in the beans before they dry. This article looks at the best Sumatra coffee beans and why they’re special.

Image of coffee beans in a wooden bowl

The 12 Best Sumatra Coffee Beans

Sumatra Mandheling 

Sumatra Mandheling coffee beans are legendary among coffee connoisseurs. They are Arabica beans grown in the Lake Takengon region in Mandheling province. It typically has layered flavors with notes of dark chocolate, mango, floral herbs, and peach and is famous for its unusual, earthy, and complex taste.

1. Coffee Bean Direct, Dark Sumatra Mandheling

Coffee Bean Direct Dark Sumatra Mandheling, Whole Bean Coffee, 5-Pound Bag
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Coffee Bean Direct, Dark Sumatra Mandheling available on Amazon is a favorite of coffee shops and has a rich, bold, earthy taste. It comes in whole beans in a five-pound bag, so you have to grind it yourself if your coffeemaker doesn’t include a grinder. This coffee is full-bodied, velvety smooth, and dark with hardly any bitterness.

2. Volcanica Mandheling Coffee, Medium Roast

Sumatra Mandheling Coffee, Medium Roast, Whole Bean, Fresh Roasted, 16-ounce
$19.99
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05/22/2022 12:07 am GMT

Volcanica Mandheling Coffee, Medium Roast, a rare Indonesian coffee, is available on Amazon and highly rated by consumers. When cupped, it has a cocoa and brown spice aroma. The taste is mildly acidic, full-bodied, and well-balanced with notes of dried fruit, toffee, and lemongrass. The coffee is sun-dried, pesticide, and chemical-free because it is grown organically.

3. Volcanica Sumatra Mandheling Reserve

Volcanica Sumatra Mandheling Reserve is a dark roasted version with low acidity, a heavy body, and a rich earthy taste. The aftertaste is intense and syrupy.

Mandheling is the most readily available type of Sumatran coffee, but even so, don’t expect to see it on the shelves of your corner grocery store. You may have to seek out specialist coffee and gourmet shops that stock it or search for it online.

Sumatra Gayo

Gayo is grown in the Aceh region of Sumatra and has an intense, dense flavor. This area produces a lot of coffee in different styles. Gayo is typically sweet, complex, earthy, spicy, and crisp. 

1. Sumatra Gayo

Sumatra Gayo Coffee, Whole Bean, Low Acid, Fair Trade, Fresh Roasted, 16-ounce
$26.99
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05/21/2022 05:24 am GMT

Volcanica offers two varieties of Gayo for sale – Sumatra Gayo and Sumatra Gayo Peaberry. The former is described as clean and sweet and is ranked among the best coffees worldwide. It is a medium roast with low acidity. Flavor notes have been described as caramel, peach, fresh-fallen leaves, and wisteria.

2. Sumatra Gayo Peaberry

Sumatra Gayo Peaberry Coffee, Whole Bean, Fair Trade, Fresh Roasted, 16-ounce
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Peaberry coffee is also a medium roast with flavor noted of cacao nib, wisteria, peach, and caramel.  It is made from natural mutations of the bean inside the fruit, called the cherry.

Usually, there are two coffee beans per cherry, but peaberries have only one. The bean is smaller and denser than that of a typical bean, and peaberry fans maintain that they are richer in flavor and sweeter.

Peaberry beans are much rarer than the normal ones as only five percent of the cherries have this mutation. They are thus more expensive. They also have to be hand sorted from the typical beans, increasing labor costs.

Sumatra Lintong

Sumatra Lintong coffee is grown in central Sumatra near Lake Toba. It is less well known than Mandheling and Gayo and comes from the Lintongnihuta district. Its cupping notes describe it as syrupy-bodied, tart, sweet, complex, and with flavors of kumquat, plum, and molasses.

1. Peach Coffee Roasters Medium Roast Sumatra Lintong

Peach Coffee Roasters makes a highly rated Sumatra Lintong coffee that reviewers have described as floral and citrusy with sandalwood, tobacco, cocoa, and grapefruit zest notes. Its mouthfeel or body is light and juicy, and it has a long, layered finish reminiscent of flowers, sandalwood, and grapefruit.

