Aged Sumatra Coffee is Worth the Wait

featuring Anthony Carroll | September 28, 2015
HOME Farm to Cup Aged Sumatra Coffee is Worth the Wait

As a general rule, when it comes to coffee, fresh is best. But in some cases, much like cheese or wine, coffee gets better with age.

Like so many great things, such as ice cream cones and potato chips, aged coffee was discovered by accident. Starting in the 18th century, coffee was transported from Indonesia and India by ship. By the time the ships arrived in Rotterdam or New York City, the green coffee was shrouded under a thick, moldy peel. But even though the top looked disgusting, the coffee underneath had been transformed — in a very good way.

Through contact with the wood of the ships’ hulls, saltwater, and changing humidity and temperatures during the long voyage, the coffee developed deeper, richer flavors. Coffee drinkers of the day quickly developed a taste for aged coffees. But as fresh coffees became increasingly available, they changed their minds.

When we started tinkering with aging green coffee at Starbucks®, we knew we wanted to recreate what happened on those ships — all in the name of making a seriously bold and distinctive coffee. The kind you drink and never forget.

Our Aged Sumatra is just that sort of coffee. For us, it’s definitive proof that some coffees were grown to be aged.

It all begins on the rugged Indonesian island of Sumatra, a tropical place where you might lounge on a white-sand beach or track an endangered Sumatran tiger through the jungle. Coffee here is grown without shade and processed using a method that creates smoother, sweeter coffees.

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We choose the lots we like and put them into burlap bags, which are shipped to a special warehouse in Singapore, where the humid climate and monsoon season create the right conditions for coffee aging.

So begins an arduous multi-year process. We rotate and flip the 150-pound bags twice a year, making sure every bean in the bag is exposed to equal amounts of moisture without molding. Our expert tasters check on the Sumatra frequently to follow its progress. They’re responsible for deciding when the aging process is complete and the coffee is ready to be shipped to a roastery.

The coffee that emerges from aging looks shockingly different. Green coffee is typically army green and feels like an emery board, but the aged Sumatra is mahogany brown. And that’s before it’s roasted.

After roasting, we do two things with our Aged Sumatra: bag it and blend it.

When we bag it, it becomes one of our Starbucks Reserve® Coffees. These can be difficult to come by, so if you find some, grab it. It might be your only chance for at least a year.

When we blend it, Aged Sumatra adds a unique herbaceous note to some of our most coveted releases: the Christmas Blend, Anniversary Blend and Starbucks Tribute Blend®. They wouldn’t be the same without it.

Aging isn’t something we do casually. It’s meticulous. It’s expensive. But it’s 100% worth it. Each batch is extraordinary: rich and dense, with a full-bodied flavor you won’t find in any other coffee. The aging process causes Sumatra to lose acidity and gain body, a perfect platform for its notes of deep cedar and toasted marshmallow.

For me, drinking the Aged Sumatra is like savoring a single-malt scotch — a complex, intense and transformative experience. When the tasting team cups it, everyone moans. It’s that kind of coffee.

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