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Sumatra 2015

Seeing Through the Smoke in Sumatra

In November of 2015, we visited Sumatra origins to identify exporters to work with. Our trip brought us to the doorstep of most major exporters in Sumatra, where we cupped just about everything available. We also visited small projects, met with growers and collectors. Through the cup and ensuing conversations we got to understand regional profiles – to the extent that a designation actually identified a growing region. Past bulk-branded coffees we cupped regional designations and came back with interesting and distinct profiles. Sumatra may have more flavor diversity in its coffees than I’ve experienced anywhere. We tasted many different processing styles almost certainly at the bequest of importers and roasters who assume a fully-washed or honey-process, or natural process coffee will be an improvement. But every time we were presented with the same lot, processed in a variety of ways – the group consensus favored the wet-hulled sample.

Lintongs are traditionally traded at a premium, and are more well-regarded by cuppers for their characteristic ‘herbal’ profile (hops, fennel, anise) and brighter acid intensity – of the melon, limeor stonefruit variety. The standout Aceh’s were characterized by prominent orange citrus (and sometimes stonefruit) nougat and florals, with a sweet starch in the background (lets call it acorn squash). While often said to be ‘chocolatey’ or simple – Acehs were all over the board. If you wanted simple / chocolate, you could certainly find that, but if you wanted concord grape, currant, raisin, leather, with apricot acidity – you’ll find that too. North Lake Toba / Simalungun coffees seemed to start savory (teriyaki, bell pepper) hint at some sweet herb (tarragon) and finish with a rush of sugars (marshmallow ) and a grapefruit acidity. We also saw an apricot, sugared yellow-fruit, cola profile – that turned a few heads, including ours.

Purchasing coffee in Sumatra

Much of the purchasing is conducted through a ‘tokeh’ network. These are often growers that collect from neighbors. They’ll then process and bring parchment (at about 40% moisture) to the nearest or best paying mill. Because farmers are often loyal to their collector/tokeh, it allows for an adequate amount of consistency and traceability in the supply chain. Tokehs themselves often receive financing from a 3rd party – and can then decide how to buy cherry or parchment with those funds. Just as mills have tiered pricing for different qualities, so must the tokehs.

Purchasing coffee in Sumatra

Much of the purchasing is conducted through a ‘tokeh’ network. These are often growers that collect from neighbors. They’ll then process and bring parchment (at about 40% moisture) to the nearest or best paying mill. Because farmers are often loyal to their collector/tokeh, it allows for an adequate amount of consistency and traceability in the supply chain. Tokehs themselves often receive financing from a 3rd party – and can then decide how to buy cherry or parchment with those funds. Just as mills have tiered pricing for different qualities, so must the tokehs.