The Situation in Sumatra

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One of the most important aspects of my job is planning ahead so that Red Rock Roasters has enough green coffee of the quality we need so that we can deliver a steady stream of single origins and blends to our restaurant, hotel, cafe, and grocery store clients, as well as, of course, our devoted home consumers.

When there is unpredictability in the coffee supply chain, it is my job to have purchased or contracted enough coffee in advance to weather the storm. Climate change has been making my job harder for several years now, first due to Central America's leaf rust epidemic, and now because there's been an abnormal amount of rain in Indonesia. This is why ours is the only carbon-neutral roastery in New Mexico. Our business is entirely dependent on an agricultural product from the world's most climate-change vulnerable regions.

Flooding in North Sumatra, November 2017. Credit: Antara/Irsan Mulyadi

Coffee production in Aceh (where both our conventional and Organic/Fair Trade Sumatras come from) is down 50% from the anticipated volume due to weeks and weeks of rain without sunlight in November and December. Some provinces are reporting up to a 71% drop in volume. Too much rain affects both the coffee plant and the drying process.

When there's a shortage of coffee, there's increased competition among roasters for what's left of a good crop. I heard this week that a certain large national roaster was coming up 100 containers of coffee short--that's almost 4 million pounds. The half a container of Sumatra we use in a year could get snapped up in the blink of an eye.

In this scenario, had I not contracted Sumatra in advance, we would simply not be able to buy any that is not defective or past crop from our existing sources. If I wanted to go looking for new producers, any remaining clean current crop Sumatra is now quite a bit more expensive.

Lucky for Sumatra lovers, we've been sourcing coffee for a couple of decades, planned as best we could, and are covered until the fly crop. We'll see what happens then.

In any case, we're cupping East Timor and Bali to see if we can ensure a backup for an Indonesian profile, so stay tuned to hear about Bali availability.

It's also, in times like these, incredibly important to continue to support the coffee communities experiencing catastrophic losses. Read more about what we do here.

- RL