Mandheling

Does this word look like it needs – or has had – a little manhandling? Perhaps it was meant to be handling me or hand mingle but somehow lost its grip? Morphologically it’s modestly mystifying: there’s that ing that could be a verb ending, but it’s part of a ling that could be the old English suffix (as in earthling), but then there’s that ­dh – perhaps this is mand plus heling? But is that heling really healing or part of inhaling or what? And what mandates the mand? This seems like a curious mixture, perhaps an orphan word.

It may, however, seem familiar. It might give you a faint hint of almonds in the sound, but there’s another word that it’s often seen with that may make it more recognizable: Sumatra.

Sumatra, yes, that island of Indonesia. What do they grow there? Where do you see a label that says Sumatra Mandheling (or any of a few other spellings)? On coffee, usually in a coffee establishment.

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. There are a few things that are often tasted with notes and fancy little rhapsodic descriptors. Wine, of course, is one. Words are another. People do it now with beer, though that can get a little precious. But, ah, yes, also coffee. We like to talk about the flavour of our drugs.

And Mandheling is a rather nice drug as they go. It is full flavoured, rich, spicy. Aw, heck, let me quote some tasting notes from different places on their particular versions of Sumatra Mandheling:

A uniquely rich and aromatic cup – spicy and gently acidic, with a truly rare body. (Balzac’s Coffee)

A creamy body and loamy sweet flavors. It also has all the wild jungle flavors and earthiness you would expect in a Sumatra. (Gen X Coffee)

A traditional volcanic and earthy Indonesian profile is complemented by bittersweet chocolate and subtle cherry and raisin notes. A sassy and spicy finish adds to the balance of this full-bodied, yet mildly acidic coffee. (The Roasterie)

This coffee sounds like my kind of coffee (it is). Heck, it sounds like my kind of person. Sassy, spicy, earthy, mildly acidic, a creamy and truly rare body, and perhaps bittersweet? What’s not to like, I say! To have such a taste as you are inhaling its healing aromas…

So, now, where does it get its name? It’s an alternate spelling of Mandailing, which is the name of a people in northern Sumatra. They don’t actually grow this coffee; there was just some confusion by an early European buyer of the coffee, it seems. Thus the word and its sense have both undergone some manhandling. But where does the word Mandailing come from? It is thought to come from mande ‘mother’ and hilang ‘lost’ – ‘lost mother’, in other words. Just as the word has become separated from its mother and joined another family. At least it’s in good company.

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