It has been a couple of years since we had Indonesian coffees on the menu. It hasn’t been lack of interest, or resistance to putting ourselves to work that has kept us from it - rest assure, we cup (taste), test and ponder Indonesian coffees on a regular basis. We just haven’t found coffees we really can love! In July, I was invited by an organization that initially did tsunami relief work in the Aceh province of Sumatra, to observe coffee in the region and their efforts for farmer outreach.
Indonesian coffees are processed in a fairly unique way: after removing skin and mucilage of the coffee cherry, the inner parchment layer is slightly dried before that too is stripped off. Left to dry is the completely wet, swollen, white-coloured coffee bean, and the drying happens on patio, the ground or in very rare cases, on raised beds. This makes backtracking quality of picking and processing a difficult job: the ready, or almost ready, dried coffee is traded through several middle men before it reaches our cupping table. The other throw-back is that prices soar way above average for any coffee - and thus, you would expect quality to be up accordingly. We just don’t see that this is the case very often when we look at coffees from Indonesia - there’s simply no incentive to pick and process coffee meticulously when the market is willing to pay more regardless of product quality. And when what is sold from the average small-scale farmer is dried green coffee instead of coffee cherry, there’s really no way of drastically improve cup quality by selecting ripe cherry before processing.
We are trying to establish relationships with quality-oriented people on the ground there, and visiting definitely helped in terms of initiating this. The best coffees have a cleaner, more complex cup profile, but a lot of what we’ve cupped so far have that earthy flavour that in the best case can be described as “rustic”.