At 2,000 meters above sea level, the moun- tains are high enough to trap the clouds, which nestle in the hills around Laut Tawar Lake in Central Aceh just before dawn. As the sun rises over the hills, the temperature climbs from a chilly 18 degrees and the cloud dissipates, revealing a wide vista of lush green coffee plants spread out over thousands of hectares up the hillsides surround- ing the lake.
This area is home to Gayo coffee, among the most sought-after coffees in the world. To be sure, other Indonesian coffees are more widely known, such Sulawesi Toraja, Sumatra Mandheling and even the notorious Kopi Luwak. Yet Gayo’s star is rising, especially amongst those who are looking for organic and fair-trade coffee. Also on pure taste, some say Gayo, which is 100% Arabica ranks among the world’s best, compared favorably to other high- growth coffees such as Blue Mountain from Jamaica. It is found here in this part of Aceh and nowhere else.
The name Gayo is taken from the names for the indigenous tribe that inhabits the Central Aceh, Bener Meriah, and Gayo Lues regencies, where this coffee is mostly grown. Starting with the Dutch colonialists, who pio- neered coffee growing in this part of the country in 1908, the Gayo people have continued the tradition, earning a living mostly as coffee farmers and traders more than 65,000 people earn their living this way. Today, the Gayo highlands are the largest producer of Arabica coffee beans in Asia with a total area of 94,800 hectares.
Apart from its taste, the organic method of growing Gayo also makes this commodity a target for world coffee exporters, resulting in a high price due to demand for organic coffee. Almost 80% of coffee growers in Central Aceh have organic plantations. Currently, Gayo coffee sells for $7.50 to $8 per kilogram for green beans. (Text by Ulisari Eslita)