Survey of Indonesian Flores coffee

Flores is one of the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia – East of Komodo (where the dragons come from) and approx. 750km north of Australia (where dragons do not come from) We thought it high time we surveyed this smaller, though no less important coffee growing region to see what’s happening on the supply side for the current (and future) crops.

The Flores island is divided in to several political districts from which the central Manggarai, Ngada and Ende districts are most significant for the production of coffee. Ngada district is predominantly producing Arabica, with some Robusta being grown in the outlying regions of the island. Ende suffers more than most in its infrastructural development, impeding the growth and development of its coffee production, but all districts on the island have much to learn with opportunity for improved infrastructure and knowledge.

The coffee harvest season on this island for Arabica typically runs from May to August and for Robusta between July and September. Given the Volcanic nature of many of Indonesia’s (approx.) 18,000 islands steep terrain has proven to be very ineffective for coffee growing, so production is limited to those areas that can support flatter terrain.

Farming agricultural practises are rudimentary at best, with little knowledge and experience. Coffee trees often look after themselves. Like many parts of the developing world, farms are organic by default, with little finance available to support agro-inputs. Some recent NGO assistance has helped some producers acknowledge the benefit and adopt the practice of pruning but there is still much to learn. As a result of the general lack of pruning, many trees are incredibly tall. As a general rule of thumb – the larger the tree, the less it produces (contrary to the belief of many producers) Pruning can be a tough lesson to learn, as it goes against convention: but cutting your tree = more coffee! As a result of this; trees grow pretty tall! and many coffees remain on the tree unpicked until they fall to the ground before collection – this results in many earthy and poor cupping coffees.

To improve the quality of coffees available, more attention is being placed on the post-harvest practices and the use of 3rd party operators to hull and grade coffees.

Local village collections are set up to collect coffee from producers before being transported to Ruteng in Manggarai. These companies also help to pre-finance the crop, offering loans to producers in return for delivery of their coffee.

Ngada district has been the recipient of governmental assistance, with the investment in pulping machines for 5 cooperatives operating in the area united under the umbrella name of “Arabica Flores Bajawa Cooperatives”. This initiative has vastly increased control of the quality of the coffee on offer, and could be a model scaled out to further regions and districts in future.

In Ende district the main production of coffee is Robusta. Here the post-harvest facilities are less developed; i.e. non-existent. Therefore producers need to travel long distances to get their natural processed coffee hulled. This district also suffers climatically with an abundance of cloud, making drying of cherry very difficult. This slow drying not only delays the time that producers can be paid from harvest, but also increase the potential risk for mould and other negative effects to form on the coffee. The opportunity for tasty homogenous lots seemingly appears a distant dream.

But, this could be set to change with the growing interest from some private companies for investment in the Flores crop with the installation of Wet Hulling and sorting machines on the island. This development suggest there is some domestic optimism for the region, but logistics still remain a headache. Coffee is typically transhipped through Java up to Medan for final export – a route that can take up to 2 months to complete.

In terms of overall output, let’s be Dutch about this – this year’s crop is nothing short of abject failure. Many producers and co-operatives are reporting between 90-95% reduction in volume YoY. Excessive rainfall is cited as the primary reason for this with constant precipitation throughout the growing season. This affected pollination and development of cherries, and those cherries that did manage to form were damaged and fell from the tree prior to maturity.

There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon though – weather has improved and development of next year’s crop is looking somewhat hopeful. Volumes by some producers are estimated to be between 50%-100% of 2016 figures, but still too early to tell what the quality expectations may be. We remain, as always, eternally optimistic!

If you would like any further info on our Flores offers, coffees in store and availability do not hesitate to get in touch. Volumes may prove a challenge this season, but we remain as always in a strong position to be able to offer this delicious small island coffee – expect to find typical Indonesian character here; sl earthy and herbal notes with a touch of pine in the cup. Dark chocolate and rich aromas, hazelnut and sweet molasses with zesty citrus fruit over tones.