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Sidikalang, Sumatra Coffee Tour Part 1

I love coffee,  not just drinking it, but everything about it from hunting for the best coffee shop, trying different brewing methods, different varieties,  and learning about the coffee’s journey from farm to cup. On my second trip to Sumatra I wanted to dig deep into what makes this world-famous coffee so special.  I was at Lake Toba for a few days previously and found some good coffee, even had a tour of robusta coffee farms at the top of Samosir island but I knew there was more to the story. I asked around and combed the internet but came up with  little to no information, even though Lake Toba is surrounded by three renowned coffee growing regions:  Mandheling, Lintong, and Sidikalang.

Sidikalang is  close to Samosir Island where I was staying so I narrowed down my search to this area. I still couldn’t find anything about coffee tours but I thought if I could at least find a place to stay there and just go, maybe I could make my own tour. I was perusing AirBnB listings and came across Aroma of Coffee farm at Sidikalang that offered accommodation, farm tours, cupping(coffee tasting), the whole nine yards. It was a coffee miracle! I was an AirBnB virgin as this point but after some back and forth with Samuel who operates this homestay, I arranged the booking for me and my two Finn friends Maria and Jani.  They were also long stayers at Lake Toba and agreed a Sumatra coffee tour was an interesting idea. Samuel wasn’t going to be there on the first day for the coffee farm tour but assured us his friend could take us around. I booked the AirBnB for a couple of nights and we were in.

To get to Sidikalang we decided to take the longer, scenic and somewhat luxurious option of hiring our own car and driver to take us from Parapat on the shore of Lake Toba to Sidikalang. Besides being more comfortable, the main reason we chose this option was for the chance to stop along the way to take a peep at the spectacular Sipisopiso waterfall, as well as getting a good look from above of our beloved Lake Toba.    I think you’ll agree it was worth the extra.
 
 
North end of Lake Toba
Sipisopiso Waterfall

 

We arrived at Sidikalang and proceeded to the town center and Poda cafe, which Samuel owns and operates.   There we had our first cup of premium Sidikalang coffee; earthy, rich and silky smooth.   We met with Samuel’s friend Iswan and his team members, Ridwan and Oktora.   They were part of a government agency promoting Sidikalang coffee and tourism.  There were plenty of photos taken that evening and throughout our tour there and some video too. We even ended up in the local newspaper.
Big news in Sidikalang
The next day, we got up early and of course made some coffee at the home-stay which, not surprisingly, is equipped with an awesome coffee making station.  Iswan and crew arrived and we were off!  The first tour stop at a local high school was a bit of a surprise for us,  just to say hello and give the kids a chance to meet westerners, which are a rare sight in this town.  The three of us were a wee bit nervous about this but we needn’t have been.  The students and staff were super friendly and welcoming. There were three students who were like school ambassadors, taking us around their lovely school and constantly chatting with us throughout our tour . This is by far the greenest school I have ever seen with a huge amount of flowers, fruits and vegetables planted all around the property and which the students tend to themselves.  The original plan was for us to spend 15 minutes or so at the school but we ended up staying an hour extra as we really enjoyed our time saying hi to students and learning a bit about their life there and vice versa.  As we were leaving,  one of our student ambassadors, Nova, asked shyly but convincingly if they could also come along on the farm tour with us.  I made sure it was okay with  Iswan and  the principal  and the three of them were happily allowed to join us.

We ventured out of town a few kilometers until we reached the Seenaga coffee farm. This is the exact farm where the wonderful coffee we drank the evening before was from and I was anxious to see how they grew it so well. The couple who ran the farm were super nice and you could see they were making the most of their one hectare farm. Two things I noticed were how rich the volcanic soil looked and how cool it was among their coffee trees because they had loads of taller, shade trees planted.  They had various fruits and vegetables planted among the rows including a whole lot of chili peppers.   It was amazing how the coffee cherries were weighing down the branches, it looks like a bountiful harvest coming. We tried some of the coffee cherries, they were sweet and surprisingly tasty. I love the Seenaga farm.
The Seenaga family

 

 
 
pregnant papaya tree
Loaded with coffee cherries

 

 
 
 
Avocados


Next up we went to another farm close by that was also part of the coffee co-operative Samuel helped set up. The technique and terrain was a little different on this farm with not as many shade trees, though it still looked like a great crop coming.  The farmer gifted us some tasty avocados.


