Sumatra is complicated, in culture as in coffee. Here are a few things I learned in Aceh.
I am an out-of-towner and I could be wrong about any of this. Learning is a process, and a traveler is not in the best position to really “know” very much. But you can travel and be observant and ask decent questions. (And there is a Video (quite long!) from this same trip: The northernmost district in SumatraL Aceh District is north of North Sumatra and produces some very classic Sumatra coffees. The center of coffee in Aceh is Lake Tawar... ...more in October.) -Thompson
It is pronounced A-CHEY. The C in bahasa USDA is (obviously) the United States Department of Agriculture. USDA also had coffee plant breeding programs in the past and one variety they distributed to Indonesia and was... ...more is a CH sound. Coffee would be pronounced CHO-FEE so that’s a good reason to say Kopi, as they do in Indonesia. K is the hard C. Wikipedia and Wicktionary writes the pronunciation as “at͡ʃeh” . I have seen it spelled as Atjeh too, while traveling here.
A geographic-political area in Aceh are called Regency, which I believe is the same as a Kabupaten in other parts of Indonesia. It would be like a County in the USA. Perhaps it is a regency because, even throughout most of Dutch rule, Aceh was autonomous from the Europeans: It was a Sultanate, a protectorate of the Ottoman Empire (who was really in no position to protect it from the Dutch!) The rest of Indonesians are available as a unique wet-hulled or dry-hulled (washed) coffees. Giling Basah is the name for the wet-hulling process in Bahasa language, and will have more body... ...more, was under Dutch rule, which they fought bitterly in the Aceh War. An interesting story tells of the nearsighted and arthritic Acehnese guerilla leader Cut Nyak Dhien, a widow who inspired the resistance fighters to continue.
Coffee production was not a choice for the Gayo is ethnic group from the area of Aceh Sumatra around Lake Takengon. They use the name Gayo Coffee to market their production. The Acehnese are a different... ...more people or other indigenous groups. The Dutch mandated coffee planting as they took the coffee harvest as a form of tax for the privilege of being colonized.
Aceh had a war of resistance, often fought as guerrilla warfare, against Indonesian rule from 1976- 2005. A peace was negotiated so that Aceh is now an autonomous zone of Indonesia.
Sumatra is spelled as Sumatera in Bahasa and also on older maps and geographic references. (Also Sumaterra at times).
The Gayo people are distinct and speak a very different language than the Aceh people, and there are different cultural groups of Aceh and Gayo. The Gayo tend to be farmers, and Acehnese are more traders, very roughly speaking. The coffee is sometimes called Gayo A trade name used for wet-hulled Sumatra coffees. It is an area and a culture group as well (spelled Mandailing often) but there is not as much coffee... ...more which is pretty off base. It’s because Mandheling (the Dutch spelling of Mandailing) came to mean all Sumatra coffee.
Mandailing or Mandheling has been used to describe literally ANY Arabica refers to Coffea Arabica, the taxonomic species name of the genus responsible for around 75% of the worlds commercial coffee crop.: Arabica refers to Coffea Arabica, the... ...more coffee from Sumatra. In other words, it’s a fairly meaningless term. There are no Mandailing people in Aceh zone or Gayo areas. There is still coffee grown in Mandailing area though.
There are 3 Regencies with coffee in Aceh: Atu Lintang, Aceh Tengah, and Lues. The first two are near Lake Tawar, a very beautiful lake in an ancient volcanic crater, and Lues is adjacent but a bit distant.
Coffee in this area was wet-processed generally, until the late 1970s when the request for farmers to sell their wet Green coffee still in its outer shell, before dry-milling, is called Parchment coffee (pergamino). In the wet process, coffee is peeled, fermented, washed and then ready for drying... ...more coffee to collectors was heard. This lead to the robust role of the “collector” and the rise of the wet-hulling technique, called Giling Basah here.
Here’s a quick explanation of wet-hulling vis a vis Wet-processing starts by removing the outer skin of the coffee cherry with a machine called a pulper, then fermenting the remaining fruit (with green bean inside) in water... ...more coffee. It’s quite confusing but here’s the simplest way I can explain it. Wet-process coffee (aka washed coffee) is done all over the world, and was the primary way to process in Indonesia until the late ‘70s.
