coffee mug with mountains in the background
Country Guides

Mandheling Coffee: Your Guide To the Sumatran Favorite

coffee mug with mountains in the background

If you’re a beginner coffee drinker, you probably recognize some of the most popular coffee varieties from your trips to the local coffee house. Things like Guatemalan coffee and Colombian coffee are likely familiar to you — even if you don’t fully understand the nuances of each type. But it can be intimidating when you encounter less obvious coffees, like mandheling coffee. That doesn’t mean these varieties are any less tasty. In fact, mandheling coffee is one of our favorite best-kept secrets.

Want to learn more about mandheling coffee? You’re in the right place. Here, we’ll dive into where this coffee comes from, how it is produced, and what it tastes like. Plus, you’ll learn a bit more about the history of this coffee and how to brew it for the tastiest experience. 

What is Mandheling Coffee?

dark roasted java beans

Mandheling coffee is a coffee variety grown on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The coffee plants are grown between 2,5000 and 5,000 feet above sea level. Most production of mandheling occurs in the Batak region in west-central Sumatra in Aceh, specifically on the slopes of Mount Leuser in Padang. 

Coffee farmers use arabica coffee plants — mainly the Catimor and Typica variety — to produce mandheling coffee. The coffee cherries are harvested during a fairly long harvesting season lasting from June to December. 

Once the coffee cherries are harvested, they are wet-hulled to remove the coffee beans (they’re actually seeds!) from the coffee fruit. This process is called Giling Basah — a coffee processing term used by Indonesian coffee growers that loosely translates to “wet grinding”. During this process, farmers use pulping machines to remove the cherry skin, leaving behind a sticky layer of mucilage. The beans are then washed and dried before packaging. 

Most coffee roasters use a medium or dark roast level for mandheling coffee. The dark roast or medium roast help highlight the spiced and earthy tasting notes of this delicious coffee from Indonesia.

The History of Mandheling Coffee

Bridge leading to Mount Leuser where mandheling coffee is grown

Production began in North Sumatra when coffee was grown by the Mandailing people. It’s a common misconception that this coffee gets its name from a specific region. In reality, the name refers to an ethnic group that is credited with first cultivating and producing the coffee variety. 

Historically, most plants were grown near the Bukit Busaran Mountains. Most of the early coffee production was governed by the Dutch East Indies Company, which used forced labor to cultivate and produce coffee. Over the years, farmers experimented with different seeds and varietals before settling on the arabica types seen today. 

Today most of this type of java is grown on small farms — typically between .5 and 2 hectares. Many of these farmers alternate crops and also grow things like maize and vegetables. There are many cooperatives — with Fair Trade certification — and you’ll find this Sumatran coffee in blends as well as single-origin roast coffee. Most high-quality mandheling coffee is sold as whole coffee beans, but there are also a few great-tasting ground coffee options on the market.

What Does Mandheling Coffee Taste Like?

java plantation in the mountains

The processing method of Sumatra mandheling coffee creates earthy, herbal, and woody flavors. This Sumatra coffee is notable for a full body and low acidity. It often features spice notes including chocolate and licorice flavors. It also has a characteristic syrupy aftertaste that you won’t find in African coffees or South American coffees like Colombian coffee.

Mandheling coffee is grown in rich volcanic soil, leading to a complex flavor profile. Additional tasting notes include tobacco, cedar, and hints of wine. The body is typically creamy, making this Indonesian coffee a good choice for espresso coffees.

The Best Way To Brew Mandheling Coffee

Pourover mandheling coffee

The flavors of mandheling coffee make it ideal for brewing as a drip coffee or by using a French press. It’s also tasty as a cold brew. For the best-tasting coffee, start by grinding fresh beans. Freshly ground coffee offers the most authentic and crisp tasting notes, making each cup as enjoyable as possible.

To brew as a drip coffee, use your coffee grinder to grind the beans to a medium-fine coarseness. For a pour over like a Chemex, we recommend using a fine mesh filter rather than a paper filter. The fine mesh filter allows the oils to filter into your cup, highlighting the rich and full-body feel this coffee is famous for. For these types of coffees, aim to use 1 tablespoon of coffee for every eight ounces of water.

For a French press, you’ll want to use coarse to medium coarse grinds. Finer grinds can develop a burnt flavor and they also increase the likelihood of silt in your coffee mug. Alternatively, brew mandheling coffee as an espresso or cold brew to really draw out the unique flavor characteristics.

Dive Deeper Into Delicious Coffees

If you love your coffee to have a full mouthfeel and hints of chocolate, spice, and earthy tones, you’ll love mandheling coffee. Be sure to check out other Indonesian coffees including popular Gayo and Lintong coffees from Sumatra as well as varietals from Sulawesi and Java.

Want more ways to indulge your coffee habit? Continue browsing Cup & Bean, where you’ll find guides to types of coffee from around the globe. You can search for coffees from various regions and countries or opt for tasting guides that feature your favorite flavors. Don’t miss our brewing guides and coffee basics section where you can learn more about crafting the best coffee every time.

After chasing down everything there was to know about tea on the Cup & Leaf blog, I'm now exploring the world of coffee. From different types to countries with the best brews and everything in between, I'll be your guide on this coffee discovery.