 

:
Poda Cafe


We headed back to Sidikalang and dropped off our student ambassadors back at school, all of us really happy they had come along.  Then it was off to lunch at Samuel’s Poda cafe. Besides the great coffee, the food is excellent too.


 

 

For the afternoon tour, we headed to a large pineapple farm.  It was about 2 or 3 hectares of pineapple, with some towering durian trees mixed in.  We ordered a cut up pineapple which is served with a mix of salt and chili, a tangy twist for us Westerners.  We also found it interesting that is a popular place for local young people to come on dates.

 
Romance in the air


 

Aha, the perfect pineapple!

 

For our final stop, we went to another school, this time a village kindergarten.   The kids were really cute, even singing us a few songs.  We were given a sample of the local durian fruit which most people either love or hate.   I do enjoy it from time to time, my friends Maria and Jani maybe not so much this first time?

Impromptu school concert

 

Bravely tasting durian for the 1st time  

 

It was a super day all around.  Watch for part 2 about our next day in the coffee laboratory with Samuel, a great tasting and learning experience.

For the full photo album. click here.


Sleeping:   Stayed at the Aroma of Coffee home-stay as listed on AirBnB.   If you haven’t already, for goodness sake, sign up on AirBnB for unique experiences like this. You can use my link and we will both get some savings. Anyway back to Aroma, it is a big house that has 4 bedrooms all with ensuite.  It is a few kms outside of Sidakalang in the midst of coffee, fruit and vegetable farms.  Samuel and friends took care of getting us around.

Info on Poda Coffee:  Visit the Poda website-   www.sidikalangpodacoffee.com

                       
Eating/Coffee:   We had our meals at Poda Coffee and Resto, Samuels café in Sidikalang center.  Really good food and coffee at reasonable prices.

 

Getting there:  From Parapat on Lake Toba  we booked a private car for 650,000 rupiah.  This included a stop at the gorgeous Si Piso Piso waterfall.  Our driver Plemon was not so happy to hear about this added stop but he soon got over it and gave us a good journey.  Another option from Lake Toba is to make your way via local buses which is very cheap but also cramped and no chance to stop at the waterfall. 

8 Responses

  1. Wow.. what an enriching trip! I do not drink coffee but I would not miss out the chance of touring the wonderful plantation. Great post!

  2. Thanks Mei. It really was an epic tour, you should go! It felt even more rewarding because I had to really dig to find it. I hope this blog can help anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps.

  3. Nice read Brad. I always enjoy reading about your travels at it is usually about a place I didn't know existed. Glad the airbnb worked out, We've used it successfully a couple of times.

  4. Brad, thanks for keeping me posted of your interesting travels. This one is most interesting in that the area is being promoted for tourism. Were there many tourists? AirBB certainly has gained a foothold in the world. San Francisco has a big battle going over AirBB taking rentals off the market for permanent renters. Folks make more money renting by the day. Ken C

  5. Thanks Ken. No, we didn't see any other Western tourists at Sidikalang. Yeah AirBnB is certainly creating waves. Besides this trip, they really made my recent sojourn in Europe more do-able. I couldn't imagine myself paying $200 for a teeny, tiny hotel room just to stay in Paris.

  6. Lovely read indeed.

    Might want to follow in your footsteps in 2 weeks. I'm on AirBnb anyway, but i might contact him through his coffee website that you mention (it's still active).

    His coffee ranch sounds nice, still i like to be "in town" in the evening, esp. as a single traveler.

  7. Oh excellent, I am sure you will enjoy the coffee and Sidikalang. Yes, probably better to stay in town if you are on your own. I am sure Samuel could give advice on this.

    Thanks for the feedback…….happy travels!

  8. Brad, thanks again, I already met Samuel and he took me along on some upcountry visits. I also saw the house where you stayed. Samuel is a great guy, his wife is friendly too and their resto is just a very lucky thing in that backwater.

    Thanks again and I'm happy if you delete this comment later. Best wishes from coffee country ~

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Brad the Nomad

Your guide to the good life

I love to live a healthy lifestyle, learn new things and travel extensively without spending a fortune.

Happy Travels,
Brad

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