Although Indonesia is one of the oldest coffee-producing countries, producers there are in the middle of developing its own specialty coffee industry within the country, which is different from the development of the specialty coffee industry in Africa and Latin America. The low elevation of the land and the traditional processing methods of Sumatran style are not exactly the best environment to produce clean cup coffee with fruity acidity that is the standard of specialty coffee. Having said that, Indonesian coffees have a certain remarkable charm. They are earthy, herbal, rich, and sweet. Personally, coffee from Sumatra was the first coffee I fell in love with and I have fond memories of it.
From the establishment of TYPICA, we always wanted to have a partnership with coffee producers in Indonesia, but there were very few specialty coffee producers to begin with, so our choices were very limited. At that time, we were particularly attracted to Java Frinsa Estate. We felt the warmth from them that you usually find from a family-owned business.
Java Frinsa Estate is an Indonesian coffee producer that has earned a very high reputation, especially in Europe. Fikri, the second-generation owner of the company, is just twenty-five years old and plays a central role in the big coffee company.
On the interview day, Fikri came into our Zoom meeting a little late while taking off his helmet at the same time. The day of the interview was during the peak season for processing coffees and it was the busiest time of the year. It seemed that he was going around the farms and mills on his motorcycle every day. I could feel his boyish vigor and strong energy as he asked me, “Can I eat something while I talk with you?” and threw some pieces of fried food into his mouth one after another.
I talked to Fikri about everything from how the company was started to his personal story.
How Java Frinsa Estate started
Fikri states, “My grandfather was a farmer growing potatoes and other crops. He sold them to supermarkets. My father started a coffee business in 2010 when I was a high school student. The name ‘Frinsa’ comes from the first letters of the name of my siblings: F for Fikri, R for Rifda, N for Nadia, and S for Salsa. The four coffee cherries and coffee leaves are the design of our logo. My parents wanted to nurture this business like they have nurtured their children. My brother took over the vegetable farm and continues to operate it still today. Sometimes our employees are involved in the vegetable production when the coffee production is not busy.”
I could feel from the name of the company, which Fikri’s father came up with, the heartwarming feeling that has been passed down from his grandfather and the importance he places on his family. This heartwarming feeling of caring for others is what led him to start the coffee business.
“The reason why we started the coffee business is because of environmental issues. We were growing vegetables on our land, but a neighboring farmer was growing vegetables in the forest. Compared to trees, vegetables have a weaker ability to establish their roots in the soil, so if they are planted on sloping lands such as mountain slopes, they are exposed to wind and rain and cause thin soil. We encouraged the farmers to grow coffee trees in forests to protect the environment. Planting coffee trees can prevent disasters such as floods and landslides. We also encouraged farmers to plant a single variety of coffee to ensure their income. The first thing we did was to provide coffee seeds to farmers for a fee in the area of Weninggalih. Many farmers belong to our collective and work with us on our farm in the mornings and work on their own farms in the afternoons. We call the coffee from these partner farms Frinsa Collective and coffee from our own farms Frinsa Estate. At the moment, we are producing 80% of our coffee from partner farms and 20% from our own farms.”
Comparing the time they were growing only vegetables to now growing coffee, the profit they earn is not much different, but the cash flow from growing vegetables was more stable because the harvesting season for coffee is limited. Nevertheless, they shifted to coffee production because they wanted to improve the sustainability of the land they live in.
Commitment to quality
In Indonesia, there are only a few producers who can produce specialty coffee at the same level as Fikri. According to Fikri, there are only one or two other competitors within the country. How do they produce the quality that is praised by top roasters overseas?
Fikri states, “The most important point is how to better create a farm. We grow coffees in the forest while leaving the surrounding plants and trees in their original state as much as possible. We use organic fertilizers and clean water to maintain the health of the coffee trees. We only use the minimum amount of pesticides when it is absolutely necessary.”
“The second point is the processing method. We use four main processing methods: washed process, wet-hulled process also known as Sumatra-style process, honey process, and natural process, and we are particular about the fermentation of each processing. For washed process and natural process, we add lactic acid bacteria (lactobacillus) during the fermentation process. For honey process, we have lots that have added lactobacillus but also lots fermented by adding ‘tempeh bacteria’ which is a bacteria from tempeh, a traditional Indonesian fermented soybean food, and ‘saccharic acid’ an ingredient found in a fermented tea such as kombucha. These are the new approaches.”
“The last point is varieties of coffee. Our farm produces only a single variety while our partner farms produce both single variety and mixed varieties. Most of the varieties we grow are indigenous to Indonesia and we grow seven varieties: P88, Borbor, Lini S, Andung Sari, TimTim, Ateng Super, and Sigarar Utang. We try to harvest only one variety per day to avoid the risk of mixing varieties.”
“Most of the specialty coffees we produce score above 85 points and we value the uniqueness of our coffee in Indonesia. We have been able to win several awards overseas because we were praised for its uniqueness.”
I was surprised to learn that the producers who have only been in business for not that long are producing coffees with such a high level of precision. I was particularly intrigued by the fermentation process using “tempeh bacteria” inspired by the indigenous fermented food tempeh and ‘saccharic acid’ that is found in kombucha. The hint of innovation is surrounding us more than we think. I was very excited to see the possibilities of coffee expanding through fermentation. These producers are also trying to preserve the uniqueness of their coffee by carefully nurturing Indonesia’s indigenous varieties. This is because they believe that they will be considered unique and valued in the overseas market. Each of these seven varieties reflects the climate and history of Indonesia. For example, P88 is a variety that was brought to Indonesia from Colombia by the Dutch during their colonial rule. Borbor variety is a cross between a Timorese hybrid and a Bourbon variety from neighboring East Timor. Each variety has its own story.
