Whether you prefer the fullness that comes with a Mandheling dark roast or have a dietary issue that requires you to reduce the acid in your diet, the best Sumatra coffee may be your dream bean delivering on flavor without the high levels of acid.
Read on to learn more about Sumatra coffee, including its history, varieties, and how to choose the best of these Indonesian coffee beans in our buying guide.
If you are also interested in exploring beans from all over the world, check out our best coffee beans list.
What is Sumatra Coffee? A Bit Of History
In the late 17th century, The Dutch East India Trading Company brought coffee plants to the islands of Indonesia, looking to capitalize on a love of coffee spreading over Europe coming primarily from Arab merchants .
Sumatra is the second-largest island within the Republic of Indonesia, possessing volcanic soil and a wet and humid climate ideal for growing Arabica coffee beans. The plants took to the climate in Sumatra, and the Dutch quickly became a massive producer.
Closer to the end of the 19th century, coffee leaf rust disease wiped out large numbers of plantations throughout Indonesia, and many farmers turned away from coffee as it wasn’t economically viable.
The Dutch, who were still controlling plantations, decided to change the variety of coffee they were planting, turning to Liberica coffee, which was also affected by leaf rust, then Robusta coffee species. This variety makes up almost three-quarters of the coffee export business. 
Higher quality Arabica beans are now mainly grown in highlands such as Sumatra and Sulawesi regions. The well-known Mandheling, Lintong coffee, as well as the weirdest and most expensive coffee Kopi Luwak, are from Sumatra.
How Does Sumatra Coffee Taste?
Sumatra coffee has notes of:
- Dark chocolate
- Dark earth
Sumatra coffee is often described as almost syrupy with a slightly sweet taste on the tongue and low acidity to a dark and mushroomy flavor, making it loved by some coffee lovers. However, it’s contentious for specialty coffee who may find it too one-note compared to brighter, fruitier coffees.
This overall round taste is one reason Starbucks buys large quantities of Sumatran coffee, dark roasts it, and then uses it in their espresso blends to add depth and lower the overall acidity.
Sumatra Coffee is Suitable for…
- Traditional and old-school coffee drinkers who prefer the darker notes of coffee.
- Those who prefer or need coffee with a lower acidity level without compromising taste.
Even if you aren’t in one of these two camps, check out these best 7 Sumatra coffee brands and form your own opinion.
Best Sumatra Coffee Brands
Here are 7 of the best Sumatra coffee beans to give you a starting point into the wide range of options available for purchase.
1. Volcanica Coffee – Sumatra Mandheling Coffee Beans
- Great for french press and cold brew
- Small crop origins
- Volcanic soil gives it slightly different notes for each cup
- Fair Trade and Kosher certified
These beans are an excellent example of a medium-roast Sumatra Mandheling coffee with a smooth and rich flavor that keeps the dark notes typical of Indonesian beans without sacrificing the body.
These beans use a washed process and are sun-dried, which helps give the end coffee its notes of lemongrass, toffee, and dried fruit. The aroma speaks of spice and cocoa and best brewed in a process where the oil content can bloom.
With a low acid pH of 5.2, this is a coffee for those passionate about exotic coffee and prefer earthy flavors over lighter ones.
2. Volcanica Coffee – Sumatra Gayo Peaberry Coffee
- Intense earthy flavor
- Lack of oiliness
- Small crop and single origin
- Fair Trade, Kosher and Rainforest Alliance certified
It is grown in the northern point of Sumatra at an altitude of 4500 to 6000 feet above sea level in the Aceh province around Lake Laut Tawar.
Peaberries are the specific coffee cherry found in just 5% of the crop with a more intense taste and aroma. They are manually separated, medium-roasted, and used exclusively for this coffee.
On top of a rich and earthy taste, look for tasting notes of caramel, peach, brown sugar and light floral elements with a bean that lacks the oiliness of other Sumatra coffee beans. The less oily trait of this bean makes this an excellent recommendation for automatic coffee makers with grinders that may get clogged up from the oils present in other whole beans.
3. Fresh Roasted Coffee Organic Sumatra
- Spicier coffee
- Women-run cooperative of producers
- Focus on lowering the carbon footprint with Loring roasters
- USDA Organic, FairTrade and Rainforest Alliance Certified
This organic sumatran coffee is a bold medium roast, this coffee emphasizes the darker and spicier sides of the bean with notes of chocolate, pepper, and earth. Spicers can be brought out from a bean grown 4000 feet above sea level in a tropical climate then wet-hulled to keep in moisture.
Part of the benefit of choosing these beans is supporting the coop they work with to bring the beans from tree to cup.
