Golden Brew

Surrounded by native forest and secluded caves, the traditional coffee plantations outside Medan are ripe for agritourism

At 1,200m above sea level, North Sumatra’s fertile soil and high-density rainfall create a generous environment for coffee growing. Today, Sumatran coffee is one of the largest non-oil exports for Indonesia and you can find it poured in cafés around the world.

There are two types of Sumatran coffee available internationally: Lintong and Gayo (mostly Arabica blends). Gayo coffee has a flavoursome citrus profile with medium smooth body and spicy characteristics, while Lintong is famous for its acidity, strong lime aroma, and complex and condensed flavour.

Sumatra has another iconic coffee: civet coffee (called kopi luwak in Indonesian). It gained popularity when it was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and in The Bucket List (2007) where Edward Cole (played by Jack Nicholson), a coffee enthusiast, praised this most expensive coffee in the world (prices reach US$300/kg in global trade) by stating that the coffee was too good to be true to his terminally ill fellow, Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman).

This less bitter coffee is made from fully digested coffee cherry from luwaks (civets) who live in the woods. Civets, whose population is quite small, pick and eat the sweet pulp of coffee cherries and as the beans aren’t digestible, they are disposed in their stool. It is then collected by the coffee farmer and processed into kopi luwak.

Kopi luwak tastes so good because the civet has the inborn talent to choose the best coffee, usually peaberry (single bean coffee cherry),” says Sujonsen Huang, owner of globally marketed Sumatra Coffee Luwak.

We head to the village of Janji Maria (“janji” means “promises” in Indonesian) to find out more from the coffee plantation there. Although only 40km from Laguboti (a four- hour car ride from Medan), it takes three hours because of its isolated terrain and a long ramp which can only be accessed by a 4WD vehicle. On the bright side, we are entering a forest still pure and exotic with views of the Barisan hills.

Today, Janji Maria is inhabited by about 50 families still living a traditional life, in white- painted clapboard houses without electricity or piped water. Behind each house, every family has a minimum of one-hectare coffee plantation planted mostly with sigarar utang, an Arabica variety.

Over in the Lintongnihuta and Dolok Sanggul (an hour’s drive from Laguboti sub-regency) is where you’ll find coffee plantations with the largest output in Indonesia — this Sumatra Lintong Coffee Arabica or Blue Batak from a total area of 81.1ha can reach 100-120 tonnes of grade-one beans. The local farmers have grown coffee organically on their inherited land by using the materials derived from nature. The harvest months usually fall between March-May and September-December.

Most coffee plantations located behind these farmers’ houses are also adjacent to wild forest, the home of luwak. “If it rains overnight, then we can find plenty of luwak coffee beans in the morning,” says coffee farmer Sihombing, pointing to a string of luwak coffee beans on the ground. The droppings also contain seeds of different fruits, such as tamarillo and passion fruit. “This is what makes wild civet coffee better because it’s naturally processed,” says coffee lover Sujonsen, who has tried various kinds of coffee.

The small farmers who are members of APKLO (The Association of Lintong Organic Coffee Farmer’s Groups), have been certified Fairtrade from the FLO (Fairtrade Labeling Organization-Germany) since 2005 (two years after its establishment), and now they receive orders from Unicafe, Tully’s Coffee, Aeon, Muji (Japan), Greencof (Netherlands) and Twin Trading (UK).

APKLO chairman Hermion Lumbantobing, points out that although Fairtrade cannot be achieved easily, she wants to see the small farmers benefit from the status on the international market. “We seldom taste our own grown coffee,” says Gani Silaban, general manager of APKLO who, together with his colleagues, fights for better living standards for hundreds of traditional farmers.

Take Me There

also Read: Transportation In Binjai

COFFEE PLANTATIONS

● LINTONGNIHUTA APKLO (THE ASSOCIATION OF LINTONG ORGANIC COFFEE FARMER’S GROUPS)

Sisingamangaraja Rd, Pasar Baru, Lintongnihuta Subregency, Humbang Hasundutan Regency, North Sumatra, tel: +62 (812) 6095 6484

● JANJI MARIA

Janji Maria Village, Borbor Subregency, Toba Samosir Regency, North Sumatra, tobasamosirkab.go.id

● SIDIKALANG

Renun Rd, Sidikalang Regency, Dairi Regency, North Sumatra, dairikab.go.id

● GAYO MOUNTAIN COOPERATIVE (GMC) Pondok Baru Village, Bandar Subregency, Bener Meriah Regency, Nanggore Aceh Darussalam, tel: +62 617 873 265, acehprov.go.id

● KUTA TENGAH

Kuta Tengah Village, Simpang Empat Subregency, Karo Regency, North Sumatra, karokab.go.id

● MANDHEILING

Kotanopan/Ulupungkut Subregency, Mandailing Natal Regency, madina.go.id

COFFEE SHOPS

● SUMATRA COFFEE LUWAK

65 Jln M. Idris, Medan, North Sumatra, tel: +62 (81) 3792 8285, sumatracoffeeluwak.com

● KOK TONG KOPI TIAM

7 Zainul Arifin Rd, Sun Plaza (4th Flr Block A, 9-10), Medan, North Sumatra, tel: +62 (813) 7081 8185

● ROEMAH KOPI (COFFEE HOUSE) WAK NOER 15 Uskup Agung Rd, Medan, North Sumatra, tel: +62 (61) 415 3320, waknoer.com

● KING KOPI GAYO

1 Driving Range, Jln Putri Hijau, Medan, North Sumatra, tel: +62 (61) 457 5388

● JR COFFEE SHOP

63 Jln Gagak Hitam, Medan, North Sumatra, tel: +62 (61) 846 9451

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