After working in coffee for many years, Rahmah helped found Sumatra's Koperasi Ketiara in 2009 with just 38 members and currently serves as the co-op’s chairperson. In the years since it was established, the co-op membership has expanded to nearly 2,000 smallholder farmers, over 50% of them being women.
The coffee Equator purchases is exclusively from the women members of the co-op; they refer to this special selection as Queen Ketiara. We pay an additional premium for the "Queen" designation, with proceeds going to programs that benefit women.
We had the opportunity to interview Rahmah to learn a bit more about her incredible coffee journey and what makes Ketiara's coffee so distinct. The full video interview, along with Q&A highlights, can be found below (Rahmah's responses were graciously translated with assistance from her associate Hagung):
EQ: We'd love to hear from you, Rahmah, about how you got into coffee in the first place.
R: My father and mother were [coffee] farmers and were also local traders; not just my mom and father, but my grandfather and grandmother were also from coffee... So my entire life I've been very close with coffee. I have eight brothers and sisters and actually it's only me who is very interested in coffee.
Since I was a teenager, I was already helping my mom and father working with coffee, processing the cherries... bringing the green coffee to local traders... I think that step was the beginning of how I became involved with coffee.
EQ: And what's the origin story of Ketiara?
R: Why we started Ketiara... I come from being a local trader and I was maybe the only woman supplying a lot of coffee to exporters in Medan.
...So as a local trader I was buying cherries, processing it in the parchment, and then I'd deliver it to Medan. During that time I was actually questioning: it's impossible that the people of Medan will consume all of this coffee. That is why I was curious and asked my customers: "how are you going to use all of this coffee?"
Some of them told me: "Rahmah, this coffee is really for the export market. We are not selling here in Indonesia: we are selling abroad." Because of that I started to learn... so I discussed with my friends and we decided to develop a cooperative so we could learn more about how to export our coffee.
I encouraged myself to set-up a company... we started with a very small number of members, our friends only, and tried to access the export market.
EQ: Equator has been buying what we call Queen Ketiara since the beginning: both Fair Trade-certified, Organic-certified, and grown by women producers. What can you tell as about this coffee?
R: In short, Ketiara is a very pleasant profile and is produced only by our women from the best farms available in the Gayo Highlands, blended from 17 villages.
The altitude of the coffee is between 1,200 & 1,600 [meters] — according to our quality, the cup score of Ketiara is from 84+, but the highest here is about 87.
I think what makes Queen Ketiara special, number one, is the processing. Most of us are using wet-hulled processing. And also within our individual farms there are a mix of varieties. Sometimes within a single farm they have Gayo I, Gayo II, Bourbon...
From year to year, we were very patient with guiding our members on how to process the coffee, because processing is very key, especially during the harvest. Once you pick the cherry, you should pulp it immediately. For example, if you pick the cherry in the morning, in the late afternoon you must pulp it and then you need to ferment it and the next day you need to wash it. This is the key element on how to process the coffee... it took time for our members to finally be willing to adopt that kind of challenging process.
I think that the best way [to learn] is to bring your customers to visit us in Gayo, because they can observe and see directly and have interactions with our farmers. Start from the beginning with the farms and end with the final processing of Queen Ketiara!