Kopi Bali – Coffee Experience
One of the first things that got me excited about going to Indonesia was coffee. Granted, most people would immediately think of their beautiful beaches, or maybe their exuberant vegetation but for me, coffee is an essential part of my life that can either make or break my day.
I’d say one of my pet peeves is waking up to a nasty cup of Joe when we’re on the road, which unfortunately happens rather often, especially when travelling within the US, where coffee culture seems to be non-existent. I also happen to live in Seattle, the city with the most coffee consumption in the US, and work for the largest coffee house chain in the world so I guess that also influences my opinions on the brew. Being on the bean belt, Indonesia has some of the tastiest coffee flavors in my opinion, and it is a tradition the local farmers have been a part of for generations. Of course there are large companies in each island, but the interesting experience is to find the small batch producers, which in Bali happens to be anyone with a backyard and a few coffee plants.
We had been drinking Balinese coffee for a couple of days but it had always been the massively produced packaged kind, but this time we were being driven to the hotel back from an excursion when I saw an improvised homemade sign reading ‘Kopi Bali/Kopi Luwak’. I SCREAMED at the driver to stop so that we could get off and get some coffee. As soon as we did, an army of local kids engulfed us and carried us inside the ‘store’. As we made our way in, we passed the family’s temple, the elder’s room, their outdoor kitchen, their rooms and after walking past all of that we were in their back yard, where they had a considerably large farm with several plants like coffee, papaya, banana and other local fruits they use in their ‘agro-tourism’ store. We were invited to sit on benches under a hut-like dining room and we were given the menu, which included several kinds of coffee, like coconut infused coffee, chili infused coffee, regular Balinese coffee and Kopi Luwak.
For all those cocking their head sideways, Kopi Luwak is also called civet coffee. Civets, or Luwaks for the locals, are small mammals related to cats that are local to Indonesia. Why, you might wonder, is a coffee named after a small Indonesian animal? As it happens, it is because these pretty little critters have a major role in Kopi production. They ingest coffee beans when they’re at their ripest and digest the outer, soft layers of the beans, and then they… poop out the remains for us to sip one of the tastiest cups of coffee available. Yes. You read that right. Shitty coffee, literally. Kopi Luwak is not cheap. In fact if you ask the locals, very few will say they’ve ever tried it themselves since it is indeed cost prohibitive. It is though, very tasty and I would recommend it to anyone who is willing to set aside its yuckiness and pay its price. Otherwise, I would suggest sticking to Kopi Bali, which is regular Balinese coffee. Most of these small batch producers do the entire production chain from growing, to roasting to packaging it themselves, which involved a lot of manual labor and is very time consuming. For the Kopi Luwak, the civets are given the berries for them to eat the ones they see fit, then the droppings need to be collected once they’ve done their jobs. Beans are then properly cleaned, dried and then roasted to perfection in an open air oven. Same process –minus the eating and pooping part– applies to Kopi Bali.
Then the beans are either packaged for later grinding and consumption, or are ground on site and packaged for those who do not own a grinding machine. For the coffee connoisseurs, do not, and I repeat, DO NOT do a pour over or drip coffee, this is an expensive coffee and it’s not intended for your Mr Coffee 12 cup coffee maker. This ain’t no Folgers! I would recommend brewing it with an espresso machine if you own one (if you don’t and don’t feel like spending a couple thousand dollars on one, try a stove top espresso maker like Bialetti or the like), but that’s just my preference. Locals grind it extremely fine and just use two tea spoons of the resulting powder in a cup of hot water, stirring a couple minutes for it to disperse and it’s ready to be enjoyed. This latter method is, in a way, similar to Turkish coffee, which means do not constantly stir, as you need to allow for the coffee particles to descend, unless you want to end up chewing on coffee grounds. This is not only a gratifying caffeinated experience for those who enjoy coffee more than we should. Consider the following: minimum wage in Bali is around USD $130 a month. Three cups of brewed coffee, 400gr of Kopi Luwak beans, 200gr coconut infused Kopi Bali, plus 200gr of regular Kopi Bali are in the neighborhood of USD $120. And while I’ll admit I do not normally spend 120 dollars in coffee on a regular basis, I’m also conscious of the fact I will not miss those 120 bucks and I’d much rather have these kids and their family earn the equivalent of a month of hard work. Look at their faces:
From the back of their package (with typos and all, but hey, they speak English and none of us speak Bahasa!):
“All about Luwak Coffee:
Luwak coffee is origanally derives from Indonesia, well known for its excellent coffee. Also native to the area is a small civet-like animal called a Paradoxurus. That’s the scientific name, the locals call them luwaks. These little mammals live in the trees and one of their favorite foods is the red, ripe coffee cherry. They eat the cherries, bean and all. While the bean is in the little guy’s stomach, it undergoes chemical treatments and fermentations. The bean finishes its journey through the digestive system, and exits. The still-intact beans are collected from the forest floor, and are cleaned, then roasted and ground just like any other coffee. One must wonder about the circumstances that brought about the first cup of Kopi Luwak coffee. Who would think to (or even want to) collect and roast beans out of animal feces? Perhaps a native figured it was easier to collect the beans from the ground this way, rather than having to work harder and pick them from the trees? We’ll likely never know. But because of the strange method of collecting, there isn’t much Kopi Luwak produced in the world. The resulting coffee is said to be like no other. It has rich, heavy flavor with hints of caramel or chocolate. Other terms used to describe it are earthy, musty and exotic. The body is almost syrupy and it’s very smooth.”
Next time you’re in Indonesia, don’t miss out on this opportunity to try something truly unique, which is the whole point of traveling. If you’re near Ubud, don’t forget to give these guys a call (or have your lovely hotel employees call for you!), I’m sure they’ll appreciate everyone’s business just as much as you’ll enjoy their coffee.
PS: As a side note, they DO accept dollars, for everyone like us who forgets to bring a few million rupiahs along.