Aceh (pronounced AH-CHEY) is the northernmost province of Sumatra. Its highland territory, surrounding Lake Tawar and the central city of Takengon, is considered the epicenter of one of the world’s most unique coffee terroirs. Coffee farms in this area are managed with the experience of many generations of cultivation, while also harmoniously woven into their surrounding tropical forests. The canopies are loud and fields are almost impenetrably thick with coffee plants, fruit trees, and vegetables, all of which are constantly flushing with new growth. Year-round mists and rain showers never cease, farm floors are spongy and deep with layered biomass, and almost every square meter of the region seems to exude life. Nothing is ever still. Including the ripening of coffee, which occurs ten months out of the year.
This coffee is grown and processed by farmers located in Bukit Sama, a very small community just a short drive east up the ridge from Lake Tawar and the town of Takengon. Contributing farmers here have a combined coffee cultivation of around 200 hectares, an average of 0.5-1 hectare apiece. As is typical across Aceh and Northern Sumatra provinces, smallholder coffee here tends to be organized by collector, a prominent local position in Sumatra’s complex coffee value chain. Collectors consolidate coffee from their immediate community, usually in their own home. They are accountable for quality standards and managing cash flow on behalf of cooperatives or mills for humid parchment, and often times fresh cherry in need of processing.
The typical processing culture of Sumatra is the wet-hull, in which a batch of coffee is depulped, fermented overnight, washed clean, and then sun-dried only enough to be dry to the touch before it’s mechanically hulled of its parchment, leaving behind just the soft, high-moisture coffee bean (thus earning the term “wet-hulled”), all of which is spread out on large patios to continue drying. In this case, however, a skilled local processor, Aulia Kahfi, oversees a limited amount of honey process coffees each year. These coffees are also fully dried prior to milling to allow the full influence of the honey processing to affect the final cup. Drying in this case is no different than any honey process in Central America. But here, where wet-hulling is the norm, fully dried, or “dry-hulled” coffee, is a very big effort requiring uncommon knowledge and dedicated longer-term drying space, which in the steep highlands is scarce and valuable. The result is worth the extra effort: the honey processing adds a distinct fruit-syrup quality to the mouthfeel of this coffee, and the flavors are strongly reminiscent of grape, citrus zest, and caramelized squash.
Aulia Khafi is in partnership with a dry mill and exporter called C.V. Yudi Putra, a second-generation family owned business located in Medan, the closest major port city to Lake Tawar, and a supplier partner to Royal for over 15 years now. Yudi Putra was established by Syahrial Jauhari in 1979 and has been buying top quality honeys from Aceh and Lake Toba (in Northern Sumatra province) since 2008.