Looking for Java on Java

I am living on the island of Java for which the famous coffee is named. My housemate Anna is here to do preliminary research for a GIS mapping project on coffee. As an ethnobotany enthusiast and environmentalist, naturally I jumped at the chance to join her in learning more about the coffee industry. Contrary to what you might think, the market for coffee is not booming on the island of Java. Specialty coffee culture is a foreign concept thanks to colonialism. During Dutch colonial control, Indonesians grew accustomed to drinking the coffee that was too poor-quality to be exported to Western nations. This legacy is evidenced today by the ubiquitous presence of instant coffee and tea which is often sold in individual packets hung from street stalls and in store fronts. Colonialism still lives in the reality that Indonesians are still not reaping enough of the benefits from their country’s bounty. coffee 3 Jogja’s specialty coffee culture is considered small even for Indonesia (Aceh and Sulawesi are said to have more coffee culture). Kopi Joss, made by putting a hot coal in a cup of sugary instant coffee, is available on the street. Instant coffee is available in cafes and most homes. Still places where one can get coffee, that is not made by adding sugar and swirling a spoon in some water, are few and far between. To delve further into the coffee scene in hopes of visiting some plantations, 90% of which are reported to be household/small-holder owned in Indonesia, we followed a lead from my tutor Ukky and wound up at a coffee shop called Klinik Kopi. coffee 4 On the second floor deck of a building that is surrounded by trees and only accessible through a small alley (gang kecil) behind the book store Togo Mas, Klinik Kopi caters to a small but growing community of Jogja coffee enthusiasts. The setting is somewhat Cheers-like (in the sense that everyone knows your name), but without the bar stools and shoes (as is typical in Asia). Customers talk in small groups randomly scattered across the floor as they wait for their turn to take one of the coveted seats at Mas Pepang’s bar. Mas Pepang is a coffee enthusiast and the owner of Klinik Kopi. According to his business card he is not a barista, but the resident “coffee storyteller.” He makes a point of educating customers as he makes them either espressos or Americanos from beans that he sources and roasts himself. As he has told me on multiple occasions, “Coffee without a story is just black water.” coffee 2 Mas Pepang’s educational mission leads him to visit remote villages to get his coffee directly from farmers and to educate them about coffee. To our great delight, Mas Pepang invited us to accompany him, and a group of his customers and friends, on a trip to a village called Lencoh. In Lencoh, we spent the day learning about the coffee process. We went to many family homes which farmed a variety of crops including tobacco, carrots, and greens, but not coffee. Each farmer had anywhere from one to three coffee trees and little idea how to harvest them. According to Pepang, the farmers in Lencoh were given seeds and fertilizer by the government and told to plant coffee. No one had shown them how to pick it, process it, and sell it. Our job was to pick the red cherry coffee beans (being careful not to take off the small stems and thus prevent the beans from re-growing there for years), and then to collect them into labeled bags so that the farmers could be compensated for the coffee. Then we took part in the laborious process of removing the beans from the fruit, crushing and removing their outer-sheaths, and preparing them for drying. coffee 1 Later that night, Mas Pepang invited us and a group of local farmers to learn about coffee. He prepared a taste test so that the farmers could see the difference between good and bad coffee. The farmers seemed surprised by the difference in the product and happy to learn about the process. Showing them the coffee and asking us to explain the process to them was the culmination of Mas Pepang’s effort to connect the people who grow the coffee with the people who roast it and consume it. He even asked me to tell the farmers about coffee. Thinking quickly, I remembered a slogan heard in childhood and some facts about how miners and cowboys consumed coffee. Through a translator, I explained that coffee is a part of American culture and that its importance is so great that there is the song in America: “The best part of waking up is coffee [Folgers] in your cup.” Pepang’s goal to educate farmers is noble, but will be useless without a market for the coffee when it is processed. Mas Pepang has been working to grow Jogja’s coffee community so that there will be a larger market for high-quality specialty coffee in Jogja. Perhaps this will eventually translate into a better life for the farmers and better coffee for the world. There are a few other coffee shops that Anna and I will soon visit so that we will get a better impression of how much of the story accompanies the coffee there. I will keep you posted.

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