Five Senses reopens processing mill in North Sumatra

Five Senses

Five Senses is reopening its processing mill in North Sumatra and reintroducing the region’s distinct coffee profile to the specialty market.

When Five Senses Founder and Owner Dean Gallagher first tasted North Sumatran coffee, he knew right away it was unlike anything he had ever experienced.

“Sumatran coffee has a unique flavour profile,” says Dean. “It is the result of a processing method only found in the region that, when done right, produces a highly sought-after coffee.”

Keen to share the unique North Sumatran coffee’s captivating taste with more people, Five Senses first purchased a processing mill in the country in 2013.

“We planted coffee trees in Bali with two farmers over several years. Once the project came to its natural conclusion, we noticed the coffee from that area was gaining attention,” Dean says.

“An opportunity presented itself when we met an Indonesian worker who had started a project setting up mills in North Sumatra. We felt we were well placed to provide the locals with an avenue to market – and the rest is history.”

Dean and the Five Senses team decided to establish their mill in the Tiga Raja region, but before it could start processing coffee it needed to be refurbished and new equipment installed.

The company gifted a 15 per cent share of the project to the local farming cooperative, and a further 15 per cent to the original local mill operator, which was then transferred to the cooperative.

“We didn’t want to just have a speaking relationship with the locals: we wanted to give them a tangible stake in the operation,” Dean says.

Once the refurbishment was complete, the local coffee farming community began to flourish, with its coffee reaching the Australian and American markets.

The success, however, was short-lived. A series of harvest failures combined with COVID-19 economic uncertainty forced the mill into hibernation.

“During this time, it became critical for these farmers to feed themselves, so many of them ended up ditching coffee and started investing in turnover crops like cabbages in order to stay afloat,” Dean says.

When Dean and the team visited the North Sumatran region in August 2023, the coffee scene was at its lowest point.

They could see the local community needed inspiration to start producing coffee again.

Revitalising North Sumatran coffee was not going to be accomplished overnight. Once the coffee is planted, farmers must wait three years before reaping the rewards, so it was up to Five Senses to assure the farmers it was an investment worth
waiting for.

“If they were going to start producing coffee again, we knew we had to reopen the mill,” says Dean. “They needed reassurance and trust that their coffee will eventually go to market and that it will be bought.”

As such, the Five Senses team travelled door-to-door throughout the region to convince the farmers.

“We’ve engaged some agronomy consultants to help the farmers elevate their yields, as well as our on-site mill operators answering any questions they might have,” says Dean.

After years of hibernation, Five Senses reopened its Tiga Raja mill in February 2024. Dean hopes this will inspire local producers to return to the industry and bring back North Sumatran coffee.

“It’s not about us. It’s about the region around the mill and giving the local community a consistent income, which will uplift the area,” he says.

Dean notes that coffee growers have already shown interest in re-investing in North Sumatran coffee.

“The farmers not growing coffee are already seeing the price of their neighbours’ coffee go up and up,” he says.

Dean hopes that, by revitalising the local coffee industry, the world can be reintroduced to the flavour of North Sumatran coffee.

“My long-term goal is for the reputation of this coffee to be among the hottest origins in specialty coffee,” he says. “We hope we can promote it to the point where we will have to compete for this coffee ourselves.”

The company’s work in North Sumatra is part of Five Senses’ larger principle of helping uplift the regions from which it sources its coffee.

“The context around coffee and its connection with origin countries has to be understood, and some roasters don’t know much about the areas they source from,” Dean says.

“We have an overarching desire to make a real impact with our producers, because this is how you develop nations.”

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This article appears in the April 2024 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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