[S2:E1] Interview with Wiliam Edison

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Wiliam Edison owns multiple cafes, a coffee lab, and he designs and sells his own roasting machines. In this episode, I ask Wiliam about direct trade during the pandemic, how he got started designing roasters, the impact of the pandemic on Indonesian coffee, and more.


This audio was recorded at 20ml Coffee and Roastery in Denpassar, Bali, Indonesia and was later transcribed from the recording.

Wiliam Edison
Recorded 2 January, 2021
Transcribed: 9 August, 2021

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[Beginning of recorded material]

Michael: Wiliam, thank you for meeting with me, I appreciate it.

Wiliam: Yeah, thank you too, Michael. We can put, take [masks] off.

Michael: So it’s been a long time. I’ve heard an awful lot about you.

Wiliam: Okay, thank you.

Michael: Everywhere I go, everybody tells me that I need to meet with Wiliam Edison. I met Kris Ginting?

Wiliam: Yeah, Kris Ginting.

Michael: Yeah, I met him in Medan, and he told me there that I should meet with you. So I thought we’d sit down and we’d talk. You have a lot of things going on. You have a cafe, you have a coffee lab, you design and sell roasting machines. So why don’t you tell me everything that you’re doing in the coffee industry. There’s so much.

Wiliam: Okay…basically I start from when I was move, I was born in Sumatra. And yeah, I was move here in 2004, and then I have work in in Kopi Bali; the biggest coffee roastery, coffee factory in Bali—about three to four years there. That is the first time that I know the whole industry of the coffee.

So after that, I go to the Toraja, and then, yeah, there is a lot of good coffee there. Basically I worked with the Taiwanese company. They are doing the pine wood, what do we call the [unknown] But still I have in touch with a farmer, and we do some coffee there.

And yeah, maybe in 2010 I start to do my business in the coffee industry. So when I want to start the business in that time, the big problem that I have to solve is I can not get good roaster—good quality of roaster—with a very good price. At that time, only, yeah, we have only, we have a lot of imported roasting machine. And the locally made? Yeah, there is two big brands here. But I still have two things that I need more affordable price with the smaller capacity. So I start to make the roasting machine.

Michael: So you designed your own.

Wiliam: Yeah, I make a small batch…basically I start with a 600 grams, but after that I make it 1kg, one kilo.

Michael: And do you have any experience with designing machines like this? Or did you just learn?

Wiliam: Basically; no. I have my cousin, my partner in Jakarta. We are doing, yeah, DIY, or we get the source from the YouTube. And we try it. And the first time we roast the, not the coffee, but we roast with the peanut. That is the first time. But after we roast with the peanuts, yeah, the smell of the peanuts still inside the machine, for about six months.

Michael: Oh wow!

Wiliam: So, that is our experience.

Michael: Did you use the peanuts because they were cheaper to get or just easier to get?

Wiliam: Yes, of course [cheaper]. At that time, when I was in Jakarta, there is, we can not easily find the green beans, the coffee beans. All the coffee beans, if we want to buy, we have to buy a big batch. So there is a problem in here because all you know in here, at that time, the industry, the coffee industry is about the commercial grade and then the whole industry is doing the exporting coffee. So, if we want to get the good quality of coffee, you have to go to the farmer. Yeah, that is the only way.

Michael: And that’s easier here [to go directly to the farmer], but it’s still difficult for you right? Especially early days?

Wiliam: Yes. Yes.

Michael: What is that like now? Is it?

Wiliam: Aww, it’s totally changed. We can easily find the coffee now, with the very good quality now. When we want to buy a kilo; yes, we can get it. Everywhere.

Michael: That’s great.

Wiliam: Yeah.

Michael: Is that better for the farmers? Obviously?

Wiliam: Yeah, of course. A lot of industry, the coffee industry, they are, we are doing a lot of, what do you call it, direct trade with the farmer. So we co-operate with the farmer to do a, not a [unknown] to do the fermentation, to do the processing, post-harvest processing there.

Michael: So you work with the farmers. You tell them, kind of what you’re looking for, profile-wise…

Wiliam: Yes.

Michael: …and help them with the production and the milling…

Wiliam: Yep.

Michael: …that’s pretty cool.

