Legend tells us that the Toba Batak and Pakpak people originate from a talking fish – in fact, a cursed princess – that conceived a child with a young farmer called Toba. Hence the name of the famous lake that rests upon the caldera of a super volcano. The people near Lake Toba believe that they originate from the child of the fish.
It is evident, through legends like these, that Sumatra is shrouded in mystery. Culturally speaking and coffee-wise. Once you dive into the ancient culture of the Pakpak’s you begin to understand that the layered licorice root and spicy flavored coffees match their ‘mystic’ culture. The Sumatra Pakpak coffee captures the elusive taste of Sumatra’s best wet-hulled coffees.
On the Northern fringes of Lake Toba, you find Dairi and Pakpak Bharat districts, the home of the Pakpak people. Although the Pakpak’s can be traced back to the better-known Toba Batak tribe, they harness pride in the fact that they have their own culture, housing, clothing, and dialect. Their language is called: Bahassa Pakpak, derived from the Toba Batak language.
The Pakpak tribe honor their gods of nature by performing offering rituals near the border of the forests. They offer food like banana’s and rice (cakes) and believe that their ancestors, taking refuge in these forests, consume it.
Within the borders of Dairi and Pakpak Bharat, which the Dutch colonists labeled ‘Berg en dal’, you find the Sidikalang PODA Coffee Group. The 750 smallholders are led by ex-missionary Samuel Sihombing. “The members of the Sidikalang PODA Coffee Group are beginning to trust coffee to provide a better income than other crops. Although this awareness process takes time and needs to prove itself.”, Samuel Sihombing explains.
“Since 2009, I have trained smallholders how to grow coffee in the Dairi and Pakpak Bharat districts.” Samuel continuous, “During their training, a lot of these families told me that coffee makes you ill and that it is intended to make gunpowder. I had to convince them otherwise.”
Samuel’s group of smallholders live among the tropical forests and own between 0.5 and 1 hectares. Coffee trees are mingled with vegetables, chili plants, orange trees, cabbages, tomatoes, and cedar trees – a concept they copied from the Tagenon farmers. Within the Sidikalang PODA Coffee Group, you find people from the Pakpak, Toba, and Java tribes – either Muslim or Christian, all working together.
Samuel’s mission is three-fold: 1) cultivate the best specialty coffee of the Dairi and Pakpak Bharat districts, 2) get a better price for the smallholders so that they trust the impact of specialty coffee, 3) and make sure that their coffee won’t blend with other batches – for instance in Medan, where buyers pay a low price for his yield and mix it with conventional batches.
The Pakpak coffees are balanced, layered, and well-bodied. Besides the expected licorice root profile, the Pakpak coffees reveal hints of florals and notes of berry, nuts, raspberry, vanilla, raisins, walnut, and tobacco. A sweet profile that highlights the elements of a classic wet-hulled Sumatran.