At a Glance: single origin (Sumatra); full body; tobacco, earthy, sweet, toffee, burnt caramel; low acidity; natural process

Hello coffee friends, and welcome once again to my table here in the corner of this cafe. That is, of course, if you’ve been here before; if not, welcome, for the first time, to my table here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping Peet’s Coffee and Tea’s brand new, very limited offering, Aged Sumatra Peaberry. Care to join us? Feel free to pull up a chair.

This is the second Peet’s coffee that I’ve reviewed in the past couple weeks, so I’m probably going to be taking a break from them until their Holiday Blend comes out in a couple months. In fact, since I just reviewed their Panama Don Bosco two weeks ago, I was very hesitant to even review this one, but since it’s such a limited offering, and since I already invested a lot of effort into four of their other Sumatran coffees, I decided that I didn’t have much of a choice—I had to review the Aged Sumatra Peaberry too.

This is one of the more unique coffees I’ve ever had. There are three proponents to it that make up its story and make it so unique, so let’s discuss that before we get into its flavor.

The first two elements of this coffee are obvious—you can find them in the name of the coffee itself: it’s an aged peaberry. Aging is a very delicate process, and a very difficult art to master; which is one of the reasons why it’s so difficult to find a great aged coffee. Another reason is that a lot of farmers just don’t do it. As I wrote in my review of Peet’s Aged Sumatra, farmers typically have a quick turnaround with their coffees and attempt to turn their crops into cash as soon as possible—especially in today’s worldwide economy. So they don’t even bother with the lengthy aging process, even though they know a finely aged coffee is worth considerably more. Furthermore, aging coffee is always a gamble because it’s so easy to completely ruin a crop of coffee based on any number of conditions—aging is a risky investment. However, the risk is certainly worth the plunder if everything goes right; aged coffees are considerably more flavorful, because the cherries are left on the vine to absorb rain water during Sumatra’s monsoon season. Doing so accentuates certain taste components and brings out a fuller, deeper flavor.

The fact that this particular coffee bean is a peaberry also sets it apart from other coffees. Peaberries are set so far apart from other beans, in fact, that they make up only about 5% of all harvested coffee. “So, what is a peaberry,” you ask? Well, peaberries are a bit of an anomaly. A glitch in the Matrix, if you will. Normally, the fruit of a coffee plant develops as two halves of a bean inside of a single cherry. Sometimes, however, only of the two seeds fertilizes so that there is nothing to flatten it. This oval bean is called a “peaberry” for its “pea-shape.” By contrast, the other 95% of coffee beans that are harvested are not round, but have a flattened bottom. You can see, in the image on the right, that the difference between these two types of coffee beans is quite obvious. What does any of that matter? Well, for one thing, since the peaberry is rounded, it roasts much differently than its counterparts—because most beans have that flat bottom, they have to constantly be stirred and mixed in the roasting chamber to ensure that they roast evenly; the peaberry, on the other hand, simply rolls around inside the chamber so, really, all the roaster has to do is make sure that they move around (which, because of their shape, is very easy). Since the two beans roast differently, they have to be separated from each other; the flavor of peaberry coffee really benefits from this separation because it ensures that the beans going into the roasting machine are of the highest quality.

What makes the Aged Sumatra Peaberry even more unique is that Peet’s gets this coffee from the farmers who supply their Sumatra Blue Batak—a really interesting coffee that is grown by a really interesting group of people. Peet’s only rolls out the Blue Batak once per year and its fans all over the country anticipate its next arrival immediately after it departs the store. This coffee, which is named after the indigenous Batak people group that grows it, comes from the Lintong Nihota region of Sumatra—a remote area near Lake Toba. Coffee from this region tastes radically different from coffee that grow in other areas of Sumatra, mostly due to the heightened elevation and volcanic soil that surrounds Lake Toba (which is the largest volcanic crater lake in the world and the result of the largest volcanic event on Earth in the last 25 million years).

Okay. So, to sum up, what we’re tasting here at the table today is a coffee that 1) represents only 5% of all the harvested in the world, 2) is the result of an aging process that farmers, more often than not, don’t employ, and 3) comes from a remote region in Indonesia and is grown by an indigenous tribe of people that is specific to that region. These three elements make this particular coffee, truly, one of a kind.

We better discuss the flavor now—all this lengthy conversation about its story has made my cup cool down considerably.

The aroma of the grounds is unlike anything I have ever smelled before. I can’t quite put my finger on any really great descriptors. It definitely has a cigar-tobacco sweetness, but it has another scent in there that I’m extremely hesitant to mention—leather. Just imagine smelling a brand new leather wallet while standing inside a cigar shop’s humidor—that’s the best way I can describe the aroma of the Aged Sumatra Peaberry. It’s no wonder, then, that the flavor of the coffee is also difficult to pin down. The cigar-tobacco sweetness is still there, but now a very slight hint of smokiness accompanies it; this, of course, seems like a natural progression to me. This is a bold, deep, earthy coffee, but there is enough sweetness of toffee or burnt caramel to make it so the coffee doesn’t taste like soil. Low acidity and medium astringency provide a smooth, clean finish with just enough aftertaste to linger on the palate for a while.

The Bottom Line

I don’t like to sound overly promotional, but to copy the point-system from NPR’s Sound Opinions podcast, I give this coffee a “Buy It” rating. The Aged Sumatra Peaberry is very truly one of a kind—it represents only 5% of all harvested coffee, it’s the product of a lengthy, involved, and seldom-practiced process, and you can’t find it anywhere else in the world. On top of all this, the fact that Peet’s Coffee and Tea will only be selling it for another week or so makes it all the more unique. It can be bought in select stores, or by visiting their website where they are, unfortunately, only selling it Wednesday, 5 October.

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