Full of beans in Bali. A visit to a coffee plantation.
Tasting ‘poop coffee’ as Morgan Freeman so irreverently put it to Jack Nicholson in the movie, ‘The Bucket List’ all the while laughing till he cried, was right at the top of my bucket list during this trip to Bali.
The most expensive coffee in the world, Kopi Luwak coffee or ‘poop coffee’ goes for $80 a cup in the States. And Bali and the other Indonesian islands produced this coffee. Not much of a coffee drinker myself, I really wanted to see what the fuss was all about. So we went to visit a coffee plantation which produces this famous coffee.
We were headed North of Ubud, an excursion into the cool, leafy hills and watching the beautiful countryside pass by we all literally fell into a state of Zen-like bliss. The area is mind-numbingly beautiful, especially the unbelievably green Tegallalang rice terraces that adorn the hill slopes. We have lots of rice terraces in the lower Himalayan slopes but these definitely were more beautiful.
We reached Santi Agroforestry as the plantations are called in Bali and were met by a drizzle. Giant bamboo hats were distributed and we excitedly donned them too but after a photo session had to reluctantly discard and opt for the much lighter and familiar umbrellas. A narrow trail led into the dense plantation. Equatorial climate allows for great biodiversity in vegetation. Mighty evergreen hardwood trees climb straight and tall to 80-100 metres easily. Epiphytes and creepers latch onto these giants while all possible spice bearing trees can grow happily in the shade. The trail was in places slippery and slushy.
Our guide pointed out coffee, cocoa, cinnamon, ginseng, pandan, lemongrass, cloves, pepper, galungal, ginger, turmeric plants all growing with great abandon as we moved cautiously further inwards along the trail.
And along the path was a caged Civet. Apparently it was caged so that tourists like us could see the elusive creature. The poor nocturnal animal was curled up right at the back of the cage sleeping. But our presence woke it up and I got to take a closer look at it’s mottled grey coat and black, piercing eyes.
The luwak coffee beans roasted.
The Civets in the wild selectively eat the ripest coffee berries, digest the fruit and excrete the beans. These are then harvested by hand before being washed and processed. Researchers think the coffee’s distinctive taste comes when the digestive enzymes of the Civet changes the structure of proteins in the coffee beans, which removes some of the acidity to make a smoother cup of coffee. In a small clearing we saw this process from upclose and even took turns pounding the coffee beans, this time with a nifty hat truly marking this as a “tourist photo”.
We soon came to a large clearing with wooden benches and tables nestled under a shade. The rest of the forest sloped down from here. With the magnificent view as our backdrop and urged by our host and plantation owner, Made, we took our seats to partake in the complementary tea and coffee tasting session. This tasting session is offered free of cost in all such plantations. But then it’s expected that suitably impressed, you will end up buying some of the twelve varieties of tea and coffee that you’re offered. Truth be said, some of the teas were really wonderful. And we did end up buying them. As for the actual single cup of Luwak coffee that we bought and shared between the seven of us, it failed to impress. Everyone said it was good, but nothing fantastic. I stared longingly into the steaming cup of dark brown “coffee mud” – a description that aptly sums up the colour and consistency of the beverage and truly tried to understand why Jack Nicholson loved it so, but I think one has to be a conossier. What’s interesting is the process.
I think that all of the hype and expense revolves around the fact that these beans are acquired in such an unusual and interesting way.
In conclusion I’ll say Kopi Luwak was good, much better than the Balinese coffee, but I’m with Morgan Freeman and rather not have defecated remains of coffee beans.
As an aside for those who haven’t seen The Bucket List and are thinking what I’m so fussed about, here’s a link that should be helpful.