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Small Sumatra Farmer Discusses Coffee’s Trek To Long Island, N.Y.

A Long Island, New York, coffee company has begun a “Roaster’s Choice” selection, introducing its first direct trade boutique coffees. Water Mill-based Hampton Coffee Company, Long Island’s largest coffee roaster, is offering  Sumatra Lintong Sriwijaya Reserve, a coffee from a small family farm, for the month of April, according to a Long Island News report.

In a public posting on the company’s Facebook page, the coffee provider, Ric Sriwijaya, provides a fascinating glimpse into the processes of a small family-run coffee farming operation in getting quality beans to New York:

Our Sumatra Lintong comes from specifically a district of Humbang Hasundutan versus the generic Sumatra Mandheling which is a blend from the whole island. So, this coffee has a more consistent taste profile than most generic Sumatras out there. Our extended families have been farming the coffees for many years.

This unique coffee comes from the Northern Sumatra micro region, on the southwest side of Toba Lake (a popular tourist destination in Sumatra) and is about eight hours of driving from Medan, the capital of the province. The Humbang Hasundutan area’s altitude ranges from 800 up to 1,800 meters (2,600 up to 5,900 ft) above sea level; Arabica coffee trees are maintained on the higher parts of the region, from 1,500 up to 1,750 meters or 5,000 up to 5,750 ft above sea level. I believe we are the highest growing in Sumatra.

The local collective people who live in the area is known as “Batak” people. Batak people were animists and articles account them as cannibals before Western Missionary introduced Christianity in the 1800’s to 1900’s. The Batak people’s diet consists of steamed rice or steamed cassava; unwashed cassava leaves crushed and marinated and cooked with local spices; freshwater fish (which in local language called “ikan mas arsik”) in yellow spices (a lot of turmeric, orange leaves, chili); and a lot of pork with it’s blood cooked together called “sang-sang”…..yummy….lovely food.

The coffee growing process in this area is a traditional one as part of the traditional Batak tribe’s society of a strong culture to maintain the heritage. Coffee trees, along with cocoa, chili, and orange live well in the area, as well as livestock whose droppings are used as fertilizer for the trees. In addition to the droppings, coffee parchment skin is also used as another natural fertilizer. Chemical fertilizer is unknown to the farmers here! This is fairly much the typical, or sort of unwritten standard, which can be seen in almost every families’ backyards within the region along with a manual pulley ground water well as the water source.
Although these farmers, including us, are not yet organically certified, the process we go through and substances we use are all natural.

Given the fact that most of coffee exporters are based in Medan, eight hours away from here, most of the beans end up there, to other exporters, and to some extent get blended with beans from other parts of Sumatra and even Java to be labeled “Sumatra Mandheling” which people in the coffee world are more familiar with. The actual Mandheling term is indeed an old term given by the Dutch East India Company to identify the whole area of North Sumatra (about the size of Guatemala). Thus, referring to Mandheling coffee is similar to calling a coffee a Guatemalan coffee without knowing where it is specifically from and to some extent a blend with other Central Americans. In terms of taste character and consistency, there is surely a difference between our specific Lintong and a generic Mandheling.

In term of process, we practice the wet hulling process with underwater fermentation, unlike fermentation in other Sumatras. In general, this process is also known as “giling basah” in the local language. This process in general will give more body and often more of the “character” that makes the coffee so appealing and unique. In this process, the parchment coffee (the green seed with the parchment shell still attached) is marginally dried, then stripped of the outer layer, revealing a white-colored and swollen green bean. Then the drying is completed on the patio and after several days the seed turns to a dark green color. And then it is off to you at Hampton Coffee Company to roast to perfection!”

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