THE GROWING AREA GAYO HIGHLAND
The Gayo Highland is situated at 900 – 2000 m a.s.l. and is one of the largest Arabica producing areas at this altitude in the world. The Gayo Highland borders the protected Leuser Ecosystem of 2.2 million ha, which includes the Leuser National Park. The National Park, which contains approximately 1 million ha, offers the last refuge for the four large endemic mammal species of Sumatra: rhino, elephant, tiger, and orangutan, all of which are threatened with extinction.
Coffee cultivation in Gayo was first introduced in 1908 during the Dutch colonial period. Coffee plantations in the Gayo Highlands have long played an important role in supporting the livelihood of local communities and this role has been going on across generations. The coffee plantations in Gayo are managed by individual smallholder farmers with an average land ownership of less than 2hectares. Due to its fertile, volcanic soil the character of Gayo coffee is very diverse, considering also the wide variety of coffees that are planted, ranging from Bourbon to Catimor. Not to mention the extraordinary post-harvest handling. All this makes Gayo Coffee a very unique coffee. These complex influences of the Gayo Highlands create a multitude of distinctive flavours , which make Gayo coffee one of the world’s most special coffees.
The coffee farmers from Wih Bersih, our first partners, joined us in 2012. Since that time, the number of farmers who supply us with coffee has increased from 40 to 75 in 2021. A total of 56.5 hectares are cultivated with Arabica coffee, mainly Tim-Tim and Ateng varieties. The leader of the farmers’ group is Mulyadi, he processes the coffee cherries on his plantation according to the typical local “giling basah” (wet hulling) standard. The first coffee farmers were certified organic according to the Indonesian Standard in April 2014. The idyllic village Wih Bersih is located in the Central Aceh district, about 30 minutes west of Takengon, at an altitude of 1200 – 1500 m a.s.l. in the middle of its coffee plantations on a terrace at the foot of a volcanic slope, which is covered by intact montane rainforest.
“Wih Bersih” means “clean water” and this is guaranteed thanks to the rainforest. The biodiversity in this plantation is high. Along with coffee, the farmers cultivate the legume Lamtoro, and plant a variety of other trees such as avocado, tangerine, nangka, durian, papaya, banana,and cinnamon, providing shade for the coffee trees.
Umang Isaq, which means “Uncle Isaak”, joined the project in 2012 as our second partner. The village is located in an enchanting landscape in the Central Aceh district, a little more than three hours’ drive from Takengon, the capital of the Gayo Highland. Umang Isaq was a secret retreat for the Aceh freedom fighters during the civil war. This status led to a conflict with the military and, as a result, to a forced displacement of the local village population. It was only after the end of the civil war in 2005 that coffee farmers gradually returned and took care of the neglected plantations. The coffee gardens are situated at an altitude of 1000 – 1300 m a.s.l. Here, the Arabica varieties Tim-Tim and Ateng are most commonly grown. We are currently (2021) working with 33 farmers who cultivate 38 hectares. The leader of the farming group is Karyadi.
The location of these plantations is special, because there are no other coffee plantations in the area.
The small village “Mekar Indah”, in English “Beautiful Blossom,” is an offshoot of the village Wih Bersih. Its coffee gardens are adjacent to those of “Wih Bersih” at an altitude of between 1200 and 1500 m a.s.l. in the Central Aceh district. Since 2015, the Orang Utan Coffee project has been working with 53 farmers (in 2021) who cultivate an area of 38 hectares with mainly Tim-Tim and Ateng varieties. Village culture and coffee cultivation in Mekar Indah hardly differ from those in Wih Bersih. The leader of the farmers’ group is Rusli.
The name „Panji Mulia“ means “noble flag.“ These coffee plantations are located in the Bener Meriah district at an altitude of 1300 to 1600 m a.s.l. The Orang Utan Coffee Project works with 70 coffee farmers who cultivate a total of 40 hectares of coffee plantations. The varieties grown here are Ateng, Jember, and Tim-Tim. This farmers’ group is led by Misniadi. A special feature of this group is, that it descends from Javanese immigrants who worked in Dutch tea plantations during the colonial period. This makes “Panji Mulia” the first farmers’ group that does not belong to the predominant local ethnic group of the Gayo.
The cultivation of coffee has become the most common profession in this village with the head of farmer Irwan Kadari. The plantations are located at an altitude of 1200 – 1400 m a.s.l. in the Bener Meriah district. In 2021, we work with 119 coffee farmers who cultivate a total of 95 hectares. The Arabica varieties Tim-Tim and Ateng predominate.
The village of Uning Bertih is located in a beautiful landscape at the foot of Mount Burni Kelong. Due to the special hillside location, coffee can be harvested for a particularly long time.
Pondok Gajah means in English „elephant barn“. This group joined the Orang Utan Coffee Project in 2019. Locals believe that long ago the village of Pondok Gajah was regularly visited by elephants. Located at 1400-1500 m a.s.l. in the district of Bener Meriah, the site is known as one of the best coffee growing areas in the Gayo Highland thanks to its altitude and fertile soil condition. Currently, 80 hectares are cultivated by 105 farmers under the direction of Misniadi. Apart from coffee as the main commodity, ginger is also planted in the area. Besides being an additional income for the farmers, ginger is a good organic alternative to reduce weeds between the coffee trees. Similar to other villages, the most coffee varieties found are Tim-Tim and Ateng.
Tawar Miko can be translated as „Peace“. This group joined the OUC project in 2020. The village is located at the foot of the Pantan Terong volcano where the soil is extremely rich and fertile for agriculture. This coffee impresses with its unique Gayo Highland character which is evident from the very first tasting. In 2021, 68 hectares are cultivated by 71 farmers in the Bener Meriah District at an altitude of 1200-1500 m a.s.l.. The fertile soil combined with the high standard of agricultural cultivation methods lead to a product of high quality.