A café manager once described their two coffees to me like this: “The Sumatra, well it tastes like coffee. Just what you’d expect coffee to taste like. The Ethiopian, that one tastes fruity.”
It’s not necessarily that Indonesian coffee gets a bad rap, but it’s certainly not described as, say, a burst of flavor that will make you reevaluate the coffee in your life.
As with a lot of large coffee-producing countries, in Indonesia the focus can be on volume, not quality. Here at Perfect Daily Grind, however, we look for the anomalies, the outliers, the ones who are trying to change coffee culture.
And that’s why we invited Benji Salim to discuss Indonesian specialty coffee at Micro Festival El Salvador. Discover more about coffee processing in Indonesia ahead of his presentation.
Coffee cherries on the branch at Toarca Toraja plantation. Credit: Benji Salim
Specialty Indonesian Coffee: New But Alive
There are a few international importers who offer specialty Indonesian coffee. One of those is Q Coffee Traders. Owner Benji Salim founded the company with the mission of changing the perception of Indonesian coffee. He imports to Australia, where he also operates a café and a lab.
In fact, most Indonesian specialty coffee is exported internationally. At his café in Sydney, Benji serves only Indonesian beans. He tells me that you might not taste the clear fruity notes of an Ethiopian, but you’ll get the best of Indonesia. A certified Q grader, he works with farms that value transparency.
He tells me that his mission isn’t just to sell the coffee, but to spread a philosophy. The philosophy is that Indonesian specialty does exist and, with a continued focus on quality, can take the coffee world by storm.
Young coffee growing at the Toarca Toraja plantation. Credit: Benji Salim
Making Washed/Wet Hulled Processing Eco-Friendly
Indonesia’s extreme humidity can cause issues with drying coffee. The harvest season runs from June to September, but even during this dry season humidity typically stays above 70%.
“Dry processing is so bloody difficult,” Benji tells me. Wet hulling is faster and can prevent the coffee from sitting in moisture too long – a situation that can cause defects. Most farms employ a combination of washed and wet hulled processing.
Washed processing can be less environmentally friendly. However, Benji has found the most sustainable Indonesian farms process their coffee right on their fields, where they can reuse the mucilage for fertilizer and recycle the water.
Coffee being processed at the Toarca Toraja plantation. Credit: Benji Salim
From Potatoes to Coffee
On one farm, Java Frinsa Estate, the owner is a well-known potato farmer who turned to coffee in 2010. Although he’s new to coffee cultivation, Wildan, the farmer, has been able to produce 70% specialty coffee already. He credits his success with his background in potato farming: it’s given him knowledge and understanding of agricultural research.
Many coffee estates in Indonesia grow a variety of crops, not just coffee. Practices such as plant health management and post-harvest handling of the fruit are carried over across different types of crops.
When combined with good equipment, this agricultural understanding can produce high-quality coffees.
Harvest season at the Toarca Toraja plantation. Credit: Benji Salim
The Future of Indonesian Specialty Coffee
Benji tells me that you cannot feign good judgment, proficiency, and experience. He stresses that travelling is important for this. And so despite selling only Indonesian coffee, he spends many months of the year meeting with others in the coffee industry to gain and share knowledge. He returns to his lab and roaster prepared to test the different techniques he has learned about.
Through his travels Benji has found the most promise in young farmers. They are proud of what they produce and look to better the future of coffee. Benji makes it his mission is to help them grow. As they continue to focus on quality over quantity, he is convinced the coffee industry will take greater notice.
Written by D. Kilbride.
Q Coffee Traders is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind’s Micro Festival El Salvador. This interview was conducted in accordance with our editorial policies, and Q Coffee Traders has had no greater influence on the final copy than any of our other interviewees.
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