Sumatra’s Coffee: What Does It Really Taste Like?
Everyone has their very own personal preference when it comes to food and beverage world, especially coffee. Sometimes it could be a love-hate relationship. But it’s mostly either you love it or not. The third wave, all about the specialty. The trend of light roasting is soaring as the third wave is very much known now.
When it comes to Sumatran coffee, a lot of fine roasters argue about it on and on. Why does Arabica producing the coffee region with a nearly year-round harvest? The true answer would have something to do with the flavour.
When you first enter the coffee world, it’s like you’re in a totally different world. The vocabularies are different, what are these people saying?! You can learn in time or maybe learn it from the wine world because the vocabularies are almost the same. But about the regions where they grow the coffee, it will never be the same. It will always affect how the coffee would taste like. This point is truly highlighted by Thompson Owen of Sweet Maria’s, a coffee beans supplier who roasts from home.
Why is Sumatra coffee very argumentative? The coffee processing they use for Sumatra coffee in Indonesia is called Giling Basah or wet-hulling, which resulting in the coffee beans with higher moisture content than any other coffee processing methods worldwide like natural and washed method.
How could Giling Basah method or process affect this so much? If we generalise all kinds of coffee beans processed this way, the result would have tasted like spices, mushrooms, earthy and other taste notes that’s related to earth and may not sound very appealing. This type of coffee has less acidity or you can call it brightness. Many people who love this type of coffee enjoy the smooth feel and thick or full body coffee. This type of coffee is usually roasted darker to bring out the most of it. To bring out the herbal flavour or sweetness and the full and thick body of it. Many people are falling in love with Sumatra coffee, even though some people also reject them, and some of them are in between depending on their mood.
It’s also not as simple as tasting coffee from certain places and certain ways.
Owen told, “Processing matters in really fundamental ways.” He warns that it’s gonna be easy to simplify our understanding of coffee based on where it’s grown, rather than how the coffee is processed.
Coffee beans grown in Sumatra with Giling Basah or wet hulling processed will taste very notable and different than the beans grown in Sumatra processed with an entirely different method. The differentiation would be when the fruit is stripped from the bean, then it would be dried on a patio for some time to reduce the moisture content, but each coffee processing has a different time to reduce the moisture content that will affect the beans.
You can also learn to expect how the coffee beans would taste based on the processing. Natural processed coffee tend to be sweeter and Ethiopia is very famous for its intense blueberry and other fruit flavours you can find in there. Remember that coffee beans from different regions have different taste.
A lot of coffee drinkers have heard that Sumatra coffee only comes in one and only way which makes people either take it or not at all! Many skilled and expert roasters will have Sumatra coffee on their roasting list. It’s really challenging to sell the beans, really challenging to roast and taste them rather than coffee beans from Central America or East Africa.
Though many specialty roasters will carry a Sumatran or neighbouring Sulawesi coffee on their list from time to time, they can be more challenging to sell, and taste, than more popularly understood—and livelier, sweeter—coffees currently sold from regions like East Africa or Central America.
Jared Linzmeier of Amherst from Wisconsin’s Ruby Coffee Roasters speak up about Sulawesi coffee, “I’d say we’re seeing more sympathy for a few Indonesian coffees from folks in ‘fancy’ coffee only because we’re starting to see some coffees that more closely resemble the more popular flavor profiles from better known, more mainstream regions. Our Sulawesi Toarco coffee is really sweet and clean, and is wash process.”
“It is soft and syrupy in the cup and I think folks are okay with the idea that some of the potentially savoury qualities have more to do with the cultivar than processing. That is a key point to me. I like the idea that processing facilitates rather than modifies a coffee’s potential expression. I’m okay with some strange flavours in the cup if I feel it represents a clear, clean representation of that coffee’s potential.”
It feels like there are so many lines here, like the beans, where they’re planted, the way they prepare it before it gets to the roastery’s hands and other things. In this world, you can’t really expect people and that also works with their taste. You can’t basically expect and know what they will like. For example, you can serve ten different cups of coffee there and the coffee in some of those cups are roasted badly and maybe there are some people who will say they love it anyway. You can never guess the marketplace.
We already know now how coffee processing could affect the results, don’t you know that harvest timing can also play a role? “Another reason people, myself included, are getting more excited about Indonesia is the time of year. These coffees are arriving when many Centrals are significantly faded in flavour, so people are looking to round out their menus with something dynamic,” told Linzmier.
The experimentation of coffee processing is increasing and getting more diverse in Sumatra. The cultural control and economic condition around the area also play a role.
“You describe the attributes of the coffee and if people want low acidity, that’s totally legitimate. I don’t think there needs to be a judgment of the goodness of the coffee, and I don’t think it has to be ‘this attribute is better than that attribute, there’s not one template for coffee.” said Owen.
Have you tried Sumatran coffees from your local roaster? Found any you particularly love (or hate)?
Have you ever tried Sumatran coffee from your local roaster? Try different coffees all over the world and you might be surprised which kind of coffee you like.