Aceh (pronounced AH-CHEY) is the northernmost province of Sumatra. Its highland territory, surrounding Lake Laut Tawar and the local city of Takengon, is considered to be the epicenter of one of the world’s most unique coffee terroirs due to its isolated heirloom set of typica and catimor-based cultivars, it’s uniquely fertile microclimates, land husbandry, and tradition of wet-hulled processing. Our coffee comes from an umbrella group called PT Ketiara that is within this area and was founded in 2009 by Ms. Rahmah, who began in coffee as a local cherry collector more than 20 years ago, and who by now is one of Indonesia’s most respected coffee entrepreneurs.
Uniquely, Ms. Rahmah, as a woman coming up in the male-dominated, largely conservative Muslim industry of Sumatra coffee, learned to be assertive in negotiations, tend endlessly to the happiness of the farmers she represents, and to make her business a collective representation of the true gender diversity and talent of her community. The original cooperative was Fair Trade certified in 2011 and has grown from 38 original farmer members to almost 2000, and into multiple different sub-companies to service different qualities, processing styles, and certifications. Ms. Rahmah and her leadership team are in constant communication with their members.
The price of coffee in Sumatra, while somewhat protected due to the limited supply of its terroir, is still extremely volatile between farmers and collectors, and the Ketiara group is as transparent with their farmers as they are with their buyers when it comes to navigating local cherry markets, exporter competition, and quality expectations. Ratu Ketiara Gayo (RKG) is the Ketiara group’s newest business unit: a women’s cooperative established in 2017 and co-lead by three of Ms. Rahmah’s young protégés: Ms. Indayana as chairwoman; Ms. Dini as quality control; and Ms. Murul Kemala as treasurer. RKG represents a younger generation of farmers, 971 in total, 80% of whom are women, and all of whom are focused on top quality. Together RKG members farm a total of 1,234 hectares of coffee. Regional coffee distinctions in the northern provinces of Sumatra are interestingly all based on human ethnicity, rather than geography itself. “Gayo” is Ketiara’s declaration, used to proudly signify a pure micro-region and society of coffee from the center of Aceh, handmade by the Gayo people. Ketiara undoubtedly captures their community’s best qualities through careful logistics. The cooperative centrally controls transport, final drying, and sorting for all members’ coffee. It also conducts all export business from their headquarters in the mountains, avoiding any further consolidation or exposure of their shipments to Sumatra’s humid, balmy coastal climate, where many exporters tend to hold the green coffee for sale.