A Night in North Sumatra

Posted by Matthew Patrick McLauchlan on

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What was conceived nearly two years ago on the steps of 22 Martin Road here in Singapore, came a full circle at Common Man Coffee Roasters’ (CMCR) inaugural Curated Cupping event on the 17th of June this year.

It was at the grand opening of the CMCR café back in 2013 that the idea for the organic Tiga Raja coffee mill in Simalungun, North Sumatra was first germinated. At the risk of sounding hopelessly sentimental, it was fitting that while standing outside that same café on 17th June this year, a group of us noticed the first bloom of delicate white flowers from the coffee plants that stand watch over the steps to the café’s entrance. These delicate white flowers seemed a fitting accompaniment to an evening which spoke of promise and fulfilment in the coffee world in Sumatra.

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To provide some context, Tiga Raja is the product of a partnership between Leo and Lisa Purba, Five Senses Coffee, CMCR and the local parchment supplier, CUM Talenta. Focusing on developing the local farming groups and rewarding quality practices and production, Leo and Lisa have pioneered transparency and traceability in the region through the Tiga Raja mill. They have acted as a conduit for farmer members to share in the profits of export sales, whilst giving roasters an opportunity to seek out quality all the way back to the farm.

By dealing directly with both the local parchment supply network and carefully selected mill operators with vast local knowledge who are attuned to the expectations of both specialty roasters and coffee consumers, the mill both refines the supply chain and reduces the number of middle men who usually take a cut from the parchment price instead of it going to the farmers. Coffee supplied to Tiga Raja by the parchment network attracts an above-market rate for those farmers who are willing to produce a better quality product known as Gabah Super or ‘super parchment’. This is a local term which was developed to separate the parchment supply network into different green bean categories and indicates a higher standard of farmer production quality.

Both the parchment supply network and mill are actively involved in educating farmers about how to achieve this parchment quality by offering incentives to increase quality, based on sustainability and traceability. This mission and the challenges faced in accomplishing it, was the subject of the presentation on the night in question. At the conclusion, we cupped some of the incredible coffees being processed at the mill.

The participants at the event came from as far away as Kuala Lumpur and were treated to the best that North Sumatra has to offer, including a brilliant natural process coffee called Lima Putri or ‘Five Daughters’, which was named after the five daughters of the family who work at the farm where this coffee was produced. It was in reference to this particular coffee and the family who produced it, that the evening reached its emotional peak. Lisa movingly explained that through the sales of Lima Putri, the family is now able to send all five of their girls to school instead of keeping them home to work, thus changing their lives dramatically and potentially well into the future.

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Throughout the evening, those in attendance were treated to some great insights into the trials and triumphs faced when developing a coffee mill in the wilds of North Sumatra. Many stories were shared and, most importantly, some fantastic coffee was on display from a region that we are only just beginning to see blossom.

We now look forward to our next Curated Cupping event at the end of July.

CMCR Five Senses Tiga Raja

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