2. Sumatra Lintong Arabica, Unroasted Green Coffee Beans

Sumatra Lintong Arabica, Unroasted Green Coffee Beans (3 LB)
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If you‘d like to roast your own Sumatra Lintong, you can buy Heirloom Coffee’s unroasted green beans from Amazon, which most reviewers have given five stars.

Other Top Rated Sumatran Coffees


Highly rated Sumatra coffees, apart from those already mentioned, available on Amazon include –

1. Starbucks Dark Roast Ground Coffee – Sumatra

Starbucks Dark Roast Ground Coffee - Sumatra - 100% Arabica - 1 Bag (20 Oz.)
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Starbucks Dark Roast Ground Coffee – Sumatra – full-bodied, dark roast, earthy, spicy, and herbal with a smooth mouthfeel and low acidity.

2. Copper Moon Sumatra Blend

Copper Moon Sumatra Blend, Dark Roast Coffee, Whole Bean, 2 Lb
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Copper Moon Sumatra Blend with low acidity and a smooth, mild, smoky taste with earthy and almond notes. It’s also kosher.

3. AmazonFresh Organic Fair Trade Sumatra Dark Roast Ground Coffee

AmazonFresh Organic Fair Trade Sumatra Ground Coffee, Dark Roast, 12 Ounce
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AmazonFresh Organic Fair Trade Sumatra Dark Roast Ground Coffee – with an intense, rich dark roast and earthy, chocolatey, smoky flavor

4. Sumatra Ground Coffee, Single Origin Mandheling

Sumatra Ground Coffee, Single Origin Mandheling by Infinity Beanz – single-origin and sourced from Mandheling in Indonesia with a bold, smooth, rich taste and slightly nutty and chocolatey, floral, woodsy notes, and wonderful aroma.

A Word About Kopi Luwak

You may come across Kopi Luwak or civet coffee in your search for Sumatran coffees. It is famously the world’s most expensive coffee. There is a great deal of fraud and controversy around this coffee, and many people say that its only appeal lies in the novelty of how it is made rather than the taste.

Trigger warning for the squeamish and animal lovers! This is an eye-wateringly expensive Sumatran coffee processed in a highly unusual way. It is made from the digested coffee cherries eaten and excreted by the Asian palm civet. 

Initially, wild civets consumed the beans, and people would collect their feces where they dropped them. Now a more intensive farming method is used in which the civets are kept in battery cages, like those for battery hens, and force-fed only coffee cherries. Civets eat many other things besides coffee cherries in the wild, so the captive animals are malnourished, stressed, and sick.

In 2013, PETA found wild-caught civets on farms in the Philippines and Indonesia. The animals were kept in cages without proper diets, sufficient exercise, and space. They exhibited high levels of stress and abnormal behavior such as pacing, biting the bars of the cages, and circling, and many had lost their fur. 

Because of the high price of Kopi Luwak and poaching for the pet trade, the Asian palm civet is now threatened and is listed in CITES Appendix III. Some coffee companies offer so-called ethical Kopi Luwak that is not made using captive civets. Still, you need to look deeper into the company’s coffee processing methods before you buy.

Some people who have tried Kopi Luwak say it’s nothing special and not that much better than any other high-quality Arabica, while others love it. Also, most of what is sold as Kopi Luwak today is fake. 

The aroma has been described as smooth, soft, and sweet with a mild milk chocolate flavor.

Kopi Luwak is not unique to Sumatra as it is also made in a few other places like Bali, East Timor, Java, and Sulawesi.

Volcanica’s Kopi Luwak

Volcanica’s Kopi Luwak claims to be made from the gathered feces of wild, not caged, civets. The company works closely with Indonesian exporters and supports organizations against civet abuse. It says that wild civets make higher-quality coffee in any event because they are not mistreated and free to eat a balanced diet that only includes the best, ripest coffee cherries. 

What You Need To Know About Sumatra Coffee Beans

Sumatran coffee is a contentious subject amongst coffee enthusiasts because it is not what many are used to. They are accustomed to evaluating coffee flavors purely based on the “terroir”, a term borrowed from the world of wine, which means the region and climate conditions where it is grown. However, the processing method used for Sumatran coffee materially affects the flavor. 