Wiliam: Yep. That is what we call this. So, yeah. Since 2010 I make a roasting machine and it sold about, yeah, it’s sold about more than 3,000 units in Indonesian industry. In the Indonesian country.

Michael: Wow. That’s very cool

Wiliam: So you can, maybe you can find my roasting machine in farmer, that’s helped a lot of farmer.

Michael: Yeah.

Wiliam: That is what I feel. The farmer is very happy with a very good price of roasting machine. They can sell roasted beans. The economy has changed for them.

Michael: Yeah! And that gets them more profit. If they can actually sell roasted coffee.

Wiliam: Yeah. But still they have to spread out; what kind of quality they want to sell as roasted one. Because there is a segmented, in here lah, what we call the passar [market].

Michael: Segmented market.

Wiliam: Yeah, very segmented market here.

Michael: So you have like, you could sell the powder to the warungs [local grocery shops], to local guys…

Wiliam: Yeah. Maybe they can only drink, is the price they can pay is about 3,000IDR a cups, maybe 4,000IDR a cups [about 30¢]. So he can not give them with very good quality coffee.

Michael: Right.

Wiliam: But still there is a market.

Michael: Yeah. So you, in addition to the machines, I want to come back to the machines, but you also have 20ml, which is this place…

Wiliam: Yeah. The, my main business is roasting machine. So I’m the manufacturer. I have a coffee lab in Jakarta. So the place I make it for my machine showrooms, and then I have a roasting class there.

I have a coffee shop, cafe in Bali too. The name is One Bean Coffee, that is located in Seminyak. And then this one; 20ml Coffee Roastery. So yeah. But it’s still in the coffee industry. But in a different way, different market.

Michael: Yeah. That’s one of the cool things that is possible here in Indonesia is the ability to operate in so many different parts of the market.

Wiliam: Yeah.

Michael: You get the opportunity to work directly with the farmers. You’re selling the machines. You’re training the roasters. You have the cafe. And you sell beans [retail]. Do you sell roasted coffee wholesale to other…

Wiliam: Yes. In here. In here [20ml] we have, sell the wholesale. And we have, we already have a, 2 agents, one in Taiwan, one in Korea. So we export the roasted bean too.

Michael: Wow.

Wiliam: Yeah.

Michael: Wow. That’s great. So you’re doing an awful lot for Indonesian coffee market.

Wiliam: Of course. Since we are here, and we found Indonesia have very good quality of coffee. So we only explore the Indonesian-based coffee.

Michael: Awesome.

Wiliam: Yeah.

Michael: Yeah, Tanemera does that as well. All of their retail sales I believe are local Indonesian coffee.

Wiliam: Yep. Yeah.

Michael: It’s one of the things I really like about it…is you get that focus. I think it’s important to develop a local consuming market for the coffee. So that Indonesians can enjoy the best of the coffee they produce.

Wiliam: Yep. Yeah. Basically. Yeah. Definitely. That’s what happened in Indonesia now: everybody’s talking about coffee, about the specialty, about the taste. But yeah, as you know, the coffee price in specialty market in Indonesian is now quite hike. There is a, the domino effect of the price. Because when the price is too hike, there is, it will be a lot of chance to import the coffee bean from outside.

Michael: Yeah.

Wiliam: So yeah. So…

Michael: And you have to be careful. You have to balance the…

Wiliam: Yeah, you have to be careful with the price.

Michael: …because you don’t want to necessarily have to compete with, like Brazil, or Colombia, where they have strong backing from their governments, from NGOs. A lot of Central and South America, the coffee industries are very organized and very well-supported. And unfortunately, Indonesia has some work to do there.

Do you think that that would happen? Do you think…

Wiliam: I think yeah. We are going to that way. But it still has a lot of work in here [Indonesia]. Basically, the first thing is from the government. So yeah. We have to see what can the government do with the coffee industry.

Michael: Yeah, the governor of Bali said that with Corona virus, one of the things he would like to do is expand the creative market and the agriculture market.

Michael: And when he said that, when I heard about that, I got excited. Because I thought; coffee! You know, there are a lot of places in Bali that can grow coffee, that are can grow good coffee. Kintamani, Plaga,

Wiliam: Yeah, Kintamani, Plaga, that is, what, I go to the conference in two months ago. They want to make a national, what do we call, a national road map for the coffee, for the tourism industry. So in Bali, one of the pilot projects is in Bali. So that, there’s, we are happy to support that. Because when the government is going there, all the stakeholder will be, follow.