In wet process, the Originally coffee literature referred to the fruit of the tree as a "berry" but in time it became a cherry. It is of course neither. Nor is the... ...more is pulped, which removes the outer skin. The fruit Mucilage indicates the fruity layer of the coffee cherry, between the outer skin and the parchment layer that surrounds the seed. It readily clings to the inner parchment... ...more clings to the parchment layer which coats the seed. Think of a plum seed where the fruit sticks to it. To get the fruit off you As an aroma or flavor in coffee, ferment is a defect taste, resulting from bad processing or other factors. Ferment is the sour, often vinegar-like, that results from... ...more it, then wash away the mucilage while scrubbing it in the washing channel a bit. Then it is laid out to dry on a patio or a raised bed. In a week the coffee seed will shrink as it dries, separating from the parchment layer. When the coffee is ready for export, you can easily hull off the parchment coating, sort the coffee for size and The density of a coffee bean is often taken as a sign of quality, as a more dense bean will roast more with a better dynamic. The density... ...more, and bag it for export.
Here’s an overview of the wet process method from a card I made some time back:
Guess what? 87% of that is the same with wet-hulling! The farmer is often small scale so the pulper could be cranked by hand, the A key part of the wet process of coffee fruit is overnight fermentation, to break down the fruit (mucilage) layer that tenaciously clings to the coffee seed, so... ...more isn’t a big cement tank, but a bucket, and the coffee isn’t washed down a channel. It’s just scrubbed and rinsed in the same bucket. So wet-hulled coffee is As a defect flavor, a fruit quality in a coffee that is excessively ripe, toward rotten. Fermented flavor can be the result of poor wet-processing, over-ripe cherry, or... ...more. The difference comes after.
Wet hulled coffee is laid out to dry for a short period of time, say a day or so. Instead of drying the coffee down to the 10-12% moisture range, the farmer bags up the coffee when it is 40-50% moisture or so, and delivers it to a collector or a mill.
The mill might dry it a little more, but instead of waiting days until the seed dries and reaches 11% moisture or so, they hull the coffee out of the parchment when it is 25-40%. The green bean hasn’t contracted at all, it’s soft and enlarged still. In fact, the green bean isn’t very green, but a pale whitish shade. If you see the “Before Drying” vs “After Drying” parchment images in my Wet-process card, this perfectly illustrates the points at which coffee is wet-hulled (ie the Before image) and “Dry-Hulled” (the After).
<– Then the coffee is laid out to dry without any coating on it. This is unheard of anywhere else, risky in a way. But it’s the norm in Sumatra and other parts of Indonesia since the ‘80s.
Terms local used in trading:
- The term in Bahasa Indonesian for green coffee that is hulled, dried, and ready to sell to an exporter. Used in North Sumatra and the Aceh coffee regions.... ...more green bean, unsorted. Sometimes the coffee is traded as Asalan, then the exporter does the final hand-picking.
- DP Suton is name for dried green bean just after gravity table.
- In Sumatra, the term in Bahasa Indonesian for coffee that is barely dried after pulping and fermenting (or not), and ready to sell to a collector.: In Sumatra,... ...more wet parchment, not yet hulled. Coffee is sold from the farmer to the collector as Gabah, more often than not.
- Labu just wet-hulled coffee, like 35% – 40% moisture. Labu means pumpkin / squash.
- Grade 1 – used locally as term for basic lower grade. Ha ha. For real. Makes sense since coffee imported as grade 1 is so crappy.
Marketing myth aimed at consumers would likely want to find a history where Giling Basah emerges from a local cultural tradition, from the elders, or from some classic Plantation period practice. But in fact wet-hulling, which has become the signature of Indonesian coffee is known for its unique earthy, potent flavors. Some like it, some hate it, but it's certainly distinctive. Much of the coffee in Indonesia is processed... ...more, isn’t some old tradition, and it wasn’t done for quality really. I have heard several “In coffee talk, it refers to a coffee-producing region or country; such as, "I was just at origin." Of course "Origin" for most product we use is not... ...more stories” about it. One is that it was requested from a trader in Medan, or from a Japanese buyer. Some say it was done first in Sulawesi coffees are low-acid with great body and that deep, brooding cup profile akin to Sumatra. The coffee is sometimes known as Celebes, which was the Dutch colonial... ...more, or Tapanuli, but it certainly did not originate in Aceh.
