April 3, 2015 Opportunity

A Journey to the Source of One of Starbucks Most Popular Single-Origin Coffees

To understand the challenge of describing Indonesia, consider its topography. The country is comprised of 17,000 islands. Volcanoes, more than 300 in total and some still active, dot the landscape. It is a nation of varied communities that speak more than 350 different languages with Ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples as well as Muslim mosques throughout the country. 

Thick bamboo groves abound, as well as rice paddies, homes on stilts, dense jungle and tigers. The scent of cloves and numerous spices fills the air. And the mystery of Indonesia is perhaps best represented by one of its oldest inhabitants – the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard.

This is the backdrop for the most recent Starbucks Origin Experience for partners (employees) in Sumatra – an island in western Indonesia that is the sixth largest in the world with a population that tops 50 million. Through the Origin Experience, partners gain an understanding and appreciation for the passion that goes into each cup of coffee Starbucks sells.

“Unique semi-washed processing isn’t the only thing that sets this origin apart, though that aspect is fascinating. It’s the people and culture that carry the romance of coffee,” said Kelly Goodejohn, Starbucks director of Ethical Sourcing. 

Sumatra is the third largest producer of coffee in the world (following Brazil and Vietnam) of both Arabica and Robusta coffee. Starbucks only sources the highest quality Arabica coffee. Even for it's production size, Goodejohn said coffee farming in Sumatra is reliant on smallholder farms that often grow coffee trees among other crops such as eggplant or cabbage. The effort is worth the end result. Coffee from Indonesia provides the earthy flavors that anchor many of Starbucks blends, and are compelling enough to be sold as single-origin coffees. Sumatra is the source of one of the most popular Starbucks single-origin coffee. 

“Sumatra’s flavor profile cannot be replicated anywhere in the world. The answer to what makes this core coffee so special is simple – the people,” said Dan Jensen, a partner who is sharing a photo essay from coffee cherry to cup.

It all starts with the tree. At the Farmer Training Center in Seribudolok, over 5,000 coffee farmers learn about C.A.F.E. Practices and how to maintain a sustainable farm. These seedlings will turn into baby trees that are given to farmers for free.

Sumatra is unique with two harvesting periods. Farmers pick only the ripest red coffee cherries by hand in the village of Parik Sabungan. Partners picked coffee cherries during the Origin Experience and learned that this is difficult but important job.

Immediately after picking, the semi-washed process begins. Cherries are put into water and the floating cherries are removed as defective. Only the remaining cherries are good enough to move forward. 

The wet cherries then go through a pulper to remove the bean from the cherry. The pulper is cranked by hand and the produced coffee beans are laid out to start drying.

The coffee beans are then delivered to the supplier in Siborong-Borong, where the farmer gets paid. The beans smell earthy, yet still wet to the touch.

The coffee beans are laid to dry on parchment where they are raked to evenly dry. Coffee processed here has produced two former Starbucks Black Apron exclusives – Tapanuli and Sumatra Siborong-Borong. Black Apron exlusives have evolved to what is currently Starbucks Reserve®.

Unique to Sumatra – after going through the dry mill, the green coffee beans are hand-picked to remove any remaining defects. The remaining coffee is bagged and shipped to Starbucks roasting plants.

The true magic is in the cup. The triple-picked coffee is cupped for quality and to look for unique and new flavors.

For more information on this story, contact the Starbucks Newsroom