Sumatra is probably the most polarizing coffee region in that coffee drinkers seem to either love or hate the coffees that come from this large island that makes up the western part of Indonesia. Aficionados describe Sumatran coffees like fine, complex red wines whereas detractors make comments like, “If I wanted to taste dirt, I’d just drink dirt…”
I wrote a lot about why this is in my post on Metric Coffee Co.’s Ibu Rumani, another Sumatra from the same general area as today’s review. Despite being from northern Sumatra, today’s coffee from Tinker Coffee Co. in Indianapolis, Indiana, is quite different from Metric’s. You can buy Tinker’s Sumatra Mandheling for $5 for a 4 oz sample, $14 for a 12oz bag or $93 for a 5-pounder!
I love that Tinker makes it so easy to try smaller samples of their coffees, by the way.
Mandheling is not a coffee region or varietal (Tinker lists the latter as “Heirloom Sumatra”) but rather a sort of misnomer that has stuck. The Mandailing people farm a lot of coffee in North Sumatra and early coffee traders referred to that coffee as “Mandheling” and the name has stuck over the years. North Sumatra is the area marked by the pin on the map below.
Tiker describes their Sumatra Mandheling as, “funky, earthy, and woodsy in all the right ways” and offers flavor descriptors of, “tobacco, earth & cedar” on the label. They recommend a pourover (I used my usual 15:1 Gino pourover) for a more refined cup or a French press for the full effect of this coffee, but mine lives at work, unfortunately. Finally, the coffees in this bag come from 1200-1600masl and are wet-hulled.
Read more about wet-hulling in my story on Metric’s Ibu Rumani. Wet-hulling is what gives Sumatran coffees such interesting and unique flavor profiles. It’s a method based on getting coffee as quickly as possible from the farm to the middleman/broker, on to the processing mill and then sold to exporters. This process imparts a lot of flavors you will not find in other coffees and often what would be seen as a defect in coffee from another region is prized when it’s found in a Sumatran wet-hulled coffee!
I liked this Sumatra from Tinker. The aroma was sweet and chocolatey but I got almost none of that in the flavor. Once the coffee starts to cool and open up the cedar wood is really apparent. It’s hard to describe but it’s dominant in the flavor for a short time and especially in the aftertaste, which goes on forever with this coffee!
I don’t know if my palate attenuated to the cedar/wood notes quickly or if they were only apparent during a short temperature window, but it wasn’t the star of the show for very long. Once the wood fell off a little a warming spice not picked up for a while. It was in the spirit of cinnamon or ginger, but didn’t taste of either of those spices. I also got hints of cola on the front end of each sip.
As the coffee came down to close to room temperature I got hints of bubblegum as well as an overall vegetal note that was hard to pin down. Throughout all of this, Tinker’s coffee retained sweetness on the front end of each sip, but was primarily bitter (but in a way I liked) in the aftertaste. This bitterness wasn’t unlike the hops bitterness in an IPA. I personally like bitter flavors and, realistically, coffee is inherently bitter and all of these other flavors we describe are within that context. This coffee had a pretty heavy mouthfeel but wasn’t cloying at all, thanks to that bitterness in this finish.
This is a complex, layered coffee that requires some consideration as it is enjoyed. I definitely recommend sipping slowly and letting it cool through its range as the coffee seemed to change quite a bit as it cooled. I think Metric’s Ibu Rumani is a little more readily accessible and had more fruit and sweetness to it, but I liked this one from Tinker just as much. These are coffees from the same region and yet they are quite different and both are very enjoyable.
This coffee is a wonderful break from the bright, fruity coffees I’ve been enjoying without being just a heavy sugar-bomb. Another great coffee from Tinker!