Market Reports

Indonesia’s quality outlook

At this year’s Trieste Espresso Expo exhibition in Italy, roughly 20 Indonesian Arabica representatives wandered to halls, promoting their quality coffee.  Just six years ago, however, Alun Evans, founder of Merdeka Coffee, the parent company of Antipodean Coffee in Kuala Lumpur, was the only representative for any Indonesian Arabica. Traditionally known for its Robusta production, which represents around 95 per cent of Indonesia’s export figures, the fact that many traders have followed in Evans footsteps tells the tale of why it’s worth taking a look at the country’s production of quality Arabica.  “The growth in popularity is because Indonesia has so many unique growing origins… producing so many interesting coffees,” explains Evans. “Aceh is spicy and bold, Java is soft and bitter chocolate, Papua… honey suckle and stone fruit, they all share a low acidity. Quality had, in the past, been one issue preventing Indo Arabica from ascending towards the top. However 10 years of focus by the Department of Agriculture on the sector has solved many of those issues.” Situated on the Ijen Plateau of East Java, just a stone’s throw away from the world’s largest acid crater lake, is Indonesia’s famed Blawan Plantation. A relic from the late 19th Century, Blawan was absorbed by the Indonesian government after the Dutch occupation of Java, and the abolition of the ‘Cultivation System’, an act instilled by the colonial government allowing Holland to profit from Indonesian exports. The act was originally designed for the purpose of refilling the Dutch treasury after heavy economic losses in the Netherlands. Today, Blawan is one of four plantations within close proximity to one another, all of which operate under the umbrella of the government-owned company Perkebunan Nusantara XII (PTPNXII), a name which literally translates to the Archipelago Plantation 12. The other plantations on the estate are named Kalisat Jampit, Pancur and Kayumas, but Blawan is the only one that dedicates its 500 hectares strictly to cultivating Arabica. “[A full] 90 per cent of our production is exported, and our main clients are America, Europe, and Japan, and this year we’ve begun selling to China,” says Arief Wicaksono, Blawan Manager. While he was unable to comment on Blawan’s official international price per pound, PT Coffeeindo, an export and trading company based out of Medan in North Sumatra, priced single origin Arabica from Java at about US$2.39 per pound, whereas most of Indonesian Robusta consistently hovers around US$1.04 to US$1.09 per pound. “Last year we produced 600 tonnes of Arabica,” he explains.“ But so far, we’ve produced 1300 tonnes already this year.” In a typical year, Blawan can yield approximately 21,667 to 25,000  60-kilogram bags of coffee, but similar to other countries such as Colombia, the 2011 crop on Java was severely hampered by heavy rains. PTPNXII Director of Production, Pak Soewarno, says that a long dry season this year has helped improve production. The six different variants of Arabica currently growing commercially in Indonesia are Typica, Hibrido de Timor, Linie S, Ethiopian, Caturra cultivars and Catimor, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of Indonesia (SCAI). Typica is courtesy of the Dutch colonization in the 1880s, while Hibrido de Timor is a splice between Arabica and Robusta. Linie S comes from India’s Bourbon cultivar, while Caturra is a mutation of Brazilian Bourbon. Soewarno and Wicaksono both concede that their position in the international coffee community is thanks to the unique characteristics of Blawan’s particular Arabica clone. “The name is Blawan Pasuma, and it’s unlike any other coffee,” says Wicaksono. “It yields a very nutty and sometimes flowery taste.” The flavours are indeed sought-after in the global coffee market, particularly in Europe and Asia. As Wicaksono prepares a blind taste test in his quality control room, he describes Blawan’s signature strain as a distinct one, with production staff aiming to strike a balance between body and acidity. The purity of the clone is maintained by using special rods to graft the roots of each year’s Arabica sprouts to a single unadulterated root, resulting in a consistent bean quality each harvest year. Wicaksono explains that this process, along with the sprouting stage, takes place in Blawan’s closely monitored greenhouses. All the coffee on the farms belonging to PTPNXII is hand-picked. “It’s important to us that we create jobs for the people in our community,” says Soewarno. The company usually employs 3600 to 4000 people during each annual harvest. Plantations like PTPNXII with their 1800 hectares of land are not the norm, however, in Indonesia. A full 90 per cent of the country’s exports come from private producers with only one hectare or less of land. The United States Agency for International Development says there are currently more than 1.3 million hectares of coffee cultivation spread out across the world’s largest archipelago.  