Sumatran Coffee - What's the Big Deal?
Sumatran coffee is some of the most sought after coffee in the world. Hailing from Indonesia, which is currently the fourth largest producer of coffee worldwide, sumatran coffee is ensconsced in a good deal of myth and misperception. The island of Sumatra is home to widespread cultivation of the coffea canephora species, which is most commonly associated with the term sumatran coffee. One of the reasons sumatran coffee is so popular is that it is commonly used in the production of "instant" coffees and other manufactured coffee products, which together represent a gigantic global market wrapping from Asia all the way through Europe and into America. Instant coffees, which generally being cheaper and of lesser quality than whole bean coffee products, nevertheless account for roughly $21 billion each year.
How is Sumatran Coffee Grown and Harvested?
Typically speaking, the coffea canephora sumatran coffee bean is grown in small plots that average about one hectare each. In contrast to many types of coffee beans destined for up-market applications, coffea canephora is actually harvested by stripping entire branches of coffee beans at once. This results in ripened coffee cherries and green (unripe) coffee beans being grouped together for simultaneous roasting and grinding. This results in the slightly bitter taste which sumatran coffee enthusiasts have come to appreciate and expect. Although the take-it-all harvesting approach of sumatran coffee might seem counterproductive, it makes sense enough when its usual destination, an "instant" coffee blend, is considered. Sumatran coffee, does not, however, only end up in economy coffee applications. In fact, several upmarket coffee products feature sumatran coffee. Starbucks, for example, is one of several up-market coffee purveyors whose usual offerings include sumatran coffee, which Starbucks describes as having " a fully syrupy body and virtually no acidity".
Sumatran Coffee Culture
Sumatran coffee culture revolves around civets, the small asian mammals which resemble a cross between a cat and a lemur. Civets are well known for their predominately fruit-based diets, as well as for a somewhat disgusting related habit. Civets eat sumatran coffee cherries for food, including the reproductive beans at their center, and, following digestion, they defecate these beans intact in different locations. This behavior allows civets to distribute sumatran coffee beans throughout the region. Initially, sumatran coffee farmers would venture into the wilderness in order to discover patches of sumatran coffee generated by civets. Although this fact may be slightly unpalatable to coffee lovers, rest assured that studies have demonstrated that sumatran coffee beans that undergo this special treatment bear pathologically insignifcant levels of harmful organisms following normal washing and roasting procedures. As a matter of fact, sumatran coffee actually owes some of its unique flavor and mellowness to these encounters with civets, as civet digestive fluids do in fact make minor chemical changes to the sumatran coffee beans on contact. Sumatran coffee beans that forgo this treatment may be higher in acididity and bitterness. Sumatran coffee beans may be highly valued commercially, but are probably not commonly thought of as byproducts of civet defecation!