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Sumatra Field Trip October 2011

We arrived into a very humid Medan the Evening of the 11 October. After an over-night stay we boarded the coach for the 1st of many times.

Dry Mill – Berstagi

A warm welcome for us by Sam and his staff, before a tour around his impressive, clean and efficient mill. The mill sees an average of 1 ½ containers a day leave the facility per day.
My initial impression was that the mill was a purely commercial exercise (of course).  All grades available right through to a clean looking grade 5 – for blending, right down to triage grade for internal consumption. There is a market for all of their coffee.  Density, screens & manual sorters produce a very fine grade 1. The Quality control department looked particularly impressive, Simple but very efficient, with a closed off “blind” area to stop any possible collusion/corruption.
After a good cupping session with lovely views with dark roasted coffee showing district variances we moved on to our next Destination.

Private farm & Dry Mill – Sidikalag – 1155 metres above sea level.

A 460 hectare farm with half given over to coffee growing. The balance was left for vegetables and natural Rainforest.
Producing a Single Estate and Luwak coffee. Many Varieties are being grown including Tipika, Rasuna,
Toraja & Longberry.

The husbandry of the trees and the dedication to weed and other fauna clearance was most noticeable.

We then visited their processing facility – I had a preconception about Sumatra, I thought that Brazil was the height of efficiency and Indonesian coffee would be far more “rustic” – How wrong I was.

The facility is superb as well as milling their own farm coffee they also (with the aid of collectors) bring in coffee from all over the region. The coffee is dried either naturally (under huge canopies and turned every 20 minutes as the floor temperature is extremely hot) or in huge (reclaimed) wood fired driers.  There was a very noticeable amount of space left over for expansion – huge investment in future coffee production has already started.

We had a very pleasant quick visit to an observation point over-looking Lake Toba. What a beautiful part of the world.

“The Long and Winding Road” to Tagenkon, Aceh.

When people say that origin trips are just Holiday’s under a different name  I will refer them to the 16 hour coach Journey to Aceh Province and to the Hotel straight out of the “Shining” – but with no bar (a dry Province).

Fairtrade Coop.

640 members (farmers) comprise this co-op. The farmers are guaranteed an above local market price. I understand more now the actual process of the Fairtrade premium. The farmers are paid for their coffee (in Parchment form as previous farms).  When the co-op sell the coffee the premium is spent as per the wishes of their members. Quite surprised to hear that the top of the list every year since inception has been “a new Mosque please” but who are we to argue, if the farmers who do all the work, want that, then fine. The Farms are so remote that in most cases the coffee needs to be pupled very quickly to prevent fermentation before the coffee gets to the mill. As a foot note, when we were at the farm that were also being audited by FLO, The Co-op manager looked as stressed out as your average roaster in the UK when the FLO people are in town.
This picture is indicative of the FT farms – Coffee is life and life goes on around coffee trees as this mobile pulping station shows.

Rahmat Inara – Rainforest Alliance farm.

The most remote and my favourite place we visited. The coffee trees are planted where space allows right in the heart of the Aceh (mandheling) Rainforest. At an Altitude up to 1600 meters on slopes that a mountain goat would find difficult to traverse.

Here the benefits are being seen at ground level. A new fresh water supply has been installed to cater for the whole area. Money is being spent on roads and infrastructure to make these places a little less isolated.

There was a real “family” feel to the whole area and I felt privileged to see their houses and their patches of farm land. We/I have of course often over the last few years complained that coffee prices are far too high and unsustainable to the growth of the industry etc. Here the benefits are being seen at ground level. A new fresh water supply has been installed to cater for the whole area. Money is being spent on roads and infrastructure to make these places a little less isolated.  I felt a sense of renewed optimism for coffee (especially after the 15 hour journey) and where we fit in the great scheme of things. (We have requested samples and they will be forwarded upon request).

Fairtrade Organic Coop – 1400 – 1600 hundred meters above sea- level

This huge co-op has 6000 individual members all guaranteed a price above market value for their coffee if they agree to only sell the parchment to the co-op. Two things to note about the coop. One, the sheer amount of paper-work that goes into efficiently running  a commercial FTO enterprise. Two, the coffee trees had full ripe, half grown, pips & flowers all on the same branch! Climate change’s biggest fan is the Sumatran coffee farmer who every other month is pulling off a cash crop from his bountiful trees.

Shippers office Medan

We re-capped by cupping all of the coffees we had encountered on our visit. Different grades/varietals and even mircro lots grown at different altitudes within the same farm (100 metres either way can have a massive difference). The mills and drying areas were also first rate and in some cases tiled floor “patios”, this enables the shipper to keep the coffee clean of any stones etc. If we had not learned already it was further explained why Sumatra coffee has been so expensive of late and how the challenge of getting coffee from the farmers to the mills when prices are fluctuating so widely. Lots of new very aggressive buyers are trying to get into the market tempting farmers to sell again – default.Gladly we have no such issues with our suppliers.

Sumatra, truly a wonderful vibrant and colourful country –and if it was a colour it would be just like their beans – Emerald blue/green.

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