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Tiga Raja — A Natural Progression

Five Senses Coffeejuicebox 27 October 2014

One of the most satisfying things about sourcing coffee is looking for opportunities to work directly with farmers. Coffees are often sourced with little connection to the hands which have turned the soil and put real sweat and blood into their work. For some time now, we have been considering a small natural project out of Indonesia and the Tiga Raja mill. A great opportunity has emerged that will allow us to engage directly with a small farm to not only produce a special and rare product, but also to invest in the farmer in a holistic and long term kind of way. Working directly with this farm is only possible thanks to the fact that we have a small, specialty-focused mill on the ground in North Sumatra.

The farm we are engaging with is quite familiar to me; I have mentioned it in previous blogs. I visited this small farm two years ago in Sidamanik — one of the seven sub-regions in Simalungun which I managed to explore. Back then, the farm was just establishing itself with young 2-3 year old trees which were yet to produce anything of considerable volume (as is quite normal for trees of that age). A couple of years later, the landscape has changed and grown significantly — and so have the farmer’s five daughters!

There was something about this little farm that captivated me from the start, a lovely sense of family involvement seemed prevalent and I was glad to see them again, hand out some gifts and have the chance to talk to them about the project.

Their farming practices are not exactly perfect, but they are about standard for the Sidamanik region which is developing as a coffee producing area. What they lack in practice however, they gain in potential by having the preferred variety (Sigarar Utang — click here for details on this variety) for the natural process, altitude and a willingness to work with us on some harvesting picking practices. With the help of Common Man coffee roasters and our mill operators (under Lisa and Leo’s Organic), we are aiming to help them with pruning shears, mulch, compost, organic CBB spray and shade trees. But it’s not only about the tools, as we are also committed to helping them with workers (experienced pickers and a farm hand) and education, so that they can be more productive and in turn deliver some great ripe cherries for processing into this small, micro lot Natural.

On the ground, I was able to talk with the farmer one-on-one about the prospects for this small project/partnership. We discussed the project and committed CMCR’s financial help on the farming improvement front. It’s always hard to gauge excitement when you’re under the constraints of a language barrier, but by all reports this family is super excited and energised to partner with us. These farmers don’t often get to mix with foreigners and the farm itself is about as far off the beaten track as you can get! To have a team out there, visiting a remote location and engaging with them is very rare — we suspect they were energised by the visit alone.

We also got our hands dirty, picking the first 15kgs of natural cherry for the production of this small micro lot. The natural process is gruelling, low yield production.

The following will give you a better idea what I mean; of the 15kgs of cherry we harvested on that day, only 2kgs will make it to specialty, triple picked grade. On average, only 14% of the cherry weight makes it to the final, export-ready clean volume. This is just one of the reasons why naturally processed coffees are typically more expensive to produce, and are generally rare and more highly prized. The other reason is because they offer a naturally enhanced sweetness and character, particularly through filter brew methods.

This is not typically how the coffee industry buys and produces coffee. Usually coffee is purchased and priced based on its cup quality; we can only really ‘guestimate’ how this coffee will perform based on advice from our awesome team at the Tiga Raja mill. Factors for consideration include such things as type samples from previous small production tests, variety type, altitude and the ability of the farmer to embrace and maintain consistent quality farming/harvesting practices. So as you can see, buying this coffee has its risks, but they are calculated risks. We feel that the outlay and potential is looking good to produce something that scores 84+ (using SCAA cupping protocol). With some tweaks and improvements at both the farmer and processing level, the sky is the limit for the potential of this small, micro lot natural.

We are calling this coffee Lima Putri, Sidamanik — which in Bahasa means ‘Five Daughters.’

The name also details the sub-region of the farm (Sidamanik). We think this name encapsulates the heart of the project, bringing focus to the region and directly impacting a single farmer and family.

Over time, our aim is to start small and tread lightly, using this small ‘adopted’ farm to shine and provide inspiration for the region. Beyond that, given that this is a small single farm and variety type, our aim is to bring back a rare and tasty micro lot Sumatran natural! We have committed to this process and taken on the risk of engaging with a single, small farm in order to produce something very unique. It’s now over to our amazing mill operators and project manager (Lisa) to work alongside this farmer to produce something worthy of the specialty coffee industry — for this season and, hopefully, many more to come!

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