Project Status: Complete
Coffee’s inherent quality is “baked in” at origin through several factors, including environmental conditions, genetic make-up of the coffee trees, agronomy practices, farm operational management and finally, cherry processing post-harvest. Not all domains can be affected or managed. For example, nothing can be done by the farmer to affect environmental conditions. However,for those domains that can be affected, any quality improvement has the potential to be directly transmitted to the quality of the coffee’s flavor profile.
This project is geared toward quality improvement at origin, specifically Subak Abian Ulian Murni, a Subak Abian (a co-op of coffee farmers) in Kintamani, Bali. There are several sub-projects, all geared towards impacting quality where possible, with the ultimate goal of improving the flavor profile of all quality tiers produced by the Subak.
Each sub-project has its own page:
Read on for some background on the overall project:
In Bali, farmers organize into co-ops locally called Subak Abian. Subak Abian pool resources to help each other throughout the operational farm management process. Shared resources can include knowledge, labor, crop inputs, and processing.
Bali is majority Hindu and the Hindu farmers follow a philosophy called Tri Hita Karana or the three causes of well-being, which are; harmony with your fellow man, harmony with God, and harmony with nature. Because of their belief in harmony with nature, coffee produced under the philosophy of Tri Hita Karana is free of agrochemicals and thus “organic,” though not always certified as such (organic certification can be costly to small farmers).
Kintamani obtained a Geographical Indicator (GI) in 2008. A GI is an international trade mark that indicates a product, in this case coffee, has indeed been produced by a specific region and by a specific process designed to maintain a baseline level of quality. Other examples of coffee with well-established GIs include Kona Coffee and Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. Both coffees can only be produced in their respective regions and both adhere to specific quality standards, which help protect the reputation of the product.
Specific characteristics of coffee produced in Kintamani include: “(1) a medium to high acidity, (2)good to very good aroma quality and intensity, (3) a fruity taste (often lemony), (4) a medium body, anot too high bitterness, (5) a very light astringency and (6) a clean cup, free from defects.”
Coffee is produced mainly in developing and/or third-world nations and very often by subsistence farmers. In many cases these farmers are unaware of what consuming nations consider ‘quality’ and are equally unaware of the potential value in quality coffee.
It is also my belief that coffee quality has a positive social impact on those who produce it. There may not be a direct, measurable correlation between quality and premiums but there is certainly a correlation between forsaking quality and value-punishment at the market*.
My hope for this project is that by improving the quality of the coffee, a virtuous cycle will be triggered: increased premiums from quality will enable farmers to improve and expand quality programs, which will in turn improve their way of life, encouraging them to continue to improve and expand quality programs.
Specialty-grade coffee, for the vast majority of coffee producers, amounts to around 10% of their entire yield. Specialty coffee is expensive to produce for a number of reasons, such as the higher cost of quality breed of trees, the higher cost to maintain a higher level of soil nutrition, often the added cost in labor to harvest cherries by hand in multiple passes, as well as the cost of marketing, etc. Specialty coffee is manufactured, not grown. But that does not mean quality can not be a priority.
The positive results of this project will improve the quality of all coffees processed by the new mill. Even if an improvement in quality does not result in a direct, correlated increase in premiums, it should at least improve the coffee’s marketability. And quickly getting money into the hands of producers after harvest will help improve their livelihoods.
Lapse In Processing Procedures
At some point in the past, many of the Subaks in Kintamani changed the way they processed harvested cherries — they started skipping steps that directly improve the quality of the coffee. Coffee trees of lower quality but higher yield were harvested alongside trees of higher quality and lower yield and the cherries were mixed, thus normalizing (lowering) the overall quality of the entire harvest. Harvested cherries were no longer sorted at the mill — red cherries, yellow cherries, overripe cherries, whatever was picked was processed together. Pulped cherries were not floated and sorted before fermentation. All of these failures greatly reduced the quality and the consistency of the final product. Each year the coffee had a different flavor profile but always with an underlying unclean cup lacking desirable sweetness and uniformity. As a result, the coffee is difficult to sell at a respectable price. Roasters interested in quality and year-after-year product consistency know they can’t rely on coffee from Kintamani to be of consistently high quality. There is one thing in the coffee industry you can count on; if you forsake quality, the coffee’s value will be punished by the market*.
It is the goal of this project to improve the quality of the coffee produced by Ulian. This will be achieved by improving the farming practices, harvesting procedures, the post-harvest processing procedures, and finally the marketing process. Success will be determined by objective sensory evaluation of the coffee (cupping) and by the price of the coffee at market. An improvement in both the cupping scores and selling price of the coffee will indicate success.
- Coffee: Terroirs and Qualities, Christophe Montagnon, Scientific Editor