In general, Indonesian Arabica coffee exhibits a high body with relatively low acidity levels. Sumatran specialty coffees tend to feature cocoa and earthy notes, while coffees with Balinese origins generally exhibit nutty and citric tastes. Connoisseurs of Sulawesi coffee are typically drawn to Tana Toraja and Kalosi, as they are said to feature the most balance along with flavours of ripe fruit and dark chocolate. Tana Toraja is the back bone of Sulawesi’s coffee proliferation. Because the island is formerly known as “Celebes,” a name from the Dutch colonisation, coffee from Sulawesi is often referred to simply as such. Producing a mere 70,000 bags per year, Sualwesi distinguishes itself by largely employing the dry process method as opposed to other regions that more often use the wet process.      Currently, one of the most talked-about places in the Indonesian coffee industry is Gayo highlands in North Sumatra’s Aceh region. With altitudes narrowly ranging from 1110 to 1300 meters, Gayo sits around Lake Laut Tawar and has been primed for Arabica growth for the past 30 years. The Jakarta Post credits Gayo’s Arabica as possessing a quality and flavour that is superior to that of Jamaica Blue Mountain. A bold statement, especially when considering the vast international revenues generated by said competitor in the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Korea and most noticeably Japan. The Gayo Organic Coffee Farmer’s Association (PPKGO) is a cooperative project of several local organic farms. It includes a team of organic agriculture field specialists and a community-centered coffee processing company. The area was chosen because of its inclusion in the buffer zone of Gunung Leuser National Park, which protects it from potential third party development. Currently, the organisation is rehabilitating old farms while building new ones. It has also purchased several new wet mill machines along with 25 transport vehicles to gather crops from five different communities in the area. As the PPKGO pre-finances the entirety of its project a couple months prior to shipment, it also takes on a large part of the financial risk as liquidity is subject to fluctuate. The organisation now sells their product straight to a current member, a fellow farmer who also exports the product directly on behalf of the association. Before this arrangement, there were several intermediaries between the annual harvest in Gayo and exportation. Gayo’s rich soils and efficient farming methods help to make it the largest Arabica producer in South-East Asia. The local traditional farmers practice a multifaceted coffee cultivation system that includes the use of leguminous shade trees, fruit trees and horticultural crops.   “I’ve noticed that Gayo demand has become very popular in recent years, and I’ve decided to partner with a local producer to sell the product under my label,” explains Bambang Soetanto. “We’ve almost got the final product ready,” he says regarding Gayo. “It’s very delicious and we look forward to diversifying along with the region.” It would seem that Japan has taken the largest affection to Indonesian coffee. With Japan’s interest in coffee stemming from the later 20th Century, coffee has become a causal agent of socialisation among professionals. As cafés and corner coffee shops become even more ubiquitous in Tokyo, so do Japan’s inquiries for new foreign flavours. According to the Association of Indonesian Coffee Exporters, Japan has already spent over US$22 million this year on all types of coffee imported from the island of Java alone. Europe’s demand for all types of Javanese coffee comes in second, just nipping at Japan’s heels, as Italy and Germany collectively spent just over US$20 million this year. Italy’s enthusiastic caffeine culture comes as no surprise of course, but entrepreneurs might find it interesting that the fruity and piquant flavours of Indonesian origins have begun to creep into Italian stores among the more popular rich and bold flavours. With an evident demand base out there, experts seem to agree that Indonesia’s efforts on quality Arabica production may just be the push the country needs to increase their export values. “There is a chance that in the near future our country will produce more because of high demand for Indonesian origins and from the growing number of private producers,” says Soewarno. “The Indonesian government also pays close attention to coffee production, so it really has the potential to become a much bigger producer on the globe.” GCR

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