Grown in Central Aceh, Northern Sumatra, the Koperasi Pedagang Kopi Ketiara is a women-run cooperative that has over 890 grower-members. These women control all aspects of the coffee process, from growing and picking to processing and exporting the green berries for roasting.
If you’re looking for a dark and bold coffee that favors peppery notes and supports women-led initiatives, this is the coffee for you.
4. Cooper’s Cask Sumatra Dark Roast
- Small batch roasted for a more even roast
- Best for french press and espresso preparations
- USDA Organic and Fair Trade certified
This offering from Cooper’s Cask is a single origin Lintong coffee bean, but the key is in how it’s dark roasted, without going too dark, in small batches in Rhode Island.
Small batch roasting offers more control than roasting in larger batches, with each level continuingly re-evaluated.
The darker roast helps to emphasize the earthy taste from the wet hulling process and higher moisture. Prepared as espresso or in a french press, you can enjoy all the depth of the woody and earthy notes beans coming from the volcanic soil of a volcanic crater in a cup.
Other tasting notes include dark chocolate and stone fruit with a hint of complex spices and herbs like tobacco and cedar. These beans may be too dark for some drinkers but blending with a lighter roast will bring out the fruitier notes.
5. Starbucks Sumatra, Whole Bean Coffee
- 100% Arabica coffee beans
- A familiar brand that you may already enjoy
- Drinkable black or with milk and sugar
Starbucks uses Sumatra beans in their espresso blend, but these are another level with a deep mahogany color, transformed from their jade-colored beginnings to tiger-striped orange and black with an evident oily sheen.
A dark roast with almost no acidity and instead has a blend of spice, chocolate, and a dark and earthy foundation that leaves a smooth mouthfeel with each sip. It makes a great cup black, straight from the french press, or it also holds up to milk and sugar.
These beans can be a great gateway to more expensive and deeper tastes that single origin and single lot beans can bring.
While more expensive than other mainstream brands, this is pure Sumatra at an affordable price for those worried about paying a lot for beans they may not enjoy.
6. Coffee Bros., Sumatra Kerinci
- Traceable back to the producer
- Suitable for cold brew or pour over with its mix of light and dark notes
- Environmentally conscious
- USDA Organic and Fair Trade certified
Grown at an elevation of around 4200 feet around the Kerinci volcano in the Kayu Aro village, these beans come from a cooperative containing roughly 300 different producers. Coffee Bros. then takes the beans in micro-lots, enabling the consumer to trace their beans back to the producer.
The beans that make up this Sumatra micro-lot have tasting notes of cocoa, red apple, and due to the higher moisture content, grapefruit notes with a smooth and rounded body in a medium-dark roast.
Enjoy it as a pour-over or cold brew to truly appreciate the low acidity and mix of light and dark notes.
Purchasing this coffee also helps the environment. Coffee Bros plants one tree for every five bags of coffee sold.
7. Coffee Bean Direct Sumatra Mandheling
- A great dessert coffee
- Perfect for many different methods
- Sweet chocolatey aroma
- Kosher Certificated
The lightest roast of this list helps bring out the higher notes of the Mandheling variety from the Aceh area. It starts with a sweet aroma, almost like a dark baker’s chocolate, and then finishes dry on the tongue.
With a lighter roast, this bean makes a great dessert coffee and can handle many brewing methods as it won’t turn bitter when exposed to extra heat.
Try it in a drip coffeemaker, pour-over, espresso, French press, percolator, or in a reusable coffee pod.
Be mindful that although this is a lighter roast, it’s by no means a light roast and maybe too dark for coffee drinkers used to a breakfast blend or other milder varieties.
Sumatran Coffee Beans Varieties
When shopping for the best Sumatran coffee beans, you’ll often see the following designations: Mandheling, Lintong, Goya, and Kopi Luwak.
Sumatra Mandheling coffee, named after the Mandailing people who live in the Tapanuli region of Sumatra (the Northern part of the island) rather than the area they grow in.
The coffee began its life on the island with the Dutch colonists, who started several nurseries as part of the Forced Cultivation scheme.
The beans grow in the Aceh region between 2500 and 4000 feet, a lower elevation than other Sumatra coffee beans. With rich volcanic soil and a wet and humid climate ideal for growing, Mandheling beans can grow to have a full and complex flavor even at lower altitudes.
These are the beans most commonly associated with Sumatran coffee, a beautiful bluish-green color making them look almost like jade.
Growing in the Northern part of Sumatra at an altitude often over 5000 feet around Lake Toba, Lintong has many of the common characteristics of Sumatra coffee, including dark, rich notes and low acidity.
Lintong doesn’t denote a specific type of bean but a broad group of beans named after the District of Lintongnihuta nearby.
