Sumatra-Indonesia Coffee Overview | Coffee Inside

Sumatra Woman with Coffee Indonesia

Indonesia was the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world in 2014. Coffee in Indonesia began with its colonial history, and has played an important part in the growth of the country. Most of production constitutes the lower quality robusta type. Indonesia is also famous for having a number of specialty coffees such as ‘kopi luwak’ (known as world’s the most expensive coffee) and ‘kopi Mandailing’ (see below).

Contry Profile

  • Size – 473,481 sq km
  • Capital City – The 10 provinces of Sumatra each have their own capital city, including Banda Aceh (Aceh province), Medan (North Sumatra), and Padang (West Sumatra)
  • Population – 50,180,000 (estimated 2014)
  • Language/s Spoken – Bahasa Indonesian (official), more than 50 other recognized languages

Producer Profile

  • Typical Farm Size – 1 hectare
  • Bags Exported Annually – 350,000–400,000 bags
Word map coffee - Coffee in Sumatra - Indonesia- CoffeeInsid
Word map coffee – Coffee in Sumatra – Indonesia- CoffeeInsid

Sumatra Coffee Profile

  • Growing Regions – Aceh/Gayo, Lintong, Takengon/Bener Meriah
  • Common Varieties – Bourbon, Catimor, Caturra, Tim Tim
  • Processing Methods – Wet-Hulled (aka Giling Basah)
  • Region-Specific Grading – DP (double pick), TP (triple pick)
  • Bag Size – 60 kg
  • Harvest Period – Varies
  • Typical Arrival – Varies

History of Idonesia Coffee

Coffee was introduced throughout the islands of Indonesia by the Dutch in the 1600s, and was first exported by the Dutch East India Company in the early 1700s. Large Dutch-owned plantations were the norm, and the laborers and locals suffered financially and politically under the colonial regime: The 1860 novel Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company outlined many of the ways that the Dutch government and landowners abused and oppressed the Indonesian people, specifically on Sumatra and Java. Poverty, starvation, and destitution were common among coffee workers and within the indigenous communities.

Coffee Leaf Rust and Robusta variety

In the 1860s and 1870s, a coffee-leaf-rust epidemic decimated the coffee market in Indonesia, and led to the abandonment of many estates by the Dutch; as the plantations broke up, laborers took up small plots of the land, eventually replanting most of the old-stock Arabica with Robusta coffee and various more disease-resistant hybrids. This land redistribution created the predominance of smallholder growers on the islands, which exists to this day. Taken as a whole, Indonesia is the fourth-largest coffee-producing country in the world.

Sumatran coffees have long been distinct for their earthy, savory, somewhat vegetal or herbaceous characteristics, in part contributed by the climate and the mix of varieties grown, but also due to a specific post-harvest processing style called Wet-Hulling, or locally known as Giling Basah, which imparts much of the unique qualities these coffees have.

Indonesia Coffee Growing Regions

Most coffees from Indonesia are highly prized for their complex, spice-y flavors thanks to the rich soils and idyllic growing conditions. Among the best reviewed Indonesian coffees, Sumatra and Sulawesi frequently take the top spots – this is in part due to the more prevalent processing and exporting industries and strong government support.

Sumatra Coffee (Mandheling, Lintong and Gayo)

Coffee from this western-most island in Indonesia is intriguing and complex, due to the large number of small-holder producers and the unique “Giling Basah” (see below) processing technique they use. At the green bean stage, coffee from this area has a distinctive bluish colour, which is attributed to processing method and lack of iron in the soil

  • Mandheling Coffee

Sumatra Mandheling coffee is one of the common four types of Sumatra Arabica coffee. While most coffee is named after the growing region, or the country, Mandheling coffee is named after the Mandailing people that traditionally farmed and processed the coffee beans in the Tapanuli region. Mandheling coffee is grown in altitudes of 2,500 to 5,000 feet.

  • Gayo Coffee

This special coffee comes from the Gayo highlands in Central Aceh, near Lake Laut Tawar, which is surrounded by thousands of hectares of vegetation, mostly coffee and pine. The area is part of the Bukit Barisan mountain range, which stretches across the island of Sumatra. Small holding coffee plantations in the Lues, totaling 94,500 hectares. Almost 80 percent of coffee growers in Central Aceh maintains organic plantations.

  • Lintong Coffee

Lintong coffee is grown in the District of Lintongnihuta, to the south-west Lake Toba. This large lake is one of the deepest in the world, at 505 meters. The coffee production area is a high plateu, known for its diversity of tree fern species. This area produces 15,000 to 18,000 tons of Arabica per year.

Java Coffee

West Java is the earliest plantation area acquired by VOC in East Indies back in 18th century. Coffee was planted in Priangan area, such as in Sumedang. Java’s Arabica coffee production is centered on the Ijen Plateau, at the eastern end of Java, at an altitude more than 1,400 meters. The coffee is primarily grown on large estates that were built by the Dutch in the 18th century. The five largest estates are Blawan (also spelled Belawan or Blauan), Jampit (or Djampit), Pancoer (or Pancur), Kayumas and Tugosari, and they cover more than 4,000 hectares.

Sulawesi Coffee

In South Sulawesi province, the primary region for high altitude Arabica production is in mountainous area called Tana Toraja, at the central highlands of province. To the south of Toraja is the region of Enrekang. The capital of this region is Kalosi, which is well-known brand of specialty coffe. The regions of Mamasa (to the west of Toraja) and Gowa (to the south of Kalosi), also produce Arabica, although they are less well known.

Indonesian Specialty Coffees

Besides the production of regular coffee, Indonesia also produces several specialty coffees. Most famous of these specialties are Luwak coffee, Toraja coffee, Aceh coffee and Mandailing coffee. The first one – luwak coffee – is possibly the most famous type of coffee as it is known as the world’s most expensive coffee. It is brewed from beans that have passed through the digestive system of the Asian palm civet (catlike animal). Due to this special fermentation process inside the animal (and due to the fact that the civet is able to select the juiciest coffee cherries) this coffee is believed to have a richer taste. Its labor-intensive production process and scarcity on the international market cause its expensive price.

See more Luwak Coffee from Wikipedia

Process Coffee Giling Basah

Before the 1970s, coffees in Sumatra were processed in the two most commonly found methods worldwide: washed and natural. In the 1970s, Japanese interest in Sumatran coffees led to the introduction of the Giling Basah (Wet-Hulled process), a unique style of handling and drying that is largely responsible for Sumatran coffees’ unmistakable flavor characteristics, but also their normally greenish-blue hue.

In Sumatra, coffee farmers will typically harvest their coffee cherry and depulp it by hand at their farm or home, allow it to dry for a very short time, then bring it either to a coffee marketplace or directly to a “collector,” or collection point, where the beans are purchased at anywhere from 30–50% moisture, with their mucilage still partially intact. The coffee is then combined and hulled (has its parchment removed) while it is still in this high-moisture state. The coffee is then dried to the more commonly globally accepted 11–13% moisture in order to prepare for export.

While there is some experimentation currently being done with large-scale Washed coffee for export—currently much of the Washed coffee produced is for local consumption—the Giling Basah process was developed specifically to speed up drying and efficiency in a climate that sees heavy rain and clouds most of the year: Removing the parchment layer allows the coffee to dry much faster on patios or tarps even in these conditions.

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