Roaster's Tasting Notes
Chocolate Liqueur, Maple Syrup, Concord Grape, Winey
Sumatra. Mandheling. Java. These are very evocative names for coffee lovers, but for many specialty coffee drinkers in the recent past, the experience in the cup may not have matched the romance associated with this origin. The reasons for this are twofold - lack of investment at the farm level and lack of processing know-how at the station level coupled with reliance on the (in)famous local method of processing cherry - the Giling Basah, or Semi-Washed/Wet-Hulled method - unique to Indonesia - and designed to get revenue into the hands of farmers as quickly as possible. Briefly, this method involves de-pulping cherry, followed by a brief sun-drying process to bring moisture content down to anywhere between 25% and 50%. The parchment is then hulled off at the dry mill, with naked beans allowed to dry down further (typically to around 13%) to avoid rotting. This second drying gives rise to the deep blue-green colour of giling basah coffees. In the past, this would have been experienced as heavy cups with earthy, tobacco, woody, and herbal flavours, muted acidity and little excitement - typically used in the blends of coffee chains all over South-east Asia. But things have been changing over the last few years with more direct investment at local level as well as a new generation of home-grown coffee enthusiasts proudly showcasing the potential of their own origin to the uninitiated.
Indonesia is a fascinating country for its diversity in food, religion, landscape, language, and of course coffee. With more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia is one of the most diverse coffee origins in terms of geographical and cultural diversity. Coffee has been at the center of trade ever since the Dutch planted the first seeds in the late 1600s. Every region has developed its own style of production and has its own set of coffee varieties. The most well known regions for specialty coffee are North Sumatra, South-Sulawesi, West-Java, Flores and East-Timor.
But there was burning curiosity on the part of many green coffee buyers and roasters to truly experience what this origin was capable of producing when done right, and over the last 5 years or so, investment put into place by a number of parties - in this specific example, by Rikolto of Belgium, has begun to bear (as it were) fruit and resulted in a leap in quality from this cooperative. We were first alerted to the possibilities of Indonesia within a specialty context when we were given some green samples from a coop in West Java about 3 years ago. A natural lot amongst these really caused us to sit up and pay attention - a burst of tropical fruit sitting in great balance with sweet and earthy tones was most unexpected and certainly indicative of great potential waiting to be unleashed. Unfortunately, we were unable to complete a deal on that occasion, but our appetite was whetted. Since then we have cupped and evaluated many Indonesian lots through different sources, including Cup of Excellence lots and others, waiting for something special to grab us again, and at a price that would make sense for us and our customers, but despite tasting some noteworthy lots, nothing really materialised. Until now.
Almost all farms in Sumatra are small. On average, farms are between 0.5 to 2.5 hectares. Coffee is usually the primary cash crop for farmers, but most also intercrop their trees alongside vegetables, maize and fruit. This intercropped produce makes up a substantial part of the family’s diet for the year. In addition to growing coffee as a cash crop, many smallholder farmers also work as hired workers at the nearby tea plantations. Tea is also a huge crop in the area. The bigger tea plantations are often near coffee farms. When the harvest is finished, coffee farmers go there and pick tea leaves under contracted work.
There are more and more initiatives by farmers in Sumatra to organize themselves into cooperatives. Cooperatives can share resources, organize training and negotiate better prices. To join the coop, a farmer pays a one-time membership fee of around 400 dollars (5 million rupiahs). The 250 members of the Koerintji Barokah Bersama Cooperative live and farm on a plateau that sits at the foot of Mount Kerinci on the island of Sumatra. Mount Koerintji (or Kerinci as it is also known) is one of the many volcanoes in the Pacific Ring of Fire, a 40,000-kilometer horseshoe-shaped series of 452 volcanoes that are part of an almost constant dance of eruptions and plate movements. Mount Kerinci’s historic eruptions have assured that the surrounding area is lush and verdant thanks to the deep supply of fertile volcanic soil. The cooperative is managed by Mr Triyono, who leads members in processing and roasting their own coffee. They have a fully outfitted roasting facility, including a cupping lab, next to the dry mill. This is especially impressive considering the cooperative was only founded in mid-2017! The Barokah cooperative, who are responsible for this Natural lot are trying to add to the country’s rich tradition by diversifying their coop’s processing methods.
Mr Triyono oversees activities on and around the 9 UPH stations owned by the cooperative. A UPH is a collection center where coffee cherries are bought by the coop and where the coffee is processed before moving it to the central mill. Essentially, a UPH functions as a small washing station. To streamline the operation, there is an agriculturalist providing technical assistance to make sure the standard operation procedures are applied while processing at the different stations. Each UPH is located in a different area and receives cherries from different farmer groups.
The success of the Barokah coop is part of a larger ongoing success story driven by Rikolto, a Belgium based NGO with a desire to promote long-term, sustainable farming of quality agricultural produce. The lush forests of Kerinci Seblat National Park landscape in Jambi are home to rich biodiversity and iconic species. In a bid to preserve the ecosystem, Rikolto have managed to involve forest communities in conservation efforts. Through Rikolto’s Payment for Ecosystem Services programme, coffee farmers have gradually been transformed to solid business partners and guardians of the forests.
Mr Triyono is one of the transformed coffee farmers. Rikolto initially met him at a coffee expo in Jakarta in 2015. At that time he participated in the expo on behalf of the Community Protection of Geographical Indications Koerintji, a coffee farmers’ association in the Kerinci District of Jambi Province. “Previously, I had knowledge about neither the coffee business nor about good agricultural practices. I cultivated coffee because most farmers in my area did so,” said Mr Triyono.
