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Mar '06

The Coffee of Sumatra

Coffee production in Sumatra began in the 18th century under colonial domination, introduced first to the northern region of Aceh around Lake Tawar Lake.

Most coffee is produced around the Lake Toba region, in the subregions of Lintong Nihuta, Sumbul, and the aforementioned Takengon. But Sumatrans are not often sold by region, because presumably the regional differences are not that distinct. Rather, the quality of the picking, preparation and processing of the coffee determines much of the cup character in this coffee. In fact, Sumtrans are sold as Mandheling, which is simply the

Indonesian ethnic group that is most involved in coffee production!.
Indonesians are available as dry, semi-washed and (sometimes) fully-washed coffees. While a fully washed coffee may appear to have less defects, it may be inferior in the cup to a ugly, dry-processed coffee. (A recent Sumatra sample I cupped that was perfect & polished was probably the most flavorless, dull Mandheling I have ever had!) Dry processed, wild coffees will have more body and often more of the character that makes Indonesians so appealing and slightly funky: grading seems to often ignore percentage of weird looking beans.

There is a tendency to over-roast Indonesians. The reason is that they don’t show as much roast color, and have a mottled appearance up until 2nd crack and even a bit into it. Don’t let this make you think you have to roast them dark (although they can be nice this way too). Great Indonesians will be wonderful roasted just to the verge of 2nd crack but NOT into it at all. So ignore the weird beans you see green, and ignore the mottled appearance of lighter roasts, and focus on the what you get in the CUP.

A historical note:
Mandailing, spelled here “correctly,” is technically an ethnic group in Indonesia, not a region, as is Batak. The coffee is called Mandheling from tradition, based on a perhaps mythical encounter between occupying Japanese soldiers and Mandailing coffee shop owners.

When asking what the excellent coffee the were being served was, the owner misunderstood and thought they were asking what HE was. His reply was, of course “Mandailing”. Later a former Japanese soldier contacted a businessperson in Sumatra after the war, and asked if the excellent coffee “Mandheling” was commercially available. The broker was the famed Pwani, and they shipped 15 tons of coffee to Japan that year. But can you see the great irony here? The person that desired the great “Mandheling” coffee actually created it in the act of asking for it. (Higher quality all-arabica coffee was never exported from Indonesia before this).

The authenticity of the coffee was based not on its true origin, cultivar, or other “real” determinations of cup character, but in the language of this initial exchange. Of course, over time Mandheling has come to mean a lot, and have very specific cup qualities. But you will find a similar situation with Yemeni brokers who blend coffees for US importers seeking “Mocca”. Its suited to US tastes, a milder cup for softer palettes from a blend of Yemeni origins, not too wild in the cup. BTW: the above story is from a Sumatran source, but in fact the 1903 Sears Wholesale Grocery Catalog listed “Java Mandailing” for sale (it was common until recently to call all Indonesian coffees Java such-and-such, like Java Timor or Java Kallosi etc) so Mandailing was definitely in use long before the ’50s.

Sumber : SweetMaria’s via Planet Mole

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