Yeah, just like ask that we do in here, we have a ‘roasting experience.’ But when people come, yeah, they are not only want to do the roasting, they want more. They need the, they want to see the plant. They want to know how is the process done in here, there is a fermentation. So we need to cooperate with the farmer.

Michael: Yeah. So you need a local coffee farmer who has, like, eco-tourism capabilities.

Wiliam: Yeah. This, we can do a cooperation with so many partners in coffee industry.

Michael: That’s so cool to be able to do—to be able to have customers, just the average public, who wants to go and see the coffee farm, who want’s to roast coffee.

You were telling me earlier, before, that you allow the public to come in and roast on these machines.

Wiliam: Yeah. Yes. That is what we do now in here. So the customer who comes here, they can have an experience to roasting itself, with our mini-roaster.

Michael: That’s so cool. That is very cool.

Wiliam: So we can chose the coffee bean from Indonesia, the best coffee beans, and then they can directly roast and…here it takes about 10 - 15 minutes only. So in a very short time, they can doing the roasting. They can get the roasted beans home. And then can brew it…

Michael: Yeah, so they can roast their own coffee. Take it home and brew it…see how well they did. See if they’re the next roaster champion of Indonesia! That would be cool.

Wiliam: Yes.

Michael: And these machines are very fun! I’ve used these at 5758 in Bandung. And they’re very cool, very well-done machines. I’m very impressed with these. And you have the limited edition series of these, right? This is in partnership with Suji

Wiliam: Yeah, yeah, for the mini-roaster we are in partnership with the Suji. There is the big manufacturer for the glassware. And they have a metalworks. So we partner with the Suji for making the small roaster. And for this year, maybe we are doing a, we will launch a 1kg, one kilos coffee roaster.

Michael: Nice.

Wiliam: Yeah.

Michael: And is it going to be like this, where it’s… This is, is it butane, or is it LPG? Or both?

Wiliam: Yeah, both. We can use the butane and then we can, we just get it off, we can make an LPG.

Michael: You have to change the jets?

Wiliam: No. You just put it off.

Michael: Ah, okay. Awesome. These things are great. So the 1kg, is it going to be a table-top unit like this as well?

Wiliam: No. 1kg is a little bit bigger.

Michael: Yeah, yeah, it would have to be much bigger.

Wiliam: Yeah, much bigger.

Michael. That’s awesome. And you said your largest roaster is a 12kg. That you…

Wiliam: Yeah, I have a, for my own range, I have 1kg…1, 3, 6, and 12kg. So the first one is 1kg.

Michael: And which one do you sell the most of?

Wiliam: Of-course the 1kg. The 1kg, because to start the coffee company, I mean the roastery, you need a roaster. But not need a very big, huge roaster. Yeah, 1kg is good enough for you to start the coffee roastery. Until maybe, let’s say you can sell about 200, 300 kilo a months, yeah you can upgrade with a 3 or with a 6kg.

Michael: Yeah. I started on a 1kg for my business in the U.S. And I just found that because it, the capacity of it. It was a Diedrich. And it was a 1kg, but I the best performance when I used 300 in it. So not 300kg, 300 grams.

Wiliam: How come?

Michael: Because it was faster…it was more responsive, because the Diedrich is an indirect flame, so you use IR heat…

Wiliam: Hot air…

Michael: …a lot of hot air. And so it would respond slower than with…these are direct heat, direct flame. This is like a Ferrari. And the Diedrich is like a boat, and you kind of drift around when you turn.

So what I found was with the 1kg, I was roasting an awful long…I was roasting many, many smaller batches to then take to, we were selling at a farmer’s market. So I would roast all day Saturday, and then on Sunday go to the farmer’s market with a bunch of coffee to sell. So I would have been better off starting with the 2kg, ‘cause Diedrich has a 2kg. And the price-difference between the two roasters isn’t very large. Because the materials, the difference in the materials when you manufacture the roasting machines isn’t that much different between 1 or 2 [kg]

Wiliam: Of course.

Michael: You would know that better than I would.

So what kind of impact are you seeing for your businesses with Corona virus?

