Let me tell you something about myself—I’ve never been one to shy away from a Sumatran coffee.While a vast majority of the specialty coffee industry has given this Indonesian region the cold shoulder because of its flavor profiles, its lack of quality farming and processing, its lack of transparency, and its several other reasons that the region is justifiably avoided, I say, “Show me what you’ve got.”
I like the mustiness, those bold flavors, those incredibly unique cupping notes. Granted—most Sumatras I’ve had were… well, terrible. But the good ones…?
So it goes without saying that I really admire a company that not only shares my perspective of Sumatra, but even shares their purchases with me.
Velton Ross, the proprietor of Velton’s Coffee Roasting Company in Everett, Washington, informed me that he was up to the challenge of my uneasy-to-please palate when he sent me three coffees of his to review. The fact that he tossed a Sumatra in the mix… Well… Game on.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we are sampling Velton’s Coffee Roasting Company’s Sumatra Lintong Dolok Sanggul. Feel free to pull up a chair.
Dolok Sanggul is a city within the coffee growing area we refer to as Lintong. Lintong Nihuta is the town that has become synonymous with the entire southern part of Lake Toba area most of the coffee from the southern shores are sold as such.
Lake Toba defines the landscape of the area, the largest volcanic crater lake in the world, and the result of the largest volcanic event on earth in the last 25 million years! It is huge, and the coffees from the north and eastern shores are quite different from the Lintong coffees.
Dolok Sanggul is a local marketplace for coffees; once a week the farmers gather to sell their parchment coffee to trusted vendors, who “collect” it on behalf of specific mills, or as freelancers.
This coffee has a special preparation: it is prepared by density in Lintong, then it is density sorted and triple-hand-sorted in Medan once again before export.
One thing that caught my eye while researching this particular coffee was one of the cultivars that is found in it: TimTim. Besides having coffees with a wide range of flavor profiles, Sumatran coffees also have a range of cultivars. The original Typica type was brought from Yemen or Ethiopia via India—this is sometimes called Jember Typica. There are 2 main Typica types: Bergandal and Sidikalang. Hibrido de Timor, a cross between arabica and robusta, is sometimes found with the name “TimTim”.
TimTim was first discovered in the 1940s on the island of Timor in Indonesia. Timor coffee plants began to be cultivated due to their strong resistance to leaf rust, a disease that afflicts most coffee plantspecies. The TimTim varietal has 44 chromosomes and resembles the Arabica coffee plant. The coffee beans are respected for their vibrant yet low-toned acidity and full body though if poorly processed there may be an unpleasant hardness or musty taste.
We’ll see how Velton managed this unique cultivar in a few moments…
origin: Dolok Sanggul, Lintong Nihuta, Sumatra, Indonesia
farm: smallholder farmers
elevation: 1400-1800 meters above sea level
cultivars: Ateng, Djember, TimTim
process: semi-washed, patio dried
The cup starts off with a pretty formidable aroma. This ain’t your dad’s Sumatra, that’s for sure. It might be your granddad’s, though. It’s certainly my great-granddad’s—it smells just like him: his sweet cherry pipe tobacco, his old, beaten-up leather wallet, his cedar cane, and a bit of an au jus stain on his tie.
Up front, the flavor is mostly identical. It’s a strong, full-bodied first few sips that are pretty standard Sumatra—but with a lot more definition and clarity. Sure it has that touch of earthiness, the slightly burnt cedar, a little mustiness; unlike its peers, however, the Sumatra Lintong Dolok Sanggul has a lot more flavors going for it.
There’s that leather that was present in the aroma, the rawhide. As it cools off just a little bit, the coffee actually gets sort of sweet as a thick maple syrup flavor coats the palate and soothes the taste buds after the onslaught of more… interesting flavors at the start of the cup. Notes of pine needles.
It’s now approaching room temperature, and something remarkable is happening—this Sumatra is pushing out a lot of sweet, juicy fruit flavor. Not enough to overpower the prominent flavors up front, but enough to make my palate exclaim, “Where did that come from!?”
And it’s not a few flavors—it’s a lot. Crisp honeydew melon, prunes, apple, apricot, blackberry, cranberry, and black cherry, with a sharp, biting tangerine acidity that refreshes the palate—which is nice after the astringency of all the flavors up front.
Full body; syrupy mouthfeel; tangerine acidity; dry finish.
the bottom line:
The Sumatra Lintong Dolok Sanggul… What a bizarre cup of coffee. Wow.
This is definitely not your typical Sumatran coffee—hell, it’s not even your typical Lintong Nihuta or Batak coffee. This coffee is a very unique, one-of-a-kind flavor experience that I can’t just compare to any other coffee I’ve ever had. It stands in the presence of its own company. It has a massive body and an equally massive flavor, but, believe it or not, it’s the cup’s subtleties that will impress your tastebuds the most.
Don’t read this wrong—this cup isn’t without flaw; of course it is—it’s a Sumatra. I may be one of Sumatra’s biggest supporters but even I’m no dummy. However, if you’re willing to get past some of the elements that make a Sumatra a Sumatra, then the Lintong Dolok Sanggul will reward you for the effort.
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