Local Head Coffee Roaster, Shayne McCrystal took a journey deep into the heart of Indonesia’s Sumatra to visit the coffee plantations and meet the local people who process some of the finest coffee in the world. The beans from Sumatra make up part of the ‘Daily Ritual’ blend from our local coffee roaster, Peak Coffee.
> This was your first time to a growing origin (the source of coffee beans), tell us about the experience.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on my first trip overseas. My first impression as the plane landed in Medan was “Wow! Is this is an international airport?”, as the terminal wasn’t much more than a rundown shack with a rusty tin roof.
We were shortly met by Roy, who is Head of Security for PT. Menacom (a coffee processing plant in Medan) and also our tour guide for the next three days. As we sped off in a brand new black Toyota mini people-mover, complete with plastic still on the seats, I soon realised that very few road rules exist.
We soon arrived at the home of the Managing Director of PT. Menacom, Agam. Agam and his wife kindly invited us in for a breakfast of Nasi Gorang (a spicy rice dish). After breakfast we set off in a group of four vehicles on our way to one of the coffee plantations. With my Canon EOS at the ready and eyes wide open, I was ready for the adventure.
The first part of the drive through Medan was quite a culture shock for me as you soon realise that this is a Third World country. After about an hour, I was starting to get used to the way people drive and the skill of the riders … on motor scooters complete with a family of four sitting on the back.
Winding our way up in to the mountains and three hours later, we arrived at a processing plant near one of the farms, this was my opportunity to see first-hand the process of pulping the green beans from the ripe cherries.
After the processing plant we arrived at the first farm and were greeted by the family who live and work on the coffee farm … and while they didn’t speak English, they understood ‘hello’ and a smile and were very welcoming.
Wandering amongst the coffee trees, snapping plenty of photos and witnessing some picking felt a little surreal, as this is the same coffee I get to roast.
After a couple of days of visiting coffee farms and taking in the sites, which included visiting Lake Toba (the largest volcanic lake in the world), it was time to make the trek back to Medan to visit PT. Menacom’s main processing plant and to cup the coffee we had seen at the farms.
The following day we would jump on the plane back to Singapore and leave behind the awesome experience of visiting a coffee growing origin that any roaster would envy.
> For those that don’t know about how coffee is processed and roasted, give us a bit of a run down.
Ok, there are a few steps to the processing – firstly the ripe cherries go through a pulping machine (small petrol motor driven machine) and come out as beans with a skin still on them.
The beans than go into a de-huller, a much bigger, noisier beast to remove this skin.
After this, the green beans are spread out on concrete and raked to bring the moisture content down.
This is all done in the small processing plants near the farms – it is then bagged up and put on a truck to the main processing plant in Medan.
The green beans are then spread out on concrete and raked again, scooped into bags and put through another machine which grades the size and quality of the beans. The beans are then hand sorted, bagged, and taken over to another shed where they are spread out and scooped up and weighed, then put into hessian bags.
This is then the product that the Roaster finally receives in 60kg hessian bags.
Roasting is where the green beans are transformed through a heat source (roaster) to the brown coffee beans that the café receives or what you can buy for home.
That’s a very basic description but there is quite a lot more involved.
There are number of factors involved in roasting, the green beans themselves from different regions vary, so you need to take that into account when you roast them.
Then if you are working on a blend, you need to know the flavours and characteristics of each origin and how they will complement each other in the cup.
So there is a lot of cupping (tasting) involved in the roasting process.
> You had the opportunity to visit some of the homes of the people who process the coffee. How did you find the local workers, and their living conditions?
The people are all very friendly and welcoming, and one of the farms even held off sending their coffee out so we could see the processes.
They are all very hard working, especially with the heat and the humidity that they experience – it is a shame that they can not afford basic things that we all take for granted.
One of the houses only had a mat on the floor, no furniture or a proper bathroom.
Justin, a coffee roasting legend from Melbourne who helped make this trip possible, is organising an amenities block to be put in for the family who operate this farm, which he will be funding out of his own pocket.
> Tell us about the ‘chicken shed’…
The chicken shed is where the hand-sorting of the green beans takes place (by about 100 women) and it’s like stepping into a sauna.
They thought it was great when half a dozen Aussie guys walked in and we were welcomed by cheers and waving of arms.
Seriously though, these women spend their day sorting countless numbers of green coffee beans so we as Roasters receive the quality product that comes from this region.
> Did you try the local cuisine?
Besides rice, I did get daring and ate some deep fried chicken.
> As a coffee roaster, how important is it to visit the origin of the coffee you roast?
Until you actually get the chance to visit the origin you can only read about the growing and processing of coffee, but when you experience it for yourself you start to see the big picture and understand the characteristics of the coffee you are roasting.
Things like the altitude at which the coffee is being grown, as well as the processes, all influence how you need to roast it.
Any Roaster who gets the chance to go to origin will get so much out of it.
> What did you bring back with you from your trip?
Besides some little souvenirs from Lake Toba, a great experience and knowledge that will benefit my career in the coffee industry… and hundreds of photos that I’m really happy with.
> Where can readers try the Sumatran coffee locally in the Hastings area?
Peak Coffee uses Sumatran beans as part of our Ritual Blend. Peak Ritual can be tried in any local café that serves Peak Coffee, including Vue Café, Ricardoes Tomatoes, and The Healthy Way.
To try single origin Sumatran, go to Watermans Café in Wauchope or drop into the Roastery in Jambali Road, PM.
We will be stocking the shelves with retail packs of Sumatran for you to take home and enjoy.
> Thank you Shayne.