Permata Gayo was founded in 2006 in the Bener Meriah district of the Aceh Province, with the intention of guaranteeing more traceability along this long journey from Aceh to the port of Belawan. In bringing the full process from farmer to final export under one roof, Permata Gayo is able to regain more control over each step of the way to improve quality, communications and direct sales, and to achieve their ultimate objective – sharing a bigger portion of the final price back to the farmers themselves. The co-op currently has more than 2000 members.
Sumatran coffee has the reputation for being unlike any other coffee with a big body, distinctive fruity notes, and a unique earthiness. The coffee in the Gayo Mountains grows like no coffee we have ever seen. It is insanely abundant with dense green coffee bushes covering almost every hillside. The conditions here are pretty much perfect for growing arabica coffee. The topsoil is volcanic, rich, and deep. The rainfall has been– until very recently– like clockwork coming at the right times. The climate is tropical and mild. And because of its position on the equator harvests come twice a year with red cherries and new flowers often existing on the same plant at the same time.
The “semi-wet” processing of Sumatran coffee is what can give it its rich, big bodied, fruity flavor or what can send it over the edge to an over-fermented, sour, hot mess. At Permata Gayo there is a three part drying process instead of the normal one/two part process practiced by farmers elsewhere using the “wet process”. The beans are depulped at the farm with the cherry skin being stripped away by a mechanical depulper. The beans are then taken to the village collector who ferments them in a waterless tank for anywhere from overnight to a couple of days. After this the collector washes the beans to flush off most of the remaining fruit. The lack of uniformity in the fermentation process here in a key control point adds to the unpredictable nature of Sumatran coffee. The time in the fermentation tanks can add the unique fruity notes or turn the coffee sour and undrinkable. Each village collector seemed to have slightly different ideas about what the optimal process is at this point
When the coffee reaches a moisture content of around 40% it is washed briefly in a container with holes for the water to escape. It is then gathered and de-hulled removing any left over mucilage as well as the “shell” and then spread again until it reaches about an 18% moisture content. At this point it is bagged and taken to the warehouse for final drying, grading, sorting, and blending.
At the warehouse the coffee is spread again on a massive patio and dried to around 13% moisture content. At this point is is ready to start the final processes. Local women hand-sort the coffee siting on the concrete floor of the warehouse in a group as they pick through the coffee taking out beans that are discolored, broken, insect-damaged, lacking density, etc. They make around $5-$6 per day– which is at or above the local minimum wage– and are not members of Permata Gayo Co-op. They fought for and received a raise last year and were pretty pleased about that. They take the good beans and place them in a big pile which is then re-bagged and made ready for export. The beans are then blended according to recommendations from the quality control and cupping folks of Permata. The beans are tracked according to what truck they came in on and each truck is grouped according to the village where the coffee was grown. This allows Permata Gayo to understand the characteristics of the coffee better and to make decisions according to what buyers are seeking.