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In search of Indonesia's best-quality coffee

Arya Dipa

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Tue, April 24, 2018  /  09:28 am
In search of Indonesia's best-quality coffee

What’s the score?: After each slurp, cuppers must describe the coffee based on various elements, such as texture and acidity. (JP/Arya Dipa)

Drinking coffee has become part of a hip, urban lifestyle in Indonesia, but this public appetite still requires a quality boost.

Hans Simanjuntak, 42, from Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, was slurping different types of coffee along with other cuppers, also known as coffee testers, at the 5758 Coffee Lab in Bandung, West Java, when he started coughing.

Hans and his fellow testers had to slurp hard and quickly in order to whet their palates with the aim of thoroughly tasting the coffees’ flavors in detail.

“I was over zealous,” Hans said, explaining his sudden coughing fit.

For the test, Hans, who owns four coffee stalls in his hometown, first joined a sensory training session in the same Coffee Lab, where he was required to recognize and define the flavors of eight types of coffee served in 32 glasses, along with three cuppers at his table and 12 others at three separate tables.

Each cupper had to clean the spoon they used for slurping with water before scooping coffee from another glass. The glasses of coffee were not to be touched, let alone raised. They had to rely on their remaining senses to describe the various tastes offered by the manually brewed coffee.

Their reactions were expressed through scores and descriptions, giving details of the roasting degree, aroma, any faults, sweetness, acidity, mouthfeel or character, flavor, after taste and balance. 

The aroma alone ranges from fruit-like to flower-like, and the flavor is also complex, comprising that of grass, soils, fruits and spices. 

The entire experience was meant to find the best-quality coffee. 

Danny Pang, the program’s instructor who is certified and has been a coffee trainer since 2009, said the scoring system followed a standardized method approved by the coffee industry. 

So far, Indonesia’s coffee production has been limited to commercial coffee and specialty coffee; none have entered the Cup of Excellence (COE) or Presidential Award categories.

“COE coffee in our definition is exemplary coffee. This means it has qualities that sets it apart from other commercial or even specialty coffee,” Danny said. 

Differences in quality are determined by cuppers’ scoring results. A COE quality coffee must score between 86 and 89 out of a scale of 100. 

“Anything above 90 is considered presidential coffee,” said Danny, who is also Southeast Asia’s first authorized trainer from the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE).

The series of cupping and scoring practices are meant to appreciate farmers in the upstream coffee industry, without overlooking the roles played by other players, from roasters to baristas. 

Farmers contribute a great deal with coffee planting, maintenance, harvesting and post-harvest processing, but they rarely have the chance to promote their coffee to the global community. 

“So, the COE is the way to discover their coffee, to explain and bring it to the fore and tell the world, ‘Hey, we have very good coffee here.’ And of course, we have to define what makes it excellent,” Danny said.

Team work: Coffee cuppers are divided into groups of three during a Sensory Education Training session at 5758 Coffee Lab.Team work: Coffee cuppers are divided into groups of three during a Sensory Education Training session at 5758 Coffee Lab. (JP/Arya Dipa)

Meanwhile, Specialty Coffee Association of Indonesia (SCAI) chairman A. Syafrudin, said coffee cuppers in the archipelago were still limited to Q-graders for Arabica and R-graders for Robusta. 

“SCAI is deeply concerned over the COE status because the country’s coffee production is varied. Our product is still limited to commercial and specialty coffee,” Syafrudin explained. 

The standardization for COE, according to Syafrudin, has encouraged cuppers to define and evaluate the quality of coffee more profoundly.

“The country still has many kinds of hidden coffees. Indonesia’s eight islands are planted with Arabica coffee, which we should be exposed to the world through the COE,” Syafrudin emphasized.

COE coffee makes up less than 1 percent of the country’s entire coffee production, compared to specialty coffee at 10 percent. 

If any coffee is eligible for the COE category, it can be internationally listed for open auctions at a premium price, after undergoing several stages of blind cupping by international juries. Later, the greater portion of auction proceeds will go to farmers in the upstream sector.

“An example is organic coffee fair trade certification, which requires every exporter to give farmers 44 United States per kilogram of coffee exported as a show appreciation. Any violation is liable to sanctions,” Syafrudin said.

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