What I hear is that the way the grandparents of today’s farmers treated coffee and traded coffee was different. They saw it as a kind of savings account. Coffee was washed and fully dried to 10-12% range. Then it was stored under the bed, or in a kind of attic, for safekeeping. When the farmer needed money, when they had a larger expense, they would sell some coffee. This is the way I have heard coffee was treated in other places. It parallels a story I heard of Yemeni farmers and their naturals. The point is, the farmer was in control of their crop, and determined the flow of coffee into the marketplace.
You can imagine this system of coffee trading in stored “savings account” dry parchment was not creating an advantage for the trader. Even if a harvest was larger, the coffee doesn’t flow into the system ….or it only does so when farmers require money.
Wet Hulling is the step at the dry mill where the green coffee bean is removed from the parchment shell. (See Wet Hulled for the Indonesia method). ...more speeds up the The removal of the cherry and parchment from the coffee seed.: Coffee is either wet-processed (also called washed or wet-milled) or dry-processed (also called wild, natural or natural... ...more and stabilizes the flow into the trading system. While it does pay the farmer quicker, and for less labor, before wet-hulling, it didn’t seem that is what farmers wanted. They wanted to have security.
Currently many farmers end up in a debt cycle.
They owe money against their harvest, usually to the collector who might have advanced them cash or materials or fertilizers. So know it would seem the advantage is on the side of collectors and traders under the wet-hulling system.
Aceh farmers tend to be small-holder types. Though there are some larger estates, smallholder farms account for most of the coffee. And the farmer manages the The first step in processing wet-process coffee, pulp natural or forced demucilage coffees. Pulping simply refers to removing the skins from the coffee fruit, leaving the parchment coffee... ...more and fermenting, as well as the initial drying most of the time. There are zones where the farmer sells the Either a flavor in the coffee, or referring to the fruit of the coffee tree, which somewhat resembles a red cherry.: Either a flavor in the coffee, or... ...more direct to a collector/processor who does the rest.
Coffee farmers are generally organized into cooperatives, and many deal with a particular collector. This might be because of debt carried by the farmers due to some prepayment, or carried over from the past. Smallholder farmer debt is a bad cycle that often results in lower payment for the crop, and sadly it happens in many coffee origins. When we talk about fair pay for farmers, the sole focus on monetary compensation totally misses other critical factors like debt.
There is a wide range of old and new hybrid varieties planted in Aceh, and many farms are quite mixed in terms of the plantings. See Aceh Coffee Varieties
Trading coffee in Sumatra and Indonesia
Business as usual among the traders in Aceh involves fairly low levels of trust, in my opinion, mixing of lots, and some mild deceptions. Transparency is a flavor characterization synonymous with clarity. It is also a business ethics term, implying that as much information as possible about a product is made available... ...more is not the culture here. The buyer who deals with the large coop or trader might, in my opinion, not be receiving the coffee they think they are buying … but if they cup and it’s good, no harm done, right? I suppose …
I would gamble that a decent percentage of coffee sold as Grown without the use of artificial fertilizers, herbicides, etc.: Organic coffee has been grown according to organic farming techniques, typically without the use of artificial fertilizers. Some farms... ...more certified would not test as Organic in a lab. I would gamble that a good portion of “transparent Fair trade is an organized social movement and market-based approach to empowering developing country producers and promoting sustainability.: Fair trade is an organized social movement and market-based approach... ...more certified” coffee is not from the farmers described on the certificate. In fact, if Sumatra contracts need to be filled at a good price, your FTO is shorthand for a coffee that is certified as both Fair Trade and Organic. ...more Sumatra might be from Flores is an Indonesian island, and as a coffee bears more resemblance to the coffees of Timor-Leste, New Guinea and Java than to the wet-hulled coffees of Sumatra... ...more, or Sulawesi, or Central There are several types of Abyssinia, but they are not from Ethiopia but rather Indonesia. Abyssinia 3 = AB3. PJS Cramer, a Dutch plant researcher, introduced this variety in 1928,... ...more. Broadly speaking, working directly with small farmers, collectors and groups creates a traceability trail that makes switching coffee more difficult. But not impossible!
If you are from Indonesia / Sumatra / Aceh and would like to help me correct any errors here, or add information, please make a comment to below and I will respond.
Thanks! – Thompson, writing from Banda Aceh, October 2019