From the Field, From the Lab

Monday, January 30, 2023

How Local Coffee Consumption is Improving Coffee Quality for Everyone

Producers in Indonesia are driving a local supply chain revolution that’s changing the way they produce green coffee, which is in turn improving the quality of coffee in Indonesia overall. Producers are connecting directly with Indonesian roasters and custom-producing experimentally processed lots that roasters sell in-country to a growing population of interested Indonesia consumers. This pipeline is providing additional revenue streams for producers, and it’s also creating an educational network for producers to learn about and improve their coffee processing. In short: Indonesians are drinking more locally grown coffee, and their passion is helping to improve overall coffee quality in Indonesia.

Better Coffee for Everyone

For the most part, these direct orders from Indonesian roasters are small and they don’t make up the majority of a producer’s total coffee, but producers can get high prices that augment their income and make coffee farming more sustainable for them.  

This direct order method is made possible by growing internal demand, especially in cities. “We’ve seen a huge explosion in internal consumption. It’s grown by about 4-7% per year between 2017 and 2022, according to a USDA report,” says Erwin Nugraha, Junior Trader at Sucafina Indonesia. “About 10 years ago, we started seeing more roasters and cafes pop up in large cities, mainly preparing espresso beverages. In the past 5 years, specialty roasters and cafes have accelerated as a lifestyle phenomenon where – mostly younger – people hang out and socialize at cafes that feature manually brewed coffee with regional and producer-specific coffees.”  

While this trend means more and better quality for the Indonesian consumers who are drinking these experimental lots, it’s also helping to improve coffee quality for coffee consumers globally. As a result of these newer supply chains, we’re seeing a broader mindset shift among many producers in regions across Indonesia.

“The fact that producers are now intentionally working to influence cup quality through processing is having an overall positive impact on all the lots they produce,” Daniel says. “It’s causing more producers to think about the correlation between what they’re able to do during processing and the influence it will have on the taste.” All in all, this atmosphere of experimentation and direct sales is creating a new producer mindset where they feel more actively involved in creating quality. “That feeds into this environment in Indonesia that’s really spreading across all islands. Everybody’s aware of these things now. It moves the entire industry in Indonesia forward to improve quality.”

Expanding Educational Networks

The fervor for experimental processing is inspiring a growing network of communication and sharing between producers. Sites like Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook have offered ways for producers to share information and learn more about how they can improve their coffee processing to reach these new markets.

One area where experimental processing is especially promising is where the growing conditions are less ideal for high-quality coffees. In lower altitude areas, or with varieties that are less known for their quality, knowledge of experimental processing can help producers enhance the quality of their coffees so they can score higher and garner price premiums for quality. “Traditionally, it can be difficult or even impossible to achieve a higher cup score under those conditions when using a traditional, washed process. Extended fermentation and other processing methods can help to accentuate fruity or unusual flavors and allow them to enter the specialty market,” Daniel says.

Better Coffee for Everyone

While international roasters can also access some of these experimental lots, something to keep in mind with these experimental methods is that they cost a lot more. “It costs the producer more money to produce these,” Erwin says. “They’re more labor intensive and sometimes require special equipment like steel tanks or specially-produced yeasts.” With these higher costs, these lots generally require a commitment from the roaster before they actually begin producing the lot.

“Most of these lots are processed to order based on an approved type sample,” Daniel explains. “As a roasting partner, it’s important to commit to buying the lot, even if there are some differences in the exact flavor notes compared to the type sample.” If not, producers are left with an expensive coffee that they cannot easily sell elsewhere and that can be extremely costly and difficult for them. “Many of these producers are self-funded individuals. A single defaulted contract could put them out of business,” Daniel says.

Looking to the Future

As the trend continues, Daniel hopes to see producers working with a more systematic rigor. “Much of the experimentation we see is being done without control batches or proper blind analysis.  This makes it difficult to isolate variables, achieve consistency, or improve in an intentional direction” he says.

Another area where he’d like to see more evaluation is with broader and more controlled cupping. Part of the challenge is that many producers don’t have extensive cupping experience, but he’d like for producers and consumers as an industry to begin evaluating more of Indonesia’s experimentally processed coffees in blind cuppings. “It’ll give us a better idea of the sensory qualities of these coffees when you remove the processing method story and marketing connected to these lots,” Daniel says. Daniel is hopeful that this will come with time as the industry continues evolving and maturing.

Experimentally processed coffee is really hot right now, but will this fervor end? Daniel doesn’t think so, at least not anytime soon. “There are so many different variables producers can play with to create new methods for processing coffees and creating new flavors,” he says. And Indonesia’s vibrant café scene and coffee culture could very likely help sustain these innovations into the future.

As experimental processing for the Indonesian market continues, we expect that the expansion of a specialty mindset will also continue, meaning better Indonesian coffee for everyone. This includes more producers experimenting with both traditional and experimental processing methods and will expand the range of specialty coffee available in Indonesia. Keep an eye out for new processing methods from Indonesia, like our FW, Anaerobic FW, Natural, Anaerobic Natural, Honey and Wet Hulled Honey lots from Barokah cooperative and many more.