Our Merbabu coffee is grown in several small villages, on the slopes of Mt Merbabu in Central Java. Tosoro is the first village that Bright Java begun working with directly, back in 2017. We stumbled on them as we were perfecting our method for finding new origins: randomly drive around on the mountains and start chatting with people. This doesn’t lead us to industrial scale producers who already do exporting. This is the beginning of an ongoing relationship with small producers that leads to community transformation and, incidentally, amazing microlots of unique specialty coffee.
This village, it turned out, had received Arabica seedlings from a government program 20 and 30 years before. The trees had been producing, but the government had never come back with further instructions. So the villagers had proceeded with their usual coffee handling methods, developed on the Robusta harvested more commonly here: clean-stripping the branches at harvest, using a basic method of wet hulling via tarps on the ground, and selling the parchment at the local markets for the rock-bottom price. Some of them even cut down the trees and switched to selling vegetables.
Upon meeting us, they were intrigued by the possibility of getting a better price for their coffee. They already had a farmer’s co-op for all their produce, and the leader of that co-op became the linchpin for gathering the community around a common effort to improve their coffee processing. In that first year, 13 growers were interested in working with us. We spent months teaching farmers how to create specialty Arabica, from the picking to the processing.
We paid higher than the local market rate the farmers would have received for commodity coffee. Talk about microlots! We logged Mr. Mahmudi’s 18 kilos along with Mrs. Ngatini’s 11 kilos so we could track the quality and moisture levels of each, and give them quality feedback individually. With such small quantities, we initially only sold their coffee roasted locally. As a sort of seed offering, we set aside all the profits of those first year’s sales to be used to invest in upgrading their setup in following years.
They had tasted their own coffee, but only dark-roasted and sugared in the traditional Robusta way. We had memorable times of roasting their coffee and bringing it back for them to drink as it should be enjoyed for the first time.
This year’s harvest
Fast forward to 2020 and this village is reaping the fruits of their labor as production accelerates.
Suddenly this year we heard about a village called “Lower Tosoro” which wanted to be part of the action. (We were in Upper Tosoro all the time? Who knew?) Now 50 farmers are part of the co-op – both men and women, about 85% of the homes in this village. They still each do their own picking and hand-processing, so it is no small feat of cooperation that they are able to create an origin with a consistent quality!
For the future, we’re encouraging them to nurture health of their trees. Technically coffee in Tosoro Village is 100% organic (although not certified) – the trees have been neglected and in fact, the farmers do not use any inputs on them. We are currently emphasizing to them steps like pruning, composting, and using natural methods of pest control to achieve optimal harvests.