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Indonesian coffee is among the world’s best. So why have many not tried it?

The demand for Indonesian coffee from the rest of the world is there, yet many still have not tried coffee from the world’s 4th largest producer. Here’s why.

JAKARTA, Indonesia – A coffee farmer beamed with pride as he watched buyers bid for coffee he helped produce with his own bare hands.

“It was the 3rd most expensive coffee bought in Atlanta,” Stefanus told Rappler proudly, referring to a previous auction in April in the United States.

The coffee up for auction which Stefanus helped make, Flores Manggarai, is a coffee with cinnamon, chocolate, hazelnut and black tea flavors from East Nusa Tenggara. It was one of the 14 specialty coffee up for grabs at an auction in Jakarta on Saturday, October 15.

All 14 had been previously graded multiple times by Q graders, a worldwide system that identifies quality coffee. All 14 are from Indonesia. (READ: Coffee lover? Top Indonesian beans, coffee according to the Australian ambassador)

Baristas, distributors, roasters, cafe owners, and coffee traders were among the buyers at the auction, eagerly bidding for their picks, in an attempt to bring home 30 kg bags of their favorite raw coffee beans. Earlier, a cupping session allowed them to taste all 14, and pick their choices for bidding.

CUPPING SESSION. Buyers taste the 14 coffee on display, to decide which one they would like to later bid for. Photo by Natashya Gutierrez/Rappler

Suryawan Wijaya, who helped organize the auction, said events like this aim to encourage young entrepreneurs to become coffee traders, and is an opportunity for buyers to come to Indonesia, see what the country’s coffee industry has to offer, and increase the coffee export business.

But the priority, he emphasized, were the farmers like Stefanus, whom organizers made sure to invite to attend the auction – so they could talk about their coffee, see the demand, and meet the buyers of their products in person.

“The purpose is to give appreciation to the farmers, the good work that has gone to making coffee. They will feel valued, in a very festive event, but still rich of commercial value,” Wijaya said.

The Flores Manggarai coffee was sold for $31 per kilogram.

World’s best

The auction at the Jakarta International Expo, organized by the Indonesia Coffee Exporters Association (GAEKI) and Sustainable Coffee Platform of Indonesia (SCOPI), was a smaller version of a huge event in Atlanta 6 months earlier.

Back in April, the Specialty Association Coffee of America (SCAA) highlighted Indonesia as “the home of the finest coffee” at the Georgia World Congress Center. The Atlanta event showcased the same coffee auctioned in Jakarta, except at a world stage – where buyers from all over the world also bid for Indonesian coffee.

At the Jakarta auction, bags went from just $3 per kilogram, to an impressive $36 per kilogram. The West Java coffee, Gunung Puntang, which fetched the highest price in Jakarta, also was the top-priced in Atlanta where it was bought for $55 per kilogram by a Colorado cafe.

Coffee exporter Moelyono Soesilo, the winning bidder of Gunung Puntang, told Rappler that he bought the coffee with floral, malt, earl grey, butterscotch and lemon flavors not to sell – but to enjoy himself.

“I will want to share this coffee with other Indonesian coffee lovers. So maybe I will send it back to Semarang, my city, then after that we’ll have a conversation with other coffee lovers,” he said, adding he really had planned to buy this specific bag.

“From $55 to $36 – it’s just my luck!,” he said.

Renni Endang, who is part of the co-op Kelompok Tani Hutan (Forest Farmers Group), which produced the highest-selling coffee, said events like these were beneficial for their organization’s farmers, “because [the farmers] learn of the position of their coffee in the eyes of the world and the industry.”

MEETING FARMERS. Farmers and buyers were able to meet each other at the auction. Photo by Natashya Gutierrez/Rappler

“And that brings up their motivation and gives them more energy to work better, to make better quality coffee… and to learn more about coffee,” she said.

“It changes their whole life, their perspective, their thinking. They never imagined before that they would be one of the winners. Now they realize they have to do something in order to maintain the quality.”

Endang also said that the farmers are not only motivated to be more selective in the coffee-making process, they also inspire other farmers to be as fine and careful in their own process. (READ: A coffee journey: From the farm to your cup)

“We can have better quality not only in our place but also in the whole province. They can at least follow and learn our process in order to bring our [province’s] coffee to a higher level,” she said.

Not enough

But if Indonesian coffee is as good as it sounds, then why is it not as pervasive as Vietnamese or Colombian coffee?

While there is no argument that Indonesian coffee is among the best in the world, the biggest challenge to Indonesia’s coffee industry prevents it from being more widespread: supply.

While Indonesia is the 4th largest coffee producer in the world, just behind Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia, it is also the 7th largest consumer globally.

Production last year in Indonesia reached a record of 11.5 million bags, with exports at 8 million bags. This year, droughts from El Nino decreased output so far.

The demand from the rest of the world however, is clearly there.

UP FOR GRABS. The bags of coffee up for auction at the bidding event. Photo by Natashya Gutierrez/Rappler

In Atlanta, the United States signed contracts to import $18 million (234.4 billion rupiah) worth of Indonesian coffee. Another $21.75 million (283.3 billion rupiah) worth was signed just last weekend by Egypt ($20 million), Belgium ($1.5 million) and Singapore ($250,000).

“In Indonesia, we have good coffee. But the big issue is the productivity. If you see right now, the consumption is higher than production,” said Soesilo, who exports coffee to Japan, the United States, Italy, Spain and Germany.

Endang agreed, saying the problem was in financing.

“It’s difficult to catch up. If you want to improve productivity. You have to make sure the farmers are happy. They are not hungry,” she said.

Collaboration needed

Roberio Da Silva, Executive Director of the International Coffee Organization (ICO), called for the need to support Indonesia’s coffee industry in order to help its production, since it is one of the most important producers in the world.

“The success and wellbeing of the Indonesia coffee sector is of crucial importance to the global supply and demand. This means that we see a challenge in the Indonesian coffee sector, as rising domestic demand reduces export availability for the rest of the world,” he said at a trade stakeholders gathering also in Jakarta.

The solution, said Da Silva, was collaboration both from the government and businesses.

“Most important is that Indonesia has a sustainable and internationally competitive coffee sector – this requires collaboration and coordination between the public and private sector,” he said. – Rappler.com