Wiliam: Okay, the whole industry. The first is the, with my main business; roasting machine. Luckily, it’s not fairly big impact. I have impact in the, May, June, there is lockdown in here, in Indonesia, in Jakarta. So there’s a lot of impact. But after that it’s recovered very fast. And now, yeah, we can about, yeah, 80% of last year. So it’s recovered.

Michael: Yeah, that’s pretty good.

Wiliam: Yeah, it’s very good. Maybe, yeah, maybe we can say a lot of people they are want to start the roastery business now. Yeah. So. yeah for myself, for my main industry is yeah, still okay. But for the different part of, just like cafe, since you know in Bali, is total no outside guests come here. So the cafe, yeah, basically have no…the impact is very big. Yeah, and then in here, it is also because we are a roastery and cafe—we still do a, export. But yeah, in the small batch.

Michael: Right. And you don’t…

Wiliam: …different, yeah, different market, yeah, the impact is different.

Michael: …and you don’t have a lot of customers coming in to dine in, or to have, enjoy coffee…

Wiliam: …yeah, we can not make a lot.

Michael: Yeah, that’s tough. And what are you seeing, like in Indonesia, with the coffee farmers? So since you’re selling the machines and you’re selling your wholesale, the coffee farmers see, are doing about as well? Like about 80%?

Wiliam: Yeah. The farmer, do yo mean in this situation?

Michael: Yeah, so, like are the farmers seeing an impact as well, as far as how much volume of coffee they sell? So if you’re, if you’re selling about 80% of your normal capacity, then I would imagine that farmers are seeing at least that much as well?

Wiliam: Yeah. The farmer…maybe we can spread it out…the farmer who do the specialty coffee and who just only do the commercial grade or the commercial coffee. So the specialty coffee still can survive, because a lot of cafe, a lot of new-comers of specialty roastery, they are coming. So they can survive in this situation. But still the price is, yeah, a little bit lower than last year. But still can survive.

But for the, what we call the commercial grade or the commodity grade of farmer; yeah. They…I can say they have a lot of impact. Because, last time I hear the Indonesian coffee price, for the commercial, for the commodity grade is decrease about 50%.

Michael: Wow.

Wiliam: Yeah.

Michael: Wow. That’s got to hurt…especially when they’re not, the coffee farmers don’t make a lot of profit to begin with.

Wiliam. Yes, of course. Especially in here, the farmer own the land, only about one hundred meter square, so they can not do a lot of batch.

Michael: So they have to get creative or shift to a different market. Are you seeing that a lot? Where they change crops? They do something completely different?

Wiliam: Yeah, yeah. There is a lot of farmer doing that.

Michael: And do you see a lot of cafes closing? Have you seen a lot of specialty coffee cafe shops closing?

Wiliam: Yeah, in here, in Bali, as you know, the Bali itself is about 80% is from the tourism. So it’s totally, have a very big impact. And in the coffee shop or so. But yeah, in two, to three months, in this two, to three months in local, I mean in Denpassar, in the local market, coffee shop is already, maybe we can say 80% they’re open.

Michael: Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of people from Java here. A lot of license plates with “B,” and “L,” and “F” on them.

Wiliam: Yeah. They still can drive here so…

Michael: Yeah, they take the ferry over, from east Java, and can get here in a few hours. Yeah, and with the holidays, there were also a lot of Indonesian tourists here…

Wiliam: Yeah, domestic tourists still can come here.

Michael: Yeah, and that’s, that’s good. I mean, I…you know Bali had a huge tourism industry before Corona. And it was dominated by probably Australia and China, you think?

Wiliam: Yeah. Australia, China, Japan…

Michael: Yeah, so it’s, it’s, I guess it’s good that the local tourists, Indonesian tourists now kind of have the space to come over and enjoy a lot of what Bali has… But I’m sure that a lot of the locals would love to see tourism open back up completely, for Bali.

Wiliam: of course.

Michael: Yeah. So what else do you want to talk about?

Wiliam: Yeah, in 20ml we are planning to have a course, a campus. We can, we are already open for roasting class here. And next is barista class, something about the coffee classes.

Michael: Yeah, and you showed me the space earlier where you’re hoping to work out of here, out of 20ml. It’s a nice, big space. It looks you’ll be able to do large classes, which will be good. Bali would be a great destination place for people to come and do a class.