Mr Triyono’s collaboration with Rikolto started after the expo. From the start, he showed enthusiasm to learn about the coffee business and how to cultivate coffee sustainably. “At first we introduced sustainable and good agricultural practices to farmers and we encouraged coffee farmers to establish a cooperative. In 2017, Koerintji Barokah Bersama Cooperative (Barokah) was finally established,” said Firman Supratman, Payment for Ecosystem Services Curator at Rikolto in Indonesia.
During the period 2017 to 2018, Rikolto assisted Barokah in a number of different ways to help strengthen the cooperative. But most importantly, Barokah members were encouraged to uphold good agricultural practices in the coffee cultivation. To incentivize farmers, Rikolto linked the cooperative with buyers willing to pay higher prices for sustainably produced quality coffee.
Initially, farmers reaped a bitter harvest. They could not handle and process coffee properly, resulting in low quality coffee. Rikolto then provided them with training and introduced them to buyers and other strategic actors in the coffee value chain. Rikolto continuously supported them to improve their coffee farming, handling and processing techniques until they finally were able to produce Arabica specialty coffee with consistent quality. In 2017, the Barokah coop won First place at the Jakarta Coffee Week and the Indonesian Specialty Coffee Contest 2017 with a cupping score of 88.29. This win gave Barokah more confidence and determination to improve its coffee quality.
2018 proved to be a busy and lucrative year for Barokah. The cooperative won Second place at the Indonesian Specialty Coffee Contest 2018 with a cupping score of 90.44, higher than the previous year’s score. In the same year, Mr Triyono was invited by the Specialty Coffee Association of Indonesia (SCAI) to represent Barokah and exhibit its coffee product at the Specialty Coffee Week event in Hanoi, Vietnam. Internationally, the Arabica coffee Barokah produced was awarded a Bronze Gourmet title by the AVPA in the Salon International de l’Agroalimentaire (SIAL) exhibition in Paris in October 2018.
All the achievements spoke volumes about the dedication, passion and consistency that Barokah poured into producing Specialty coffee. “The awards and exhibitions put us in the spotlight. Demand is high. Barokah is (becoming) known for its specialty coffee. Buyers lining up in our office,” Mr Triyono said.
The awards helped boost the Barokah brand on the coffee scene. As a result, the cooperative managed to expand its market. They supplied green beans to companies such as MTC, Vigilante and Q Coffee that were exporting to Australia, USA and Germany. Domestic coffee demand has also increased. And these increasing sales meant a lot to the farmers. Barokah could buy coffee cherries from farmers at a better price and were able to convince farmers that sustainably produced coffee could also be profitable.
Yet the benefit is more than monetary gain. As farmers implemented good agricultural practices, they noticed the return of some bird species nesting in shade coffee trees. “We are happy to know that our efforts to cultivate coffee sustainably contribute to a healthier environment. This is something that we will keep promoting to coffee farmers in Kerinci,” Mr Triyono added.
This Natural lot was harvested and processed at an altitude of 1550-1700 masl at the foot of Mount Kerinci. Cherry is rigorously sorted before being delivered to dry on raised beds. The beds are located under domes so as to protect the coffee from rain and harsh sunlight, and the coffee is spread out in very thin layers. Here, the coffee is sorted again and turned regularly to ensure even drying. When dry, the coffee is milled and sorted by hand.
This incredible coffee, a unique offering resulting from efforts by many actors across the supply chain was sourced by Mr Bavo Vandenbroecke of 32Cup Specialty Coffee Merchants, also based in Belgium, and it is our very first trade with him - and hopefully there will be more to follow in the coming months. The Barokah coop pays its member farmers directly when they bring cherry to the washing station. In addition, it also provides these farmers with agricultural training, technical support, seedlings, tree planting for shade, and fertilizers. The coop also pays dividends at the end of the season, effectively sharing profits with its member farmers. As of 2019, contributing farmers received 9,500 rupiahs Farmgate Price per kg of cherry (around 50p per kg of cherry). 32Cup then paid 350 usc/lb FOB to the exporter (around £6.20 per kg of green). The exporter takes a very small portion of this so the money flowing back to the Barokah coop and the region is considerably high. 32Cup also prefinances them, meaning paying money for coffee months beforehand so the coop is in a comfortable position to pay its farmers upon delivery of cherry. And finally, we at Amoret loved this coffee so much that we paid 32Cup £8.80 per kg of green.
So here we have it - a transparently traded lot, with full details of the history, people, and provenance associated with it; transforming farmers' lives by being properly rewarded for the production of excellent coffee sustainably.
In the cup, this displays a remarkable style, with rich, dark chocolate and explosive concord grape winey acidity in great balance, framed by syrupy sweetness throughout and classic Asian “earthy” tones on the cool, all the while displaying a very clean cup with no more than a medium body. We have developed this green for both espresso and filter, highlighting the chocolate in the espresso and purple grape and tropical fruit in the filter. Do not be alarmed by the darker than expected shade of roasted beans for both profiles - coffees from Asia often need this style of profiling to bring the best out of their inherent flavours, but you will only detect as much roast as is needed and also enjoy ease of brewing. Specialty from Sumatra is here, and a first for Amoret.
**This lot was sourced by Mr Bavo Vandenbroecke of 32Cup Specialty Coffee Merchants - notes below on the unusual Arabica varietals involved are from him**
Sigarar Utang is a dwarf tree. It is a natural cross between Bourbon/Typica and Tim Tim, or Timor Hybrid, created in Aceh Tengah. Because of its resistance and high yield its usage grew in popularity in the 80s and 90's. It actually means 'to repay debt sooner' in the local language.
Andung Sari (or Andong Sari) is a crossbreed of Caturra, Timor hybrid and Colombia developed by the Indonesian Coffee and Cacao Research Institute. It is mostly present in Java but now also more and more in North Sumatra.