Joe Van Gogh began working with Ric at least five years ago, purchasing the washed coffees of Dolok Sanggul in Lintong, Sumatra. It was some of the cleanest Sumatran coffee we had tried. The care he puts into processing results in a coffee that highlights notes of stone fruit, juicy body, and a clean aftertaste.
Every time I’ve met Ric at our roastworks, I’m greeted with an enthusiastic smile. He’s eager to learn, and always seeking to innovate. It’s inspiring to partner with those who are willing to experiment and are passionate about coffee.
Recently, he set aside a portion of his coffee harvest to experiment with both natural and honey processing. I was completely intrigued to hear he was attempting to use different processing methods! Not only is it a challenge in Sumatra due to the rainy and wet climate, but it’s just not the common way of doing things in Sumatra where many traditionally wet-hull their coffees (Wet-hulling is another processing method seen throughout Indonesia, more on that below)
Natural and honey processing requires more labor-intensive care, and attention to detail as they both have longer drying times than washed coffees, and require constant raking and rotating of the coffee for even drying.
After sampling Ric’s natural and honey processed coffees, our roasters knew they wanted to get their hands on it. These natural and honey lots are exclusive for this crop season. For JVG to have a portion, as little as it may be, is really a unique opportunity to taste a cup of coffee that is a rare find. How great is it that we have the same coffee, processed three different ways? And all from Sumatra? Each coffee offers a different experience, and may surprise you.
– Stephanie Kelley | Brand Manager
Below is a short summary of my email exchanges with Ric. I hope you enjoy reading of his approach to coffee, and his story.
What made you want to try these different processing methods in the first place?
We are crazy people who love to learn and been learning from you guys, our customers, about how the Africans and Central Americans process their beans. So, realizing there are other good ways to process this supreme Sumatra beans, why not try it? Many people around Dolok area look at me with a confused face. When will he stop playing around? Seriously, many people still resist with the way I process coffee and I’ve spent great amount of energy explaining to each of them the Why….
What people know here is wet-hull, wet-hull and wet-hull and that is the best process for Sumatran coffee. They are correct. When we have the cross/hybrid of Robusta – Arabica family, i.e. catimor, timtim, ateng or in Lake Toba known as sigararutang / kartika – kopyol in Bali / in Gayo – Aceh – Lake Tawar known as Ateng Djaluk and the newest genetically engineered – the high yield of Ateng Super, wet-hull is the best way. And more than 90% Sumatra is this Robusta hybrid varietal.
However, whenever we can exclude this Robusta hybrid (impossible to be 100% clean of these hybrids) from our parchment, why not aim for a better processing and better quality for you, the small lots specialty roasters?
*Wet-hulling is another processing technique that is common in Sumatra, where the bean inside the parchment is not fully dried to optimal moisture content before parchment is removed.*
How long does each process take?
This is actually the very first and prime reason why Sumatrans do wet-hull, because collectors and exporters want to sell their dried beans quickly and get their money quickly. If later on, a wet-hull damps / reduces the bad / taint flavor of the robusta hybrid, adds more body and gives a beautiful dark green bluish color, they are all blessings in disguise.
On average rainy season during Sumatra harvest: It takes 4 weeks for the natural to sun dry, 2.5 weeks for the honey natural, 2 weeks for the fully-washed dry-hulled and 1 week for the wet-hulled. This harvesting season, it is much drier than in the past years, so we can reduce all of them drying time by 1/3.
What challenges did you encounter?
Most farmers sell in parchment, not in ripe cherry. To change them to sell us in ripe cherry is like pushing a car uphill. Resistance of change from everybody. In this part of the world, the younger guy needs to listen to the elder ones. I’m in my late 30s, but compared to many older ones, I’m still relatively young. So, there is a great resistance from the older / more experienced / more senior guys.
What do you want people to remember most about you and your coffee?
In general, despite making mistake once twice here and there, the Sumatras, Javas we have been supplying to you is very selected and controlled in the processing. We are blessed to have the grass-root access here in these islands. I have two arms, two legs, and trying to follow and always randomly inspect the beans along the journey until we release for you. There will always be variations in this superior Sumatra cup as we are dealing with agriculture products and change in climate (amount of rain-fall change predominantly affects the coffee taste), but within what we can control, we always care to.
*some answers edited for length*