COFFEE ORIGIN TRIPS visit to Sumatra (Sumatera), Indonesia July 2019

Last time I visited Indonesia (East Java & Bali) two years ago, I was shocked by the problems they were facing. For me it was the first time that I saw the effects of climate change in the coffee producing industry. Way too much rainfall in usually dry periods made sure almost all harvest was wasted. A disaster for the farmers that depend mostly on their sales of coffee beans.

So, when I went back to Indonesia this July to Sumatra, I was expecting it to be even worse. But surprisingly they have found their way to handle the issue and ever since there was no harvest wasted due to the changing climate.

First things first, let me start telling you about Sumatra. This island is an extremely fertile land, super green and quite calm and unexplored by tourist. Especially the northern part of the island, Takengon, where we have started our adventure after meeting up in the capital Medan. We flew there by a tiny propeller airplane and entered this airport that wasn’t more than a room where they would bring your luggage. We’ve got welcomed with traditional Takengon dancing and after that we were on our way to the first coffee farmers and cooperatives.
For some of us it was a trip down memory lane, it has been 5 years ago since their last visit. The proof was there, signs with the names of the people who have visited before and planted some coffee trees. Except for Colin, it’s still a mystery what happened to his sign, as well as his coffee tree. To be continued….
One of the things that really made me feel so happy is the hospitality of the locals. Everywhere we went they welcomed us with open arms. We met as visitors and left as friends. Two receptions with the Bupatis of Takengon and Bener Meriah where we were very well received gave us an acceptance which promoted the importance of coffee to the neighborhood and their economy. Some even embraced the friendship with a handcrafted scarf they gave to us.

The next day we visited the Ketiara – women’s coffee community, with 2500 workers and producing 80 containers per year.
From Aceh province, the home of Gayo coffee we flew back to Medan and drove to Lake Toba and the Lintong coffee region. At Leo-Lisa Coffee plantation we were given a comprehensive insight into the fermentation and processing that give the characteristic taste of these coffees.
Besides the knowledge they have in terms of nutrition, new varieties, different fermentation processes and color sorting is incredible. They keep on experimenting to improve their quality and keep coming up with new things for their customers. And they were all so happy so share their knowledge with us.

At the Starbucks Farmers’ Training Centre in Brastagi we met with one of Starbucks professors who has spent over 30 years to develop new varieties for this region. A morning spent with him enlightened us to the investigations and developments that he has made was most impressive. Starbucks gives courses to farmers to help them improve their farming technology.
On our last day we enjoyed a trip to the to the Bukit Lawang, Wild Orang Utan Conservation.

Driving through many miles of palm oil plantation to get there we had a great experience observing these amazing animals.
It was a sad parting as we left to return to our various countries the next day. Many thanks to Syafrudin with the team from the Speciality Coffee Association of Indonesia and all the farms and cooperatives that hosted us.

Written by Bonnie van Poortvliet & Colin Smith
Bonnie’s appraisal

Like I mentioned in the beginning, they are luckily not facing so much climate challenges at this moment. That doesn’t mean they are not having any troubles at all. I think their biggest issue these days is to find a suitable market for their coffee. Which I don’t understand because they have such a specific flavor profile that fits for many blends and brands I think.

Especially in the north, where we tasted so many specialty coffees, they are really struggling to sell their coffee for reasonable prices. All farmers have this problem ever since the C market prices are so low. It does not give them a lot of perspective for the future. And I think if we want to be able to enjoy this tasty coffee for long, we should act! How? By first of all pay farmers a fair price! It can’t be true that some farmers are payed below their production costs. Second, visit them, speak to them, listen to them and most of all, learn from them. Because all the knowledge they have, and the willing to share this knowledge, will lead to a stronger coffee chain. Understanding each other’s world will eventually make sure both sides of the industry will become one and work together even closer.

This trip has been really helpful for me to realize that we should work together as a team and keep on learning from each other’s experiences. That’s what these trips make it so special to attend to. It becomes personal to the people you meet and gives you so much new insights on the coffee industry and how to be sustainable for the future, together!

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