Indonesia has been honoured by SCA as the portrait country of 2016, drawing a lot of attention towards this unique coffee country, and rightly so. A combination of rich tropical micro-climates and semi-washed processing make Indonesia, and especially Sumatra, stand out.
Specialty coffee from Sumatra, in particular, has an identity of its own. Offering a complex full-bodied flavour profile. A typical semi-washed Sumatran reveals a creamy full body and notes of dark chocolate, liquorice root and lemon. It can complement a coffee blend or stand on its own.
Coffee was introduced by the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (Dutch East Indies Trading Company) at the beginning of the 17th century. Dutch colonialists planted the Typica and Bourbon varieties in Northern Sumatra (Aceh), to meet Europe’s ever-growing demand for coffee. Nowadays, Indonesia is the world’s third largest producer of coffee and they have a fervent specialty coffee community.
Sumatra has approximately 40,000 coffee smallholders that all own under 2 hectares of land. Coffee is cultivated by small family groups, which consist out of 60 and 130 farmers. These groups form co-operatives and are led by one supervisor that moves coffee to local exporters.
Exporters and co-operatives, like the Ketiara co-operative, have established supply chains that make sure coffee flows efficiently from the farms towards the port of Belawan, Sumatra. At the beginning of the supply chain, you have the coffee smallholders that mostly own less than 2 hectares. These smallholders deliver their cherries to a local collector, that processes the coffee using improvised pulping equipment.
After pulping, the wet parchment coffee is dried to around 30 – 35% moisture levels, it is then delivered to either co-operatives or local traders who dry the coffee again. The dried, ungraded product is locally referred to as ‘Asalan’, and typically has 15% moisture and 15% triage. Depending on where the co-operative or exporter is located, the Asalan is graded and dried to 13% moisture either in Medan or at a local collection point, before being exported via Belawan port.
Wet hulling, locally known as ‘Giling Basah’, was introduced in the 1980’s. They did that hoping to mimic the fully washed coffees from Central America, but to their surprise, they created a unique flavour. Wet hulling, gives the coffee a lot of body and intensity.
In Sumatra, we work within two key regions: Aceh and North Sumatra. Aceh is situated in the Northern part of Sumatra – an independent sultanate. The province is governed by Islamic law, known as sharia. We work with a number of co-operatives that supply Organic and Fairtrade coffees.
In North Sumatra, confusingly located south of the Aceh region, coffee is grown around Lake Toba – the largest volcano lake in the world. We buy a lot of our non-certified and organic coffee from the local producers, because they cultivate better varieties than the ‘tim tim’ variety – the local name for Hybrido de Timor.
Twenty years ago, chairwoman Ramah started purchasing cherries and process these into green coffee. At that time she sold the green coffee beans to local traders. In late 2008, she organized farmers to form a co-operative which was established in 2009 with 38 members.
Now, the Ketiara co-operative has become one of the most recognized coffee suppliers in Aceh, with their Ketiara coffee. Surrounded by the Gunung Leuser National Park, the co-operative consists of 897 members and covers an area of 836 hectares in total. All coffee cultivated by the Ketiara cooperative is Organic and Fair Trade.