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Methods used to create Sumatran coffee are like no other on the planet

In a region where high humidity makes it harder to dry coffee, Indonesian farmers use a ‘wet hulling’ process that brings out their beans’ sweet, earthy tones.

WORDS BY JACK NEIGHBOUR

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

SMALLHOLDER-GROWN COFFEE PRODUCES BIG FLAVOURS

Iswandi has been growing coffee on his farm near Karang Rejo village for more than ten years. At just 0.75 hectares, his smallholding is of a typical size for Aceh, the northernmost province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Iswandi is one of 1,800 farmers in the region who are part of a newly created cooperative to pool their resources, learnings, and their coffee. Fairtrade International and the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Programme support the cooperative, and farmers, in improving plantation productivity, as well as economically within the community to ensure consistent coffee quality.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

THE SECRET OF WET HULLING

Due to the local climate being so humid it’s difficult to dry coffee beans in Aceh. As a clever get-around, after coffee cherries are picked and fermented (a process which allows bacteria to break down the fruit pulp and release the coffee beans within) the beans are dried only briefly overnight before their parchment-like wrapping is removed while still very damp. Known as ‘wet hulling’, the technique also helps imbue the coffee with fresh, woody notes.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

FROM BRANCH TO BAG IN UNDER A WEEK

After wet hulling, farmers dry their cleaned beans in the front lawns of their homes—part of an unusually fast process that gets coffee from harvest to buyer in around 7 days. Laying out green beans like this allows the sun’s heat to penetrate and dry them more quickly, intensifying their flavour. They will dry here for two to three days before being collected and sold.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

BORN TO GROW

Local coffee growers like Ismono and Naswati take pride in their coffee heritage, so much so that claiming “I am born from a twig of the coffee tree” is a common expression in the area. Since Nespresso and Fairtrade have supported local farmers here to form the cooperative, many now enjoy the benefits. Because Nespresso pays additional premiums for each pound of coffee, farmers here are able to invest in community developments like renovating equipment, forming a pension scheme, and creating workshops to disseminate good agricultural practices passed on from Nespresso agronomists. All of this should help to ensure the bean-cultivating heritage held by so many here thrives for generations.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

ENSURING QUALITY BENEFITS EVERYONE INVOLVED

Yanti works during the coffee harvest season in Pante Raya Dalam village in the Wih Pesam Region. Having moved from Kuala Simpang, a city far from this area, to live here with her husband, she’s spent the last 11 years supporting her family by working as a coffee picker helping farmers to harvest their cherries. Farmers who are partnered with the Nespresso AAA programme know how to provide seasonal workers with the best working conditions and teach them to only pick red cherries to ensure good quality. Plus, the premiums Nespresso pays for the better beans means farmers can afford to pay their workers good wages.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

A COMMUNITY BETTERED BY COFFEE

Ardiansyah and Rahmah dry the coffee they harvest and process from their 1.5-hectare farm in Pante Raya Village. Along with farming coffee, they’re both teachers. Ardiansyah teaches at a high school nearby while Rahmah works at a nursery school in their neighbourhood. The fast turnaround of their coffee harvest allows them to maintain both careers, delivering two very valuable commodities—education for the next generation, and high-grade coffee. They attend classes until midday before returning to their coffee crop, and their membership to the cooperative pension fund entitles them to a secure retirement after a lifetime of serving the community.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

ACEH’S COFFEE COLLECTOR

As well as running his own smallholding, Iswandi works in coffee collection for the area. He buys harvested coffee cherries from local farmers and processes them together with his own crop—fermenting and wet hulling them—to the highest quality and then sells them all to the cooperative in town. Working with Iswandi is how Nespresso is able to purchase beans from all of the surrounding coffee farms, and build infrastructure to give growers in remote areas like this much easier access to the global coffee market. More coffee stories here.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

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