Coffee Origins: Sumatra Coffee History and Geography

by Jenna Kellso May 15, 2019 3 min read

Coffee Origins:  Sumatra Coffee History and Geography


Sumatra Coffee History and Geography:


Sumatra is a part of Indonesia, and is currently the 2nd largest island in the Republic of Indonesia. The territory of Sumatra is the home to roughly 55 million people and one of the largest producing regions on the island. The size of Sumatra’s crop provides 74.2% of all the combined coffee product in Indonesia, with the second-largest region only at 12%.  However, coffee plants were not always originally native to Indonesia itself, but were imported into the island by the Dutch government after conquering the Portuguese in the early Dutch colonial period. Two centuries later, however, during World War two, a major amount of the coffee harvest was replaced with more practical crops such as rice, corn, and cassava in order to support those living there. Therefore the harvest of 1950 was only one-eighth of the pre-war peak. But since then, the production of coffee has grown to become the backbone of the economy. Currently, Indonesia exports around 67% of all its coffee production to foreign countries, annually bringing in 849 million dollars. Unlike many other coffee producing countries, a staggering 95% of Indonesia’s plantations are owned by smallholders, a term used for those who own or manage a small agricultural production.  This means only 5% of the coffee crops are controlled by big corporations, assuring that small businesses and families will solely benefit from the income. With over two million smallholders, this means many local families will be supported by sales made all around the world.


Sumatra Tasting Profile:

Because of Indonesia’s rare variety of tropics and regions, it is a perfectly structured environment for growing and producing coffee. The island is known for its vast assortment of character and flavor when it comes to the taste of its coffee beans grown on every corner of the land. The complex taste of beans produced in Indonesia specifically represents the regions in which it is grown. For example, the same variety of Arabica plant grown in Sumatra can be a quite different crop then the same plant grown in the region of Java, or Sulawesi. The main factors that significantly contribute to the one of a kind cup are closely tied to the nutrients found in the soil and the climate conditions of the area in which it is grown.


Giling Basah, is a unique method used to process Sumatran coffee beans. Due to this method, the beans develop a very full concentrated flavor, complete with a light sprinkle of herbs and spices. This process also hulls the parchment off the beans at a large 50% moisture content, vastly higher than the typical 11-15% seen in other regions. Because of this unique and uncommon practice, it gives Sumatran beans their trademark flavor profile and the green beans their signature color.


At Sagebrush coffee, we proudly roast the Sumatra Mandheling variety. Grown in the fields on South Tapanuli, Simalungun and Deli Serdang, this variation of beans cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. The well-known term Mandheling is not a precise region in Sumatra, but a local name derived from the Batak tribe found living throughout the area. Typically dry processed, this coffee is processed for a medium or dark roast in order to successfully pull out the strong, rich and spicy flavors unique to Sumatra. Unlike any coffee found in South America or Africa, the Mandheling coffee profile fully displays a complex body, low acidity, low bitterness, earthy sweet chocolate flavor, and occasionally a hint of fruit.




Batak Region of West central Sumatra, Aceh

Growing altitude

750-1,500 meters above sea level

Arabica variety

Catimor, Typica

Harvest period


Milling process

Giling Bassah (wet-hulled), sundried


Slightly Earthy


Herbal, Chocolate, Earthy, Woody, Spicy







Jenna Kellso
Jenna Kellso

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Coffee Grinds Explained

We currently offer 4 different coffee grind levels.  Listed below with descriptions.

Whole Bean: Unground coffee for a home grinder.

Coarse: Think sugar in the raw, maybe more coarse, recommended for Chemex Brewer, French Press, Cold Brew

Medium: Slightly coarser than table salt, recommended for Metal Kone filters, Flat bottom brewers including Kalitta, Cloth filters

Fine:  Slightly finer than table salt, recommended for V60 pour overs, Cone filter coffee pots, Moka Pot, Aeropress.

Extra Fine: Like powdered sugar, recommended for Espresso.

If at all possible, we recommend grinding at home. We prefer Baratza coffee grinders and offer several of their models for sale. Click here to shop for one of their brewers.