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The beginnings of Indonesian coffee.

The beginnings of Indonesian coffee

In 1522 Magellan completed the first successful circumnavigation of the globe. This great historic feat was also an advance notice to the countries of South East Asia of the coming colonialization by the European powers.

In 1619, Holland changed the name of Jakarta to Batavia, and established a spice and oriental trading station there. In the following years, it expanded its area of territorial rule on the island of Java and began to set up sugar, cotton, rubber and other plantations as well as carrying on a marine trade. Coffee cultivation began in 1699, and spread almost immediately over the entire western area of Java. Following that, it was introduced as far afield as Celebes Island, now known as Sulawesi Island, where Toraja coffee was developed.

The coastal town of Makkasal (present day Ujung Pandang) was an important port of transit to the spice islands of Morucca and Batan, but it is, nevertheless, amazing that coffee cultivation spread as far as the Toraja area in Celebes Island in a period when transportation networks and facilities were still very undeveloped. It is an eloquent witness to the suitability of the Toraja district for coffee growing.

This superb Toraja coffee was made famous around the world, by the Dutch, and Key Coffee used to import it to Japan in the pre-war years, where it was enjoyed by its many ardent connoisseurs.

The Demise of Toraja Coffee

The South East Asian countries began to move towards independence from Europe from the beginning of the nineteenth century. Nationalism grew, and resistance to the colonial authorities spread to each country.

Indonesia was no exception, but the path was long and arduous, and it was not until the beginning of the twentieth century, that the movement towards independence, led by Muslem confederates, gathered momentum. The struggle against Holland continued, however, beginning with the 1945 Declaration of Independence, through 1949.

The Pacific War began in 1941, and the whole of Indonesia was plunged into the maelstrom of the war. The cultivation of Toraja coffee was abondoned in the confusion, and the brand disappeared from the market.

A period of thirty years of silence and oblivion ensued, but in 1972, a Japanese traveler returned from Indonesia with a handful of coffee beans in his suitcase. These were delivered to Key Coffee's office in Tokyo. One staff member took a look at the beans, shouted `Toraja coffee is still being cultivated', and lost no time in flying over to the Toraja area on his own. That person was the present chairman of Key Coffee, Mr. Hisashi Ohki. Following that, under the leadership of Mr. Ohki, the revival of Toraja coffee became the dream of the Key Coffee staff, and one method of achieving the company's inaugural motto of `the pursuit of the highest in quality.'

A detailed survey of the local area was commenced, and two corporate goals were established. One was to buy up as much of the scarcely remaining Toraja coffee beans as possible, and teach the local people the proper techniques for cultivating coffee. To achieve this, a collection and buying depot and a sorting and processing factory were constructed, and a model coffee plantation set up in the area. The other, all-encompassing goal was to develop a large scale plantation to revive the cultivation of Toraja coffee. Pedamaran Mountain was selected as the most suitable site for this endeavor. The area is about forty minutes by car from the Toraja's commercial center of Rantepao, and an expansive coffee plantation covering 530 hectares right up to the summit was developed.

In 1978, Toraja coffee returned, at last, to the market, under the name of Toarco Toraja.

The job of developing a coffee plantation was given to Mr. Katashi Seino. Leaving his family behind, he journeyed to Mt. Pedamaran, where he built a small hut in the wild jungle, and began to lay his plans to clear the land for cultivation. He still clearly remembers his first night there, with the light of the moon shining through the chinks in the roof of his hut, and the night sky spangled with countless sparkling stars. Mr. Seino had been stationed in Sumatra before arriving in Toraja, but he discovered that the local people hardly understood any Indonesian. Using gestures and body language, he first turned his attention to building a road. The road was essential to bring in the machinery and equipment that would transform the jungles of Mt. Pedamaran into a coffee plantation. Starting from scratch, however, he found that he was forced to rely on human labor for most tasks, and the machinery he had purchased in Ujungpandang to clear the land did not prove to be very useful.

As each section was cleared, shade trees were planted, and coffee seedlings transplanted into the soil. At the same time, work was commenced on the next section, making terraces to clear and level the land for transplantation. After many years of hard, unrelenting work, the day came when the last section was planted. Looking down over the broad, 530 hectare acre spread of coffee plantation, Seino said to his fellow workers from Toraja, "Well, what do you think?" "It's great," they responded.

For the people of Toraja, who, in the beginning had only half believed what Mr. Seino said, this achievement was proof of the fruits of their own efforts. These people had experienced a long period of colonization, through no choice of their own, when it was rather rare, in fact, for them to be able to enjoy the fruits own labor. For Key Coffee, the development of the Toarco Toraja Coffee Plantation represented an opportunity to realize the ideal in coffee cultivation, but for the people of Toraja, it represented the opportunity to cultivate coffee for themselves.

PHOTO : Emptying the freshly picked coffee berries

PHOTO : Home for Toraja coffee.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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