Coffee (Indonesian-kopi): the dark side vs. the good side

We reached the beautiful island of Bali, which, besides its natural beauty, it is also a good region for coffee and its beans are said to be sweet, with nut and citrus notes. We accommodate ourselves in Ubud, which is a city full of culture, but also the home of good restaurants, streets with plenty of shops where you can find goods coming from the region’s artisans. This city is also very good positioned when it comes to coffee shops and I will make a post about the best ones that you definitely don’t have to miss while you’re there.

Because Ubud is located close to Batur volcano mountain in Kintamani region and because we drank Kintamani origin coffee in one of the coffee shops, we decided to take a ride to the rural and mountain area surrounding the city and try our luck in finding a coffee farm that will let us make a visit and show us what they have. We didn’t want to make a tour with a guide like all the tourists are doing, but instead we wanted to see something as authentic as possible. With these in our mind, we jumped on our scooter and off we went direction north – mount Batur.

Not far from Ubud, maybe after half an hour driving by scooter, we saw a sign indicating a coffee farm that can be visited. We stopped and in few seconds we were approached by a scooter driver comig from the road:

  • Hello, mister, what are you looking for?
  • We want to visit a coffee farm!
  • Oh, come with me, my friend has one, follow me!

So, we’re following the guy for 5 minutes and we stopped in front of the “coffee farm” of his friend, he introduced us to the English speaking girl who  showed us around. I said to my girlfriend: “this is it, it was so easy, we found it, we found the farm!”

The place is actually a backyard showing 2-3 Arabica coffee trees, other 2-3 Robusta coffee trees and the girl explained us the difference between the two of them and she told us that they have 2 ha of coffee plantation at one hour distance, this place being only like a “show room”. I asked her if they are registered as specialty coffee producers.

  • Yes, of course, special coffee, come and I’ll show you.

We went more in the back and she showed us a cage with three poor civets kept captive. I asked her why are they doing this and her explanation was that’s only to show the animal and the process of obtaining Kopi Luwak to tourists.  She kept insisting that their Kopi Luwak is natural, obtained from free animals living in the wild. Yeah, right!

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For those of you who don’t know, Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world and it’s obtained from coffee beans that are partially digested and then pooped out by the civet, a nocturnal feline found in South East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Because of its high price, unfortunately this animal is taken from the wild and caged in awful conditions. Most of these animals are only fed coffee cherries, while in their natural habitat their diet is based on fruits, insects and reptiles. They do not have access to clean water and the cages are dirty, they smell of urine and the animal is exposed to daytime noise from traffic and tourists and this is very disturbing for a nocturnal animal. The final product which arrives on the market will be labeled as “wild”, but actually almost all the time it will come from a caged civet and the coffee certifiers that are ensuring environmentally responsible farming, refuse to certify any kopi luwak. Although, the farmers have no problem mislabeling their product as “wild-sourced”.

And all this for a freaking luxury product! But when there is demand, there will always be offer. Tourists are not informing themselves before visiting such a farm, the consumer of this type of coffee do not inform him/herself about the provenience of the product and in the end our ignorance leads to harming these animals. Just to make an idea, the girl from the “farm” wanted us to free taste their products (coffee with all kind of spices: cinnamon, cardamom, cocoa, etc), but Kopi Luwak was charged for tasting around $4 / cup. In the coffee shops, a cup of kopi luwak is sold between $10-$20 and most of the coffee shops in Bali promote it, because it gets high margins. Of course, all of them will say that it’s wild-sourced.

We definitely said NO to Kopi Luwak and we kindly ask you to do the same. But in the end, it’s your decision if you want to drink an overrated coffee coming from an animal that has been living in pain for this process, or if you choose to drink, for example, a coffee coming from a specialty coffee registered farm and in this way to support farmers in sustaining their business. I can assure you that you will have amazing taste experiences in drinking the latter.

We continued our trip and after stopping for an astonishing view of mount Batur and its surroundings, we went up in the mountain asking around the locals for a coffee farm. We knew from a barista in a coffee shop in Ubud that there is an area in Kintamani region called Catur, where coffee farms exist. We managed in the end to reach this area, we stopped to buy some mango, bananas and pineapples and while driving around we saw a big sign indicating a coffee farm.

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After a km on a country road, we reached the place. And there they were, the coffee trees with their yet unripe fruits.

The owner of the farm, Ajus,  welcomed us and he was pleased to show us around and tell us about his farm.

He has 50.000 coffee trees on his farm and he produces only Arabica, original Kintamani beans. Most of his production goes to Korea and a small part will arrive on local market. He also manages to sell second quality beans, he roasts them on his roasting machine  and they go like this on markets, or he grinds them, pack them and sell them to stores.

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When the coffee cherries are ripe, they are manually harvested and they are processed in two ways: wet or dry. In the wet process (called washed coffee), the fruit covering the beans is removed before they are dried. The coffee cherries are immersed in water and this is how the sorting is done: the bad or unripe ones will float, while the good ones will sink. The skin of the cherry and some of the pulp is removed by pressing the fruit by machine in water through a screen. The remaining pulp is removed by machine, through mechanical scrubbing. After the pulp is removed, the beans will be spread to dry in the sun.

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In the dry process (called natural coffee), which is mostly used in his farm, the beans are harvest, manually sorted (ripe, overripe, damaged) and then spread to dry in the sun without removing the skin and the pulp. The drying is made on big sieve beds and it can take up to 4 weeks for the drying process to be ready. After the drying is ready, the pulp will be removed by a hulling machine.

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Ajus was kind enough to invite us to taste his coffee and a nice portion of sweet potatoes with coconut on top, a local dish. The coffee was amazingly good and the view over the farm was astonishing.

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At the end of the day we were very glad that we managed to find a good coffee farm, away from the touristic ones and which grows good quality coffee. I liked it so much that I would like to volunteer here in the harvesting period. I am considering this aspect.

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Have you ever been to a coffee plantation? Did you taste Kopi Luwak coffee? I would like to know what was your experience?

 

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