I woke moments before the call to prayer here in Medan. The sun has yet to pull up into the horizon as dueling Mosques wake the city. Medan is essentially a melding of old world and new. It has over 6 million people with at least half Muslim, 30% Christian and the rest are Hindu or Buddhist. I planned to meet with some other suppliers while in Medan before leaving to fly up north to Banda Aceh and Takengon. We have a lot of samples to go through and are also planning some farm visits in a new area that looks extremely promising. Even though I’ve been to Sumatra many times in the last five years, I’m always amazed at the cultural aspect of Indonesia and how it melds into the coffee culture in so many interesting ways. Sumatra stirs a lot of things up for me— mainly that they have an amazing climate for excellent, clean coffee but need improved methods for collecting coffee quicker for processing.
I flew to Takengon to meet with Danny Piatscheck and his son Reinhardt of PT Gajah Mountain group. We arranged two days of cupping at their brand new lab and dry mill in town. There’s great new potential for PT Gajah to source more directly from around the lake areas that have already been identified for quality (Bintang, Bah, Sukadawai, and Pondok Baru). Right after our arrival, we met with Gayo Mandiri (one of the suppliers to PT Gajah). We conducted a cupping and tour of their facility in Pondok Baru and cupped a new lot that is currently on its way to us. I provided a brief cupping training for Amin Mohammad, the director, and his cooperative leadership. Rule number one, never smoke clove cigarettes in or near the cupping lab!
Takengon is a small city primarily dependent upon coffee, chili peppers and other cash crops such as tomatoes. Coffee is terraced around the lake. The town of almost 200,000 sits at the lake’s bank at well over 1,100 meters above sea level. We can reach Bintang and Pondok Baru within a day’s drive of the lake. We selected areas where we feel the coffees are producing better quality and focused on those areas.
After a seven hour drive, we arrived in an area that’s new to us. To our knowledge, we’re the first buyers ever to visit this region. In the past, the 1,500-2,000 farmers in the village sold their coffees to coyotes or village representatives in Takengon. They always had their coffee bulked together with other Aceh coffees. We proposed that Danny would give field training on better husbandry and nursery management. They committed to keep the coffees from this area separate and deliver them to PT Gajah and Stumptown. We cupped Typica lots and found the coffees very balanced and sweet. This area has the potential to evolve into some separated lots which could comprise a Gajah Reserve as higher scoring coffees are identified. Most of the coffee in this pristine area is grown at 1300-1500 meters along a river that winds through the small community. Many of these farmers have been growing coffee since 1984. After the 2004 Tsunami, a number of farmers were relocated to the area as NGO money infiltrated the region.
We returned to a full day of cupping of various regions with nice results for our overall Gajah profile. Some specific areas such as Bintang showed higher and were more aligned with the Stumptown profile. We spent about four hours before the rains started in and we needed to get back in the truck and make the seven hour return. We arrived very late that night and had a lot of brainstorming about the new areas. We met with several farmers in the area and things look pretty promising. Almost everywhere we looked in the area we saw domestic tobacco production, which stands out in contrast to the coffee farms.
We found some nice standouts while cupping in the lab, including a Typica sample we took from the last farmer we visited in the new regions. We also liked Pondok Baru from the Northeastern region, Bah which is North of Lake Tawar and our usual favorite from Bintang. With PT Gajah’s new dry mill open and receiving coffees, we see potential for major improvements. We had great discussions about working towards varietal and regional separation for the top coffees in the region. Danny plans to encourage the leaders in the village to organize themselves into a cooperative and focus on organic certification.
We continued to focus on maintaining the Stumptown profile with Joka Syauta, the lead cupper and buyer and other partner with PT Gajah in Takengon. Joka manages quality control in the lab and their new dry mill in addition to actively buying coffee in various regions. We look forward to new discoveries within the vast area of Aceh.