Coffee production in Bajawa

| October 22, 2010
I’m in the domestic terminal at Denpasar, Bali awaiting my flight to Surabaya, Java. A haze of clove cigarette and incense smoke has filled the room, blurring my vision. I’ve just arrived on a propeller plane, Merpati (Pigeon) Airlines, from Flores, an island in the Indonesian archipelago which has seen rapid progress in the realm of quality Arabica production.  

Coffee growing on the side of the road in Bajaw.

First introduced by explorers from South Sulawesi in the 18th century, and then further propagated by the Portuguese in the 1920’s, the species has thrived in its ideal setting: rich volcanic soil, hectare upon hectare of highlands exceeding 1200 meters, and lush shade cover, but until recently this coffee has remained unknown to the rest of the world due to a lack of processing prowess and infrastructure. Fortunately, the last five or so years has seen a renaissance of coffee in Flores, with research prompting the development of facilities to improve the quality and thereby the demand. Consequently, farmers have seen a steady rise in the price they are paid for their cherries with the additional income resulting in better roads, schooling, and health care. This progress has been seen primarily in the Bajawa region, thanks to the enthusiastic support of the local government.

Turning the parchment to ensure even drying

Within Bajawa there are 14 co-ops that provide farmers with processing equipment including pulpers, fermentation tanks, and raised beds for drying. These facilities are strict in their acceptance of ripe cherries and are dedicated to organic farming practices. Compost is made at each co-op from a fine mix of coffee pulp, dried manure, leaf litter, and other vegetable waste. Average farm size is 0.5 to 1 hectare, and a number of other crops including citrus, banana, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and cassava share the soil.

Coffee growing among clothes lines and other crops
There are currently two main processing techniques used in Bajawa: fully washed, a la Central America, which results in a clean, heavy bodied cocoa spiced coffee with a hint of citrus acidity, and the other is the more traditional wet-hulled coffee, similar to Sumatra, a style which produces an even heavier bodied cup, often with pungent earth and fruit qualities. In addition, some research is being done with the pulped natural method, and the preliminary results have been quite promising. If the project is a success, it will mean that far less water will be needed to process the coffee, saving a very important resource for other uses. 

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