The Roasterie adventure continues with our newest Bean Hunter Jon Ferguson and the Bean Baron himself, Danny O’Neill. These two coffee crusaders have traveled all the way to Indonesia to bring the world’s best coffee to Kansas City. First they stopped in Medan where Jon experienced Indonesian culture for the first time. Now Jon and Danny have journeyed to Takengon to experience the Sumatran coffee selection process firsthand:
Monday morning we flew from Medan to Takengon, a city located next to Lake Tawar in the coffee-growing province of Aceh. By car, it would take approximately 11 hours to drive from Medan to Takengong, so we took a small flight reducing our travel time to an hour, giving us more time to visit with the coffee producers and Koperasi Kopi Gayo Organik (KKGO) cooperative members.
Syafrudin, a coffee professional from Jakarta who works directly with Royal Coffee Importers, introduced us to Mr. Irham, the owner of a milling facility in Takengon, a washing station and coffee plantation located in Jagong Jeget, south of Lake Tawar. Irham picked us up at the airport and we headed directly to his facilities in downtown Takengon. From there we began to learn about his operations, the cooperative and the history and production of Sumatran coffee.
Sumatran coffee is known for it’s unique earthy flavors, mild acidity, and full body. These flavor characteristics are defined mostly by a traditional processing method used in Sumatra known as “wet-hulling.” It’s a unique approach because most other coffee origins commonly use.” But in Sumatra, the majority of the coffees are wet-hulled, meaning that after the coffee is picked, the cherry is removed, held in fermentation tanks for about a day and then quickly washed and dried to 40-45% moisture. At this time the parchment is removed and the green coffee is laid out on cement patios for several more days to dry to 20-25% moisture content. It is then delivered to Medan for a final sorting process, dried to 13% moisture and then prepared for final export.
On Tuesday we left Takengon to visit Irham’s washing station and the Atu Lintang coffee growing areas. Irham and fellow cooperative members demonstrated a washing process that is very unique in Sumatra. There are very few washing stations that have the equipment to wash coffees with the same amount of consistency and quantity.
Most coffee producers in Sumatra pick their own red cherries and pulp them at home, leave it in a bucket overnight for fermentation and then wash it clean with water in a pan. The coffee is typically put into a bag and then taken to a hulling station to have the parchment removed. Coffee picked by an individual farmer is typically not monitored by a manager, whereas at a washing station like Jagong, Irham is able to observe the incoming cherry and decide whether or not to accept or reject the coffee cherry before it is pulped and dried, allowing for better selection.
For example, think about what would happen if you had twenty home brewers mix their batches of beer together in a large keg and then bottle it. It’s likely there may be some bad batches mixed in with the good. Irham’s washing station cuts down the amount of bad beans to provide greater quality control and management, giving farmers a chance at consistently producing a better tasting coffee, which may help fetch a higher price in the specialty coffee market. He’s also increasing his drying patio area to handle the cooperative’s demands, a project in which he’s currently investing his time.
After our visit to the Jagong washing station, we drove to the coffee producing area of Atu Lintang. This is where some of the coffee that is being washed at Jagong is picked. In Atu Lintang we were introduced to Sung Kono who is also a member of the KKGO cooperative, producing all organically certified coffees.
Sung Kono took us to the back of his house to demonstrate how they often pulp by hand, ferment in buckets and wash their pulped coffees by hand in small batches. After these steps are done, the coffee is ready to be taken to Irham’s wet-hulling facility in Takengong where the parchment is removed and the beans undergo further drying. Mr. Kono’s coffee is typically loaded onto a truck that is full of other cooperative member’s coffees, many of whom produce about 100 kilos of coffee a day. With this combined effort between cooperative members, it helps the farmers achieve better pricing and more efficient delivery.
Sumatra has been one of the most insightful, educational, and eye opening coffee trips I’ve taken over the years. The friendly people, deliciously spicy seafood, and welcoming smiles are ample, along with the unique coffee. It has truly been an exceptional coffee experience.
Tomorrow we will be visiting additional coffee growing areas, warehousing facilities, and catching a return flight to Medan to cup coffees!