Fikri’s commitment and desire to manage such a high level of coffee production started from his childhood experience.
Dreams as a child
Fikri states, “When I was a child, I always saw my father working at the farm and thought he looked happy. Other families’ fathers wore suits and ties and left the house in the morning and didn’t come home until night. My father took us to the farm and seemed to be enjoying his work. My grandfather was also a farmer. I saw him working hard, owning a farm, and living a rich and happy life even after he got older. I naturally wanted to make farming as my career like my father and grandfather did.”
“Ever since I was in kindergarten when I was asked a question like, ‘What do you want to be in the future?’ I would answer, ‘A farmer.’ When I was in elementary school, my relatives and I wrote down our dreams for the next five, ten, and fifteen years on a piece of paper and buried it in a bottle in the ground. I remember I wrote down, ‘I want to enter and study at the high school I was aiming for at the time in five years, I want to enter Bogor Agricultural University in ten years, and become a farmer in fifteen years.’ Now that I think about it, I’ve graduated from Bogor Agricultural University and I am now a farmer, so all the dreams I wrote down have come true.”
He has respect for his grandfather and father, found his own dream, and worked to realize it. In such an idealistic path, we can see the purity and strength of Fikri.
“In 2011, I had my first cup of espresso made of specialty coffee at a cafe and found it fascinating. With my university degree in Agriculture and knowledge of it, I was intrigued by the variety of flavors that can be created by applying different techniques for coffee processing. When I learned about fermentation at university, it didn’t really strike me, but when I actually tried lactic fermentation at a coffee production site, I got good results and many people liked the taste. I realized that if I combined what I learned at university with my experience on site, I could produce great results.”
Fikri, who has been involved in coffee production since he was a child, took over the management of Java Frinsa Estate at a young age.
“I started working for the company part-time in 2013. During my summer vacation from university, I was able to study at a coffee farm during the coffee harvesting season, and after graduating from university, I immediately returned to my parents’ house and started working there. It’s been three and a half years since I started working at Java Frinsa Estate. My parents never asked me to take over the company, because they wanted me to choose my own path and take responsibility for it. In fact, my sister works as a doctor.”
He is fulfilling his childhood dream of “I will be a farmer in fifteen years’ time.” He attended a top-ranked university where he had countless options in front of him, but he followed his dream without any hesitation. His strength has led to the results that he achieved after he joined the company.
Fikri states, “It was Nordic Approach, a green coffee trading company in Norway that gave our business to shift to specialty coffee. We started trading with them in 2018 and we were able to expand our market to Europe and Australia. After that, we expanded to the US, the Middle East, and Asia. I joined the company right in the middle of that process. When I joined the company, I set a big goal. At that time, we were only exporting three to four containers per year, but I set a goal of increasing our exports by 50% every year. As a result, we reached the volume of eleven containers per year by 2020. I am feeling a sense of accomplishment.”
“Although there are many issues that need to be addressed, if I had to pick one, it would be the improvement of productivity. For example, we had a thirty to forty-hectare farm growing a variety called Sigarar Utang, which is very susceptible to insects like roundworm. When infected, trees die after a maximum of six years. The total area of the farm is seventy hectares, but only 20% of it is actually capable of producing perfect coffee. Some of the farms are currently leasing land from the local government, which has restrictions on clearing forests and requires profit sharing. There is a need to increase the number of farms that are owned independently.”
To improve productivity, farmers need to increase long-lasting business relationships and maximize their distribution volumes. We hope that the relationships TYPICA will create between Java Frinsa Estate and roasters will help them achieve these goals.
Java Frinsa Estate is gaining momentum thanks to the young energy and agronomic knowledge of Fikri who is leading the farm as the second-generation owner. At the root lies the coffee farm and production techniques that have been carefully nurtured since his father’s generation. Fikri’s father, who is the founder of the company, greeted me during our Zoom meeting exuding a relaxed and kind presence. Fikri said, “My father is a strict businessman, but he values ‘kaizen’ (meaning improvement in Japanese) and making things better little by little, rather than making it better by a sudden change.” The work that has been steadily nurtured by his father is being spread around the world by his son.
About the future
How does he envision the future of Java Frinsa Estate as it continues to grow? We asked, “Just as you did when you were a child, what are your dreams in five, ten, or fifteen years from now?”
“In five years, we want to improve the production efficiency of our farms, increase the number of farms we own, and produce thirty to forty containers’ amount of production per year. In ten years, we want to start other businesses related to coffee. In fifteen years, we want to have one thousand hectares of farmland, create an ecosystem for processing coffee, and build a place for our employees to live.”
It may sound like a grand plan, but when you hear him say it, it makes you feel like anything is possible. Watching him face agriculture and his family with an honest attitude made me feel the value in simplicity.
His passion for farming that was passed down from his grandfather, and his love for the land where he was born and raised that he got from his father, are Fikri’s heritage. More specialty coffees are grown, more the forests are protected, more jobs are created, and more the farmers are enriched, and the sustainability of specialty coffee continues to increase. Such a “loving and caring attitude for others” will be passed on to Fikri’s successors. It is up to each roaster and coffee drinkers beyond the roasters to create this dynamic.
Originally written in Japanese by Ayane Yamada