Wiliam: Yeah, that is what we see. Beside we can make a class here, basically there is for international community that maybe they want to visit the plantation, they want to do with the farmer itself. Yeah, this is a very big opportunity in here. So yeah, but you, as you see, we are open the 20ml in this year.

Unfortunately, we opened in February. And then since March, we are totally impact.

Michael: Yeah, bad timing, but, but what could you do, right? You have to open.

Wiliam: Yeah, but we are still very confident with what we are doing. And yeah, it can work in maybe next, in this year, end of this year maybe we recover. This is what we can do.

Michael: Yeah. I think it’s really good that you have the roasting business that can support everything else. Like we were talking earlier; you told me that you were able to keep a lot of your employees through this. And keep people working.

Wiliam: Yeah, that’s the reason why we still open this place. Because we have no, basically we have not big income. Yeah, but we have to open. Because there is employee that working with us. We can not let them just go like that.

Michael: Yeah, I think that’s great that you are able to do that. And I think that’s important to be able to do. One of the things my, my wife and I talk about frequently is the situation with Coronavirus has brought out the best and the worst in a lot of people. And when you have a good employer, who takes care of their employees, this is the time that you see them really shining. I think that’s good.

And I was looking, your classes are really good, you, your roasting classes are kind of like a ‘seed-to-cup.’ So you do a day and you talk about the farming, the whole process…do you want to tell me more about that?

Wiliam: Yes, for roasting class that we do is we have practical, we have theory, we have practical, and what we do is from the green bean, the sorting, defect sorting, we can do roasting sample with the this machine. After that we have a roasting profiling with the different profile. And the blending. And then we have machine, espresso machine to do a cup of espresso. So the output is one cup of espresso. Yeah, so from beans to cup, there is cover in our class…in three days class.

Michael: That’s really good. And then you also do separate barista training as well?

Wiliam: Yeah, we will start in this January, in here, for the barista class.

Michael: Do you already do that in Jakarta?

Wiliam: Jakarta? Not yet. The lab is for roasting classes. But maybe in the next year, yeah, we will start to open the class, in a different class, just like in 5758.

Michael: And when you sell the roasting machines, you also sell the roasting classes. Or they come with classes, right?

Wiliam: Yeah, they can bundle it, with a class or they want to take a class after they have practice some months, they can get a class too.

Michael: I think that’s really cool. One of the things that was so useful to me in the States was that I went to the Roaster’s Guild Retreat and I got to meet Diedrich, who designed the machines. And I was a little bit star-struck, he was a bit of a celebrity to me. But it was very valuable to be able to talk to him and hear his philosophy on why he designed the machine the way he did, and to, you know, hear his tips on how best to roast the coffee from the machine.

And so I think that that is… If somebody were to buy your roaster, I think that that would be a very valuable thing for them to do is to take the class from you, and to hear your philosophy on the machine, and how to roast.

Wiliam: Yeah, they can…yeah, I explain too, why the the machine that I built, what’s the system, instead the direct flame, or what. So there’s the value of our class.

Michael: Yeah. That’s very cool. So what…Are these machines solid drum? Or perforated?

Wiliam: Yeah. The small one is solid drum and my 1kg coffee roaster is perforated.

Michael: And all direct-flame.

Wiliam: Yeah, they’re all the same; direct flame.

Michael: That’s very cool. And what are the materials that you use?

Wiliam: Stainless steel. Stainless for the, in the drum.

Michael: And is the drum manufactured, or is it something else that you’ve used…was it built for something else and you used it for the drum, the machine?

Wiliam: Oh no, we built it for the machine.

Michael: That’s very cool. ‘Cause, the reason I asked, is I have a friend in Padang, Arthur, he owns Lalito coffee and he had a, he designed and had built his own machine. It’s a big machine. But for the drum, they used a cast-iron pipe, a section of of pipe and cut it and used that as the drum.

So very cool. Well, thank you very much for sitting down and talking to me. I appreciate it.

Wiliam: Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate for your time and basically we have, yeah, this situation will go fast. And if everybody can make work normally…yeah, we hope to see more tourism come to Bali.

Michael: Yeah. No kidding! That would be great.

Wiliam: Yes.

Michael: Alright. Well, do a Corona Fist-bump!

[End of recorded material]