Throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s Royal sold a couple of different Sumatra types. Our most popular, simply called Mandheling Grade 1, made up most of our volume and still does. Back then most “Mandheling” was grown between Medan and the Northern shore of Lake Toba.
Occasionally we also sold a small amount of Lintong and Sibolga from the western shores of Lake Toba and areas south of the lake.
But there were two other types, since disappeared, that I am sure some of our older customers would remember.
One of these, Aceh Arabica, still exists, but not in its prior condition. In the Eighties, the growing areas further up the Aceh Peninsula around Lake Tawar were considered new growing areas. The first coffees from these northern areas had tremendously high moisture content and often arrived very soft and damp, looking like green and white salt and pepper…. This was called Aceh arabica and it was more of a life form than a coffee. Treacherous business as you can imagine, but when it was good, despite its ugly appearance, it was really good. At some point, drying techniques changed and this coffee, in the mutable tradition of coffee in Indonesia, became part of the Mandheling supply.
The other coffee we used to buy was famous, and one in which we have very fond memories. It was a brand known as “Golden Mandheling.” The genuine Golden Mandheling was sold exclusively by the Pawani Company. It was generally a little bit cleaner tasting, but not too clean; it still had a lot of body and distinct Sumatra character. The beans were bigger, longer, and fatter, and all but a minuscule amount of defects were picked out. The deliveries, refreshingly, were known for their clock-work consistency. Relatively expensive at the time, it was very popular and we had a hard time getting enough.
Indonesia has always had its share of pirates and counterfeiters, so it came as no surprise that many other “Golden” types came and went. If you want a $15 dollar Rolex, a 50 cent DVD, or a bag marked anyway you want it, Indonesia is still the place to go.
But after a very long successful run, Pawani faded away and we could not seem to find a “Golden Mandheling” like in the good old days. The coffee grown in Sumatra has changed some what as smaller faster-growing, higher-yielding and easier-to-harvest trees are replacing old types.
I recently reminisced with a long-time Sumatra dealer about the Golden Mandheling and he said it was still possible to find similar coffee… Of course I told him he was more than welcome to try. After rejecting a few preliminary attempts, we settled on a promising sample. This week the first “Retro Mandheling” container arrived. We feel it is a fitting tribute and close representation of the original Golden. In any case, it is real nice Sumatra, and like the Pawani Golden Mandheling, it’s a bit higher priced but we think it’s worth every penny.