Many Indonesians used to start their day with a strong, syrupy kopi tobruk – tablespoons of coffee powder and prodigious amounts of sugar.
But as the global coffee culture takes hold, espresso, cappuccino, and macchiato rule the day. Now it’s hard to find traditional coffee drinkers.
“There is no such thing as the best region for Indonesian coffee,” said one coffee exporter. “It changes from year to year according to the weather, time of year and the soil conditions. Right now I would say that Aceh is producing the best balanced beans. But they can be ruined by bad roasting or a lousy barista.”
“Indonesia has been growing coffee for over 350 years,” he continued. “What they need now is technical information and modern knowhow on how to process and roast. They need a long term assured market. And how to bring personality to the coffee through roasting and processing.”
“Coffee is easy to make but hard to make well,” a coffee expert told me. “A good barista can make an ordinary coffee taste great. Twenty-five percent of the flavour can be put down to the skill of the barista,” he added.
In a situation mirroring that of Laos, coffee was introduced by the colonials. I learned the best known and loved variety was called Arabica because at one time Ethiopia and in particular the port of Mocha in Yemen was the home of coffee. The other well-known variety, Robusta, arrived after a disease killed most of the Arabica plants and a more disease resistant kind was bred.
So what is Kopi Luwak and why the fame? When I lived in Indonesia years ago it was easy to find and only marginally more expensive than ordinary coffee. Then it was called kopi musang, a musang being the civet cat that ate selected berries, absorbed the fleshy part and passed the undigested beans through its guts. The intestinal fluids enhanced the flavour it was said. I could not bring myself to ask how anyone had discovered that and how they managed to find the defecated beans.
Now intensive farming is reducing the number of civet cats in the wild. Caged cats are force-fed any berries rather than being left to choose. That is, poor quality beans are being fed to civets and sold at premium prices. Fraud has taken over and the quality, predictably, has gone down. Even ‘wild sourced’ Kopi luwak has been found to be taken from caged animals.
“Trouble is that it is so much cheating. Kopi luwak is great if you can find the real one,” one coffee connoisseur told me sadly.
- By Melody Kemp -
Cafe Seniman (Jalan Sriwedaru #5 Ubud)
Seniman offers individualized coffee for those who know their coffee, or are merely pretending.
Trafique Coffee (Jal, Hang Tuah Raya #9) in the posh bit of Senayan.
More spacious than Casa Verde; and for those missing being held up in traffic, it comes with a set of traffic lights.
Casa Verde Coffee (Jalan tebet, Raya)
Off the tourist route, but well worth it, particularly if any male is seeking for a hair cut (upstairs). Good pastries and cakes to go with single source coffee.