Starbucks Reserve Sumatra Lake Toba

Terroir and technique create a coffee like no other

by Michelle Flandreau | March 21, 2017
HOME Farm to Cup Starbucks Reserve Sumatra Lake Toba

There’s something magical about Sumatran coffee. The combination of where it’s grown and how it’s processed make for an exceptional cup. Take Starbucks Reserve® Sumatra Lake Toba: With a big earthy flavor and spicy herbal notes, it’s the kind of coffee you won’t soon forget.


The region where coffee trees grow—the elevation, the type of soil, the climate—can impact the flavor of coffee. To borrow a phrase from the wine industry, we often refer to this as terroir.

More than 70,000 years ago, a massive volcanic eruption led to the creation of Lake Toba. Today, the volcanic soil, along with a tropical climate and high altitude, offers farmers fertile ground to produce coffee in their backyard farms.

Grown on the southwest side of the lake, Starbucks Reserve® Sumatra Lake Toba represents the dedication and efforts of around 200 farmers, members of a coffee co-op.


In addition to terroir, this coffee also owes its distinctive flavor to a processing practice used in only a handful of countries. Sumatran farmers rely on the semi-washed method to separate the fruit of the coffee cherry from the bean.

Watch the semi-washed processing method in action.

After picking ripe coffee cherries, farmers remove the outer skin and pulp using a hand-cranked machine. They let the green coffee beans ferment overnight, waiting until morning to rinse them by hand and lay them out to dry.

Beans are then transported from the farm to a central milling station, where they continue drying. Next, a hulling machine is used to remove the parchment layer, similar to taking the shell off a peanut.

“It’s very unusual that beans are hulled wet. [It’s] only in Sumatra and Sulawesi that this takes place, and it’s very difficult,” said Sam Filiaci, a Starbucks coffee supplier based in Indonesia.

The beans are laid out one last time to make sure they’re completely dry. Finally, they’re ready to be meticulously sorted—to remove any defects—and bagged.

“With the coffees that we’re buying, it’s the Sumatran process that you find in this part of the world that makes Sumatran coffee special,” Starbucks director of agronomy Chris von Zastrow said.

Coffee producers in other parts of the world have tried implementing this same process, but von Zastrow said the quality has not been the same.

“It’s the perfect storm to make that kind of coffee,” he said.

Coffee Notes
Fresh earthiness framed by spicy herbal notes with a syrupy mouthfeel

Starbucks Reserve® Sumatra Lake Toba will be available for a limited time at select Starbucks® stores.

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