The beans are fully wet-hulled from small farmers and often processed in small amounts (micro-lots), making them slightly more expensive but worth the cost.
The Gayo variety comes from the Aceh area, also in the Northern part of the island. Gayo farmers process and wash their beans in their backyards using a wet hulling process.
This process creates a rich and earthy coffee with notes of cacao, flowers, and a light, slightly syrupy taste.
At nearly $80 a cup in some shops, Kopi Luwak is believed by many to be the best coffee in the world, even if it comes from a rather weird process.
Kopi Luwak coffee cherries have been eaten, partially digested, and then the beans retrieved from the feces of the Asian Palm Civet . The civet is a long-tailed cat-like animal that lives all over Southern Asia, including Sumatra.
The civet cats are not only an unintentional processor of the beans but also quality control. The enzymes in the civet’s stomach help to break down the coffee cherry, and the civet always looks for the ripest and best quality cherries.
However, there are some ethical concerns with the treatment of captive civets to do the processing. It’s important to do some research about where your Kopi Luwak coffee is coming from and whether they employ ethical methods. 
Sumatra Coffee Processing – Wet hulling (Giling Bashan)
Sumatra coffee is born in a wet and humid climate. It would take too long to dry the beans to a lower moisture point in the traditional method of dry-processing, so wet hulling is done out of necessity, and since it’s faster, it produces beans more quickly.
The ‘wet hulling’ process, or ‘giling basah’ as it’s known in the local Bahasa language, is a method for processing coffee cherries starting at harvest until they’re sold for roasting.
The picked coffee cherries are depulped to remove the outer skin using a hand-turned crank and placed into plastic sacks to ferment overnight.
This fermentation will help further break down the fruit of the coffee cherry, which they washed away.
Drying comes next, and this is one of the key points where wet hulling and dry-processing differ. Usually, at this point, the beans are at a lower moisture point and then dried for a much longer time.
After that, wet-hulled beans are only dried for a few hours on a patio or covered bed and sold more quickly with a higher final moisture point.
This fast turnaround locks in a more intense, sweeter, or earthier flavor.
Is Sumatra Coffee Lower in Acid?
Yes, it is! Several factors give Sumatra coffee a low-acid, earthy taste, including climate, processing, roast, and brewing method.
The wet and humid climate and volcanic soil give Sumatra coffee a lower acid content and a darker, deeper earthy taste.
The wet hulling process contributes to that low acid as well. Common to all varieties of Sumatran coffee, the process locks in the flavor and lends itself to lower acid content by maintaining a higher moisture level throughout and doesn’t allow for citrus notes in the drier stages to develop.
Roast and brewing methods can also contribute to lower acidity.
Thanks to higher moisture content, roasters tend to roast on the darker side with Sumatra coffee. They choose a medium roast at the lightest but often going more towards a dark roast.
To emphasize the low acid, choose a french press or cold brew rather than pour-over or espresso.
What Roast Level Is Suitable For Sumatra Coffee?
To bring out the best of Sumatra coffee’s unique earthy taste, the beans are roasted to at least medium-dark roast and sometimes all the way to dark roast. Where coffee grows has a significant effect on the final flavor of the roasted coffee that we drink.
Sumatra coffee grows between 2,500 and, in extreme cases, 5,000 feet above sea level. This altitude brings a harsher climate, and the stress lends itself to a sweeter coffee.
If you like darker roasted beans, choose a French roast to bring out spicier notes of higher altitude Sumatra coffee.
While all the coffees listed have their strong and weak points, for a balanced blend that will never fail you, Sumatra Mandheling Coffee from Volcanica Coffee is the best pick of the coffees reviewed.
If the Sumatra Mandheling isn’t for you, a close runner-up for best Sumatran coffee is Volcanica Coffee’s Sumatra Gayo Peaberry Coffee. These beans are intense even with a low acid content, and they deliver on the credentials and a Rainforest Alliance certification.
What keeps them in second place is the hand-picked peaberries which mean a higher cost per pound than other beans.
CUL3093: Coffee, Tea and Non-Alcoholic Beverage Specialist (Buckley): Coffee History – https://nmi.library.jwu.edu/c.php?g=961407&p=6943185
Coffee: World Markets and Trade – https://downloads.usda.library.cornell.edu/usda-esmis/files/m900nt40f/377214491/z029pw759/coffee.pdf
Paradoxurus hermaphroditus Asian palm civet By Jessica Nelson – https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Paradoxurus_hermaphroditus/
The Disturbing Secret Behind the World’s Most Expensive Coffee – By RACHAEL BALE https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/160429-kopi-luwak-captive-civet-coffee-Indonesia