Lampung coffee farmers dream of welfare and price independence

As coffee shops grow in trend, Lampung grows to embrace its coffee industry and local farmers.


Coffee culture: Young entrepreneurs in Lampung establish their coffee businesses and empower local farmers. (Unsplash/Nathan Dumlao) (Unsplash/Nathan Dumlao)

October 10, 2022

JAKARTA – As coffee shops grow in trend, Lampung grows to embrace its coffee industry and local farmers.

The coffee business is nothing new for Lampung, but the recent spike in coffee houses has enticed the younger generation to get involved.

As the entrepreneur behind El’s Coffee and Kopi Ketje (Cool Coffee), Elkana Arlen Riswan’s coffee story started before he was born. His grandfather was a modest coffee collector in the 1940s in a small district called Talang Padang, tucked inside the Tanggamus regency in West Lampung.

“I was born into the industry. My father expanded my grandfather’s work and established a coffee bean exporting business. We have our processing plant,” said Elkana, born in 1986, a year before his father started exporting coffees from Lampung.

After a decade in Melbourne, Australia, Elkana decided to return to his hometown to put his spin on the family’s business.

“People know that [Lampungnese] coffee is good, but the industry didn’t thrive as much. I want to change that. I want Lampung to have a good coffee industry so it can prosper from it,” he said.

With his sister, Tia Riswan, and her husband, Giuseppe Emanuele Mannino, Elkana established El’s Coffee for the first time in 2012 to target the premium market.

“Tia and Peppe [Mannino] are in charge of the menu, and I handle the marketing and strategy. It’s a family business.”

In 2017, Elkana launched a second line called Kopi Ketje that targets the broader market. However, El’s Coffee and Kopi Ketje are not the only coffee brands in Lampung that see apparent success amid the coffee boom. Faiza Rizkia, who runs the Instagram account @tukangngopisanasini with freelance photographer Dwicky Bangun Pranata, which specializes in reviewing coffee shops, testifies about the abundance of coffee shops in Lampung, especially Bandar Lampung.

“The rapid growth of coffee shops also improves the economy of Lampung coffee farmers. [It] can also bring more tourism to Lampung. Apart from its well-known beaches, the coffee in Lampung should also be known,” said the 22-year-old fresh graduate.

“Another plus point is that the presence of these coffee shops opens up job opportunities for Lampung residents.”

Coffee entrepreneur: Elkana wants the coffee industry to grow into a more sustainable business, instead of mere flash trend. (Courtesy of El’s Coffee Roastery) (Courtesy of El’s Coffee Roastery/Courtesy of El’s Coffee Roastery)

Spilling the beans

Eka Rumba, a coffee farmer and entrepreneur from Harapan Jaya village, Pesawaran, Lampung, started her coffee-tourism business, which entails taking tourists to the coffee field and hosting picking sessions, in 2015. Eka also produces her brand of coffee — a blend of coffee beans sourced from other local farmers, which would then be processed in various methods.

“There are full-wash processed, honey-processed, natural-processed and wine-processed. All according to the consumer’s request,” said Eka, who would sometimes purchase the ripe coffee cherries as well.

The process is even more straightforward for Elkana, whose family exports raw coffee beans, as he can source his beans directly from his family’s factory — the factory also sources the beans from local farmers.

“We collect these beans to export them, so they’re undoubtedly high quality. We have kopi luwak (civet coffee) as well – El’s sources them independently from local farmers who provide real kopi luwak,” said Elkana.

Elkana’s primary focus is to sell coffee beans instead of relying solely on the cafes.

On top of securing exporting contracts to neighboring countries for his roasted blends, Elkana also supplies many grocery stores on a national scale with his El’s Coffee beans and blends.

“We also receive requests from fellow coffee entrepreneurs to help them create blends and roast their beans — we act as their supplier. It changes the dynamic,” said Elkana.

Eka said that the landscape for the local industry is undoubtedly changing. Before the boom, Lampung has been one of the main bases for many giant companies.

“Many large companies, such as Nestle, have built factories in Lampung. Many large warehouses are also usually used to accommodate harvests from coffee farmers in Lampung”, especially Robusta.

These factories and warehouses would cooperate with farmers’ Kelompok Usaha Bersama (joint business group), farmers’ associations, cooperatives and all kinds of middlemen. Nowadays, however, the coffee industry opens its doors not only to the big names.

“The development has been very rapid. There are also many MSMEs in the ground-coffee processing business, from those with premium prices and quality to medium to low-end. Lower-priced ones are usually mixed with other ingredients such as rice, corn or soybeans,” said Eka.

Masters of their land

Lampung is indeed famous for its Arabica and Robusta coffee. According to Elkana, one of the main reasons for its popularity is that Lampung coffee has a “good body to act as a base for any blend”.

Despite this, these commodities have their prices controlled from afar — London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange regulates the prices for Robusta. In contrast, the Coffee C contract, which acts as the benchmark for Arabica’s fees, is controlled by ICE New York.

“It’s always been this way, and it’s nothing that any entrepreneur can do anything about. The government needs to tackle this somehow if we want to see an increase in welfare for the coffee farmers in Lampung,” said Elkana.

These days, according to Elkana, people’s attention span tends to be shorter. The coffee industry needs to keep innovating to survive whatever new trend arises.

“In Lampung, community involvement is important. I keep trying to connect the coffee business with the current trend. I did art-and-craft collaborations with local artists and recently held a local fashion show,” he said. “Their business has nothing to do with coffee, but with collaborations, the different communities meet and have the opportunity to experience both coffee and [those activities].”

He believes, however, that the success of these efforts and outreaches can be short-lived. “We can stir the communities, but the sustainability relies on government’s initiatives as well,” said Elkana, who believes that Lampung coffee should first and foremost go big at its own home.

“We should be proud of our commodities. Back in the heyday, people from Vietnam came to Lampung to learn about our cultivation, but now they surpass us. We need to be proud and brag so that when people hear the name Lampung, they will subconsciously think of coffee.”

Adding variety: Initially focusing on Arabica, Eka Rumba (left) has now included Robusta into the variations of products for her brand, Rumba Coffee. (Rumba Coffee/Courtesy of Eka Rumba) (Rumba Coffee/Courtesy of Eka Rumba)

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