“Mandheling” is one of the broadest coffee trading terms for a regional blend in Indonesia, applying to almost any blend of wet-hulled coffees from across the northern half of the island of Sumatra that suit a generic cup profile that is heavy on the palate, earthy in balance, and complex. Regional coffee blend distinctions in the northern provinces of Sumatra were originally based on human ethnicity, rather than geography: Mandheling is a widespread cultural group found across Sumatra and Malaysia; “Batak”, to use another example, is a Mandheling sub-ethnicity based around Lake Toba and considered a smaller regional coffee pedigree unto itself, and often marketed as such.
The large majority of coffee blends labeled “Mandheling” tend to be drawn from across a variety of local parchment collectors across two main coffee producing provinces: Aceh and North Sumatra. Aceh province (pronounced AH-CHEY) is the northernmost province of Sumatra and its highland territory, surrounding Lake Tawar and the central city of Takengon, is considered to be the epicenter of one of the world’s most unique coffee terroirs. North Sumatra province, just below Aceh, is a sprawling territory with high elevation grasslands, volcanoes, and the massive Lake Toba, another of the island’s most famous coffee producing areas.
Sumatra’s smallholder coffee is a complicated process. Notably, processing is typically not overseen by a single individual or team; instead, coffee moves task by task through different parties before reaching its final, fully-dried, state. Coffee farms tend to average 0.5-2 hectares each. Every coffee village has a collector (or more) who receives fresh-picked cherry, or humid parchment, for processing each day. Once a batch of coffee has been depulped, fermented overnight, washed clean, and then quickly sun-dried to the touch, each collector then delivers the batch to a central miller. It is at the mill where the coffee is mechanically hulled of its parchment, leaving behind just the soft, high-moisture coffee bean (thus earning the term “wet-hulled”), all of which is spread out on large patios to continue drying.