The wet-hulling method means the beans have a higher moisture content when they leave the grower than other coffees processed in the standard way. As a result, they are very unusual compared to most other coffees and not what the taster expects. Some people love it because it is different, while others hate it for the same reason.

A few Sumatran coffees have been processed using the standard, dried in the fruit method instead of wet-hulling, so if you’re a beginner, you may want to try these first. Ask a coffee roastery that stocks Sumatran coffee for more information.

Sumatran coffees tend to be less acidic and are not as bright-tasting as other types. Their flavors have been described as funky, mushroomy, herbaceous, weird, spicy, and wild. The beans typically have a darker roast than others to induce some sweetness and richness. 

Because coffee sellers prefer to stock products in high demand, many may only have small quantities of Sumatran coffee from time to time because it’s unfamiliar and strange to the palate of many coffee drinkers. However, those in the know will come back for more.

Cupping is the controlled way that coffee tasters evaluate coffee. They first sniff the dry grounds for fragrance, then test the wet grounds for aroma, after which they use a large spoon to slurp the coffee over their palate and experience all the different flavor notes.

What To Look For In Sumatra Coffee Beans

The distinguishing characteristics of Sumatran coffees are –

  • Full body
  • Low acidity
  • Earthy flavors
  • Herby, umami, woodland aroma

They are usually dark roasted to improve sweetness but can be found in a medium roast.

To truly appreciate gourmet coffees, the tasting experience is enhanced when you concentrate on certain key factors to decide whether you like it. You should describe it to yourself in words that help you identify its various aspects. When consciously savoring coffee, there are five things professional coffee tasters look for –

1. Body

This refers to how the coffee feels on the tongue and in the mouth. Is it heavy or light, full or thin? What is its weight in your mouth? Sumatran coffees are generally full-bodied.

2. Sweetness

Although coffee has a certain natural bitterness, the best quality coffees also have a sweetness. The sweetness of different coffees has been compared to honey, brown sugar, fresh fruit, molasses, caramel, or maple syrup. Sumatran coffees tend to have chocolatey, brown sugar, or caramel sweetness.

3. Acidity

This quality makes the coffee taste brighter and isn’t a reference to the pH of coffee. It refers to how tangy or tart it is. For instance, is there a hint of lemon, raspberry, or mango, or is it more like melon? Sumatran coffee is famous for its low acidity and has been described as syrupy by some.

4. Flavor

Many words are used to describe the different flavor notes of coffee, including spicy, nutty, fruity, chocolatey, tobacco-like, earthy, musty, papery, floral, salty, mushroomy, and chalky. Words that have been used to describe Sumatran coffee flavors include herbaceous, mossy, spicy, earthy, funky, pungent, and mushroomy or with tobacco notes. Let your palate be your guide.

5. Finish

The finish is what lingers in your mouth after you’ve swallowed the coffee. Is the aftertaste smooth, rough, fruity, sweet, floral, or long-lasting? Does it disappear quickly? Sumatran coffees often have long finishes.

In a review, the poor quality Sumatra coffees taste musty rather than earthy and are reminiscent of mildewed socks rather than freshly turned humus. Fifty out of the seventy-five Sumatran samples tested were processed using the wet-hulled method.

Some coffee suppliers and roasteries offer helpful reviews, so it’s good to look out for them.

If coffee is top-rated, they give it a score of between ninety-two and ninety-five, giving you an idea of the high-quality Sumatran coffees to watch out for. However, some reviews can be several years old, so don’t be afraid to experiment with other Sumatran coffees available from reputable dealers.

Conclusion

Volcanica, Starbucks, Coffee Bean Direct, Infinity Beanz, AmazonFresh, Copper Moon, and Sweet Maria’s sell the fourteen best Sumatran coffee beans. The three main types of Sumatran coffees are Mandheling, Gayo, and Lintong, named after the regions in Sumatra where they are grown. Try some – the unique experience may just bowl you over!