Posted in Kafevend Blog

Sumatran coffee

A few weeks ago we had a look at coffee from the Indonesian island of Java. This isn't the only place that coffee can be found growing in the archipelago, however. The island of Sumatra to the north west of Java also does a decent trade in coffee, though its taste profile has proved contentious amongst some coffee drinkers. Before we move on to that of course, it's obligatory history time!

Strong armed

Aside from using slavery to boost the production of cash crops- particularly coffee- in their new Indonesian colonies, the Dutch East India Company established something known as the cultuurstelsel, or cultivation system in the mid 19th century. Though it may sound banal, it was in fact a heavily enforced method of getting the native population to produce even more goods for the DEIC to sell.

The system meant that instead of paying taxes, either 20% of a village's land had to be used to grow export crops, or the villagers had to work on state owned plantations for 60 days a year. Whilst not outright slavery, it introduced many problems of its own. One was that it still heavily affected the personal liberties of the villagers. They became linked to their villages, and were not allowed to freely travel without permission. A more insidious and ultimately devastating effect was that the land turned over to producing cash crops meant that there was less land for growing the staple food crop rice- this led to several famines and epidemics in later decades.

The cultivation system was eventually abolished in 1870. This was due in part to the deleterious effects it was having on the Indonesion population, but as ever greed too played a part, as independent merchants clamoured for a free market.

Giling basah

As we mentioned earlier, Sumatran coffee apparently has something of a marmite effect on those coffee drinkers with more discerning tastes. This has to do with the rather unique way that coffee is processed in Sumatra. A technique called Giling Basah is predominantly used here, also known as wet hulling.

In this method, the outer skin of the cherry is removed first of all, but the mucilage is left on. The beans are stored for a day or so before the mucilage is washed off. The beans are then only partially dried, as opposed to most other methods which try to remove as much water content as possible. This water has an effect on the final taste of the coffee. In broader terms, it is thought to reduce acidity whilst increasing body. More specifically, the taste has been described as spicy, earthy, herby and even funky- not necessarily descriptors that put you in the best frame of mind when it comes to coffee! We here at the Kafevend blog have had the opportunity to try some Sumatran coffee, and can report that we fall in the 'love it' camp- be sure to give Sumatran coffee a go if you have the option whilst you are dining!


Coffee production in Indonesia
Giling Basah

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