Posted on September 13th 2016 by Maddie
At the beginning of the summer, Tom our VP of Green Coffee and Quality Assurance, and I traveled to Indonesia. We set out to meet with some of our existing partner cooperatives, as well as explore new opportunities on the island of Flores.
Flores, meaning ‘flowers’, was given its name by Portuguese explorers in the early 16th century. A name it definitely lives up to with its beautiful lush scenery. It's part of the Lesser Sunda island chain in Eastern Indonesia, just a ninety-minute flight from Bali; a short jaunt, but miles away from the buzz of tourists. A small island; Flores measures 355 kilometres from end to end. We covered that and more traveling west from Ende through the mountainous coffee growing regions.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
When preparing to travel to origin the most vital prerequisite is that, you must be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Worlds away from our North American luxuries, one must carefully navigate language hurdles, unpredictable weather, lack of infrastructure, extreme road conditions, and of course, new toilet situations.
The best thing about traveling to source is that no two origins are the same. Sure, the infectious warmth from the producers and their communities is universal with every cooperative we visit, but each experience is unique. Each is a window of time into the local way of life. Similar commitment to producing quality coffee, but individual distinctions.
Prepare for Plan B
A blanket of fog made it impossible for us to land in Labuan Bajo. After an hour of circling, we were finally rerouted to Ende. Our final destination was Bajawa in the Managgarai district of Flores. We were traveling with, Saimi and Syafrudin from PT. Indokom the Exporting Arm for the cooperative Asnikom Flores-Manggarai, Alex our Coffee Broker from Royal Coffee and Josh who runs Adventure Coffee with his father out of Tucson, Arizona.
Sitting on the tarmac in Ende, our flight attendant instructed all passengers to sit tight while they waited to see how long until we would be able to fly back to Labuan Bajo. Too slow for Saimi and Syafrudin, they quickly jabbered away on their phones making alternative arrangements for a car that would drive us the four hours to Bajawa.
Saimi and Syafrudin signalled we were leaving. We grabbed what carry-on luggage we had and casually de-boarded the plane, leaving the rest of the passengers strapped-in, patiently waiting for departure.
Coffee in Flores
From the Ende airport, we were shuttled down the coast on winding roads until we began the climb north into the mountains. I swear there is not a straight stretch on the island. We continued gaining elevation, as we got closer to our destination Bajawa, the capital of the Ngada district.
Flores is spilt into eight government districts. The majority of the coffee coming from the Western interior areas of Manggarai and Ngada.
After spending a night in Bajawa, we traveled to Ruteng the capital of the Manggarai district. In Flores, Ruteng is the main center for coffee trading. This is where Asnikom Flores-Manggarai the cooperative we visited had their main headquarters.
Coffee was originally planted in Flores over 150 years ago, most likely introduced by the Dutch who colonized Indonesia. Coffee production is contained to smallholder farms averaging between 1-1.5 hectares.
The coffee harvest runs from May to September. We were lucky to be there at the peak of harvest. Each farm we visited had people out picking cherries. Generally, in Flores, they do not use migrant workers during harvest. Help comes from the local communities who all pitch in and work together.
Coffee grows quite wildly in Indonesia. Tall coffee trees stretch across slopes under the shade of the Erythrina and Albizia trees. Arabic coffee in Flores grew between 1200 – 1500 meters elevation.
The Cooperative’s three agronomists traveled with us. One of their responsibilities is educating the producers. Highly important is the pruning of their coffee trees. Not only for ease of picking, but also to help improve quality and yields.
It can be difficult for producers to see the value of pruning when the benefits are not immediate. Therefore, the agronomists recommend pruning ten to twenty percent of the trees every harvest.
Presently, Flores produces an estimated six million pounds of Arabica coffee.
There has been a big push in Flores to increase the quality of their coffee. The Indonesia Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute (ICCRI) has pushed specific programs aimed at improving quality processes. The Indonesian coffee we source is all wet-hulled, meaning that once the coffee cherries are picked, producers drop them off at one of the cooperative’s processing stations. It is there that the depulping begins.
The depulper machines used in Flores are quite small scale, with operators adding cherries by the bucket. The pulper separates the beans from the pulp of the cherry, leaving the mucilage attached to the wet coffee parchment underneath. The coffee is then washed and dried. Coffee will be dried to a moisture level between 30 and 35%. The cooperative is starting to implement drying on raised beds. This is a superior way of drying as it allows for complete air circulation.
At this point, Flores’ coffee is bagged and transported to Java for milling and exportation. Kicking Horse Coffee will be sent a pre-ship sample. When received we begin our own quality tests on the green coffee including a moisture reading, screen size analysis, and defect count. Roasting the samples, we perform a sensory evaluation including a cupping to complete our assessment of the coffee.
When approved, the 320 sixty-kilogram bags representing one of our contracts will be loaded in a container and start the journey to Vancouver.
Asnikom Flores-Manggarai is actively working on developing infrastructure and educating farmers on proper growing and harvesting practices. We met with local government officials who have made it a priority to help improve farmer’s livelihood. Improving the quality of coffee in Flores will not only drive demand but will also additionally help to increase coffee yields. A win-win situation. Local officials have committed to providing technical support, organic fertilizer, education, and training. These initiatives are invaluable to the producers. Understanding how to produce quality coffee and why it is important is crucial to growing in the specialty field.
Our incredible hosts Saimi and Syafrudin went above and beyond to make sure we enjoyed our time in Flores. We were never hungry, that’s for sure! They also arranged an overnight ship voyage for all of us to see the Komodo Dragons on Rinca Island. A memorable experience we spent the night sleeping on the upper deck, waking up as the sun rose. Definitely worth the visit. The Komodo National Park is one of the UNESCO, World Heritage Sites.
Ultimately visiting origin is about building relationships and sharing ideas. With the cooperatives and producers, we discuss growing practices, future yields, challenges and opportunities where we can offer additional support beyond Fair Trade.
The warmth of the communities we visit is tangible. In Ngada, we were greeted with a giant banner and marching band that paraded us through town.
A trip to a community outside of Rutang had us sitting in a drum house, with a gourd being passed around, while we ate sirih leaves. Next, the men were all taking part in a ceremonial dance. Never sure, what will come next, just being present in the moment.
These experiences are extraordinary. A constant reminder of the people and passion behind every bean.