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Sourcing Trips | 04 Jan 23

Leaping Through Lintong, Indonesia

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  • As I wander the busy roads of northern Sumatra, cement houses, playing children, mopeds, and swathes of farms containing different crops pass by my periphery. This is prime coffee-producing land in Indonesia, yet in recent years, many producers have decided to tear out coffee and plant more profitable crops such as chili or tangerine. Coffee prices are low, there is a lack of support for producers to fight against the coffee berry borer, the stem borer, in addition to other basic agricultural knowledge. Yet, the producers I have met were passionate and strong, hoping to preserve the future of coffee in this rugged jungle landscape. Join me as I delve through the lush land of Lintong.

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  • I ventured to Medan, the metropolis hub for Sumatra. It was a warm and sticky morning, and I could feel adventure teeming within my limbs. I was eager to get out, to see the coffee, and to meet producers.

    After a long car ride with my guides, flying past street vendors, mosques, and plenty of agriculture, I finally arrive in Lintong. This is a well-known region within Sumatra, and was truly an interesting place with dusty roads, tangerine trees, and specks of coffee throughout the area. We arrived later in the afternoon to meet with a collector running Antonar Coffee, who showed us his drying patios and other facilities. He mentioned that he works with roughly 500 producers, and that his family has been buying and selling coffee for three generations. In Lintong, collectors work with a number of producers to gather coffee and sell it on to an exporter. This is common in Sumatra, and is why the wet-hulled method is well-known here. Producers will hull their coffee before it is dry and sell the beans when they still contain a significant amount of moisture. Collectors will then dry the coffee for another week or so to ensure the ideal moisture content is reached.

    The day carried on, and we drove to visit some of the farms he collects from. The first was just off of a busy road, with solely coffee filling the land. Intercropping is not too common here, and the pruning methods made the coffee trees looked similar to weeping willows. The next farm was down a hill and hidden behind an array of banana trees. The coffee was carefully planted in rows with neat pineapple crops surrounding the area. The sun was setting as the cool wind bristled through the many different trees. This was a quiet area, producers more likely to live away from their farms, working in the mornings and relaxing in the evenings.

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  • The next morning, after a quick breakfast, we drove down the road into a busy junction where we entered ‘Given Photo,’ what looked like a copy/photography store with drying coffee in the front. Charles Munthe greeted us and brought us upstairs into his home where we sat and discussed his coffee business. He brewed us some coffee as I gazed at the many photos of him and his family. His wife runs a photo business downstairs and Charles acts as collector for producers in the area. He works with roughly 1,000 producers in Lintong, and has been working in coffee for over 20 years. Charles’ father was also a collector, and he inherited those producers when his father retired.

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  • A short drive down the road, passing petrol stations, herds of motor bikes, fruit stands, and plenty of homes and farms – we stop on the side of the road and hop out. We are greeted by a woman with a protective headscarf for working in the sun and her husband. Both smiling, they take us down to their 1 hectare farm to see the coffee thriving after five years of growth. Their names are Sinaga and Semguntak, and they sell their coffee to Charles. Years ago, the couple were growing rice yet decided to transition to coffee in order to increase their income. They were so kind, so happy to show me around their land and take photos. I learned so much about their farming methods, how they fend for themselves, with no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Their hard work clearly visible with the healthy coffee trees populating the area.

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  • The air was hot, the sun viscous, I could feel the heat, but loved being within a sea of coffee trees with these amazing producers. We bid them farewell, and headed to lunch with Charles, where we talked about my culture and his, sipping juice as they ate Nasi Goreng and tofu soup. I said goodbye to Charles, after he added me on social media and asked if he could attend my wedding. I giggled and said sure. It was a joyous morning, and I was happy with the conclusion of my visit to Lintong. The area was confusing, people have been growing coffee here for quite some time but will quickly transition to another crop if it is more profitable. Coffee production is decreasing, and it is difficult to understand why these producers receive little support for their hard work. But this is the norm, and they are content with the challenge.

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  • The drive back to Medan was lengthy but was interrupted in the middle with a view of Lake Tabo – the largest freshwater lake in Indonesia. It was once a massive volcano, its crater now filled with freshwater where the Batak people have settled around its rugged edges, building cafes and shops for the people driving past. The sun was setting as I gazed out at the lake, fresh air whispered through my hair, my stomach full of bananas, and excitement filled my face as we headed back to Medan. Wild monkeys ventured into the streets, waiting for snacks from passersby. There were so many of them – so courageous being close to fast cars. It was a wonderful experience to watch them and see the sun set, a cool rain then began to pour and a few hours later, we were back in Medan, the largest city in Sumatra.