Indonesia is one of the world’s top coffee producers, so chances are good that you’ve heard of its distinctive coffee. Sumatra, one of Indonesia’s main coffee-producing regions, is known for its uniquely earthy, bold flavors and low acidity.
But how do you make sure you’re buying some of the very best beans Sumatra has to offer? Don’t worry, you won’t have to fly to Indonesia. To make your shopping easier, we tested a lot of beans and put together this guide to the five best Sumatran coffee beans of 2020. Our detailed reviews compare flavor, price, roast quality, and freshness so you can be sure you’ll receive delicious Sumatran beans.
|Volcanica Coffee Sumatra Mandheling |
|Starbucks Sumatra Coffee||Dark||4.7/5|
|Coffee Bean Direct Dark Sumatra Mandheling||Dark||4.5/5|
|AmazonFresh Organic Sumatra Ground|
(Best Ground Coffee Pick)
|Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC Sumatra Mandheling||Dark||4.2/5|
Out of all the brands we tested, Volcanica Coffee’s Sumatra Mandheling Coffee Beans were our favorites. These are some of the best Sumatra Mandheling coffee beans out there, boasting a full body, low acidity, and notes of chocolate, spice, and brown sugar.
Though somewhat expensive, these beans are consistently medium roasted, with Sumatra’s distinctive earthy, herbal flavor. They’re certified shade-grown, Fair Trade, and Rainforest Alliance, and are grown in volcanic soil at over 3,000 feet of elevation. This coffee is backed up by a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee from Volcanic, and the company promises a tight Amazon inventory, so you can be sure that your beans will arrive fresh.
The Sumatra Dark Roast Whole Bean Coffee from Starbucks is our second favorite brand. Sold in a pack of six 12-ounce bags, this coffee is an attractively-priced bulk buy, with impressive flavor that’s both earthy and spicy.
These oily beans are dark roast, with a tendency toward bitterness if you use too many. They have less interesting flavor than our top pick, but still have notes of spices and herbs and a full, satisfying body. And if you don’t have a grinder, keep in mind that you can have any unopened bag of Starbucks coffee ground at your local Starbucks coffee shop for free.
Coffee Bean Direct offers another solid whole bean coffee, the Dark Sumatra Mandheling. Less interesting than Volcanica’s Mandheling, this coffee, which is sold at a reasonable price in a hefty five-pound bag, is nevertheless smooth and aromatic.
This Sumatra coffee is roasted to a dark level, between an Italian and a French roast. The dark roast accentuates flavors of chocolate and nuts in the beans, though we found the flavor to be less full overall, and not exceptionally bold or complex. These beans are also somewhat oily and low in acid.
Do you dislike grinding your coffee beans? Our favorite pre-ground coffee was the Organic Fair Trade Sumatra from AmazonFresh, sold in a well-priced pack of three 12-ounce bags.
Certified both Organic and Fair Trade, this dark roast Sumatran coffee has a smoky, chocolatey flavor that is tasty but not particularly distinctive. It’s very low in acidity and comes in a convenient medium grind. We found that it arrived very fresh and aromatic, making it a great pick if you’re looking for pre-ground beans.
Fresh Roasted Coffee’s Sumatra Mandheling Whole Bean was our least favorite brand. Though well-priced, this medium roast coffee is lacking the distinctively earthy flavor of other Mandheling beans.
This single-origin coffee is grown in Lintong, Sumatra, at a high elevation of around 4,000 feet. The Sumatra Mandheling is smooth, with low acidity and a dark chocolate flavor. It’s bold and minimally bitter, though we found reports of less than fresh beans.
Now that you’ve taken a look at our five favorite Sumatran coffee brands, you may be wondering what you can expect and what you should look for. Keep reading to find out all about what makes Sumatran beans unique.
Did you know that Indonesia is the world’s fourth-largest coffee producer? The country, which is made up of over 17,000 islands, currently produces 8% of the world’s coffee. Sumatra is the sixth-largest island in the world and one of the country’s most famous coffee-producing regions. You’ve probably heard of the other major coffee region, Java, which is so well-known that people use its name interchangeably with coffee.
Mandheling beans are named after a local tribe, the Mandailing people. They are known as the most unique, interesting beans that are grown in Sumatra.
About 85% of Indonesia’s coffee beans are of the Robusta variety. These highly caffeinated but more bitter beans are not considered as high-quality as Arabica beans, which make up the other 15% of Indonesia’s crops. But don’t worry: you’re unlikely to end up buying Robusta beans, as most are consumed in-country or processed into instant coffee. The majority of exported beans are Arabica beans, which are grown at higher altitudes and boast smoother, less bitter flavor.
Sumatran coffee is famous for its uniquely earthy and herbal flavors. These complex beans, which are grown in volcanic soil, produce full-bodied, smooth coffee with hints of chocolate and a small amount of acidity.
Sumatran coffee is especially sought-after for its low level of acidity. If you tend to get stomach aches or headaches from coffee, this low-acid variety could be a good choice for you. It’s also easier on tooth enamel, which can be damaged over time if you drink a lot of coffee. Sumatran beans are lower in acidity because of how they’re processed and because they’re generally dark roast, which naturally has less acid.
Most of Sumatra’s coffee is processed in a more traditional way than coffee from other areas. Instead of washing or dry processing the beans, local farmers use a process called “gilling basah,” or wet hulling. To do this, they depulp the cherries just after picking, and then ferment them in bags overnight. This method of processing lowers acidity in the Sumatran bean and contributes to its unique, earthy taste. It also tones down more subtle flavors like fruits and florals.
Although ground coffee is convenient, most of the coffees on our list are whole bean. This is because coffee beans maintain flavor for longer when they’re whole. As soon as you grind them, beans begin to lose flavor through contact with oxygen. Therefore, for the strongest flavor, you may want to buy whole beans and grind them within 15 minutes of brewing.
The earthy, chocolatey flavors of Sumatran coffee beans work best with medium and dark roast levels. Because the more delicate flavors disappear during the wet hulling process, Sumatran coffee is not especially well suited to light roasting. Instead, these beans are often used in espresso and other dark blends because they hold up well to heavy roasting. For the freshest-tasting coffee, look for beans that have been roasted as recently as possible. You may want to check for roast dates on the bags of coffee you buy and try to consume coffee between a week and a month after the roast date.
The bottom line? The best beans we tested were Volcanica Coffee’s Sumatra Mandheling Coffee Beans, which have just the smooth, complex flavor we expect from a Mandheling. Our second favorite, Starbucks’ Sumatra Dark Roast Whole Bean Coffee, has an impressive flavor and an equally impressive price. If you’re a fan of pre-ground beans, we recommend AmazonFresh’s Organic Fair Trade Sumatra, a bold, dark roast coffee conveniently sold in medium-size grounds.
Sumatran coffee is widely available, but the quality of the beans can vary quite a bit between brands. We hope our comprehensive reviews of the five best Sumatran coffee brands, plus our quick guide to Sumatran coffee beans, help you find the unique, complex flavors you’re searching for.
By Kate MacDonnell
Featured image credit: Pexels
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