Coffee Origin Trip: Kintamani, Bali

I've just returned from my first coffee origin trip to Kintamani in northern Bali.

Kintamani is a region situated just west of an active volcano; Mount Batur (Gunung Batur).  The region is moderately elevated with an average altitude of 1,500 meters and contains fertile, volcanic soil — two important factors for growing quality coffee shrubs.

In Kintamani, it is tradition for the smaller land holders to form co-ops called Subak Abian.  These co-ops are formed for a number of reasons, including the ability to share resources such as production mills, which can be prohibitively expensive for the single farmer.  In the case of Subak Abian Ulian Murni, the mill consists of a pulper machine, fermentation tanks (no longer used), drying areas, raised beds (called para para) and a pseudo-lab area with roasters, grinders, etc.

Ulian Murni consists of around 60 small land owners who manage a total of almost 70 hectares.  The average amount of land owned is 2.7 hectares, though not all land is for coffee, and the Subak produces around 30 tons of coffee per year (based on 2010 numbers).

I was staying in a hotel in southern Bali and Iwa, my gracious host/guide picked me up at the hotel and we drove two hours before stopping for lunch in a small village just before we started the drive into the mountains.  He introduced me to klepon, sweet coconut rice-balls, an Indonesian dessert.

desert
Image from: asian-recipe.com

After lunch we hit the road again but the roads had become very narrow, barely as wide as a single car so the going was slow as we twisted and turned our way up country roads, passing small villages  and large rice paddies.  Villages in this area are typically bordered by stone walls and have their own small markets, temples, etc, within the walls.  Bali is majority Hindu and it is quite evident in the architecture, which is strikingly beautiful and often very ornate.

As we were driving up the mountain, we stopped at three different farm plots along the way.  The coffee shrubs were about one, to one and-a-half meters tall and were all evenly space with mandarin trees interspersed to provide shade.  It's harvest season, so I got to see red, ripe cherries, which have a very subtle, sweet flavor when eaten.  I also tasted a coffee flower, which tasted like a soft jasmine tea would taste.  The smell of the coffee flower is very delicate and subtle and similar to the smell of a gardenia or even jasmine flower.

In Kintamani, they adhere to organic farming1 methods, so no agrochemicals are used.  Fertilizer is chicken and cow dung and rice husks are used for mulch.

Anyone in the village is welcome to come and pick coffee for roughly 10¢/kilo in pay.  Sometimes entire families will come and pick from sun up to sun down.

Once picked, the coffee is sorted again, this time by density.  They are placed in water for sorting.  Ripe cherries are denser and sink to the bottom while under-developed cherries will float and are set aside to be sold locally, at a discounted price ('there's a home for every bean).  After density sorting, they are run through a machine that removes the pulp (the cherry skin and most of the mucous-y mucilage) and then the beans go to fermentation tanks where the remaining mucilage is broken down by the fermentation process.  After fermenting overnight, the beans are washed of their mucilage and again sorted by density then finally spread out to dry either on patios or on raised beds, locally called para para.  They'll dry for about three weeks, until the green beans reach about 12% moisture content.

Most of the shrubs planted on these farms are S795 purchased from the government.  But they are also currently planting more saplings which have been produced by existing trees.  These little saplings grow in the shade under the coffee shrub.  They can be directly transplanted when they have six leaves — any fewer and they go to a nursery until they get their six leaves (that age or determination can vary farm to farm).

Iwa was such a great tour guide.  I was very lucky to have him along for my first-ever trip to origin!  After showing me the farms and the mill, Iwa took me to his mother's house where we had some coffee and fried bananas and continued to chat about the journey his coffee would make, once he found a buyer for this years' crop.  During my (very) short stay I got the sense that Balinese people are very friendly and hospitable.  I can't wait to go back!

To see all the photos I took on this trip, head on over to my Flickr page.


Michael C. Wright

Michael is an American expat living in Singapore where he writes about many things coffee-related. A roaster by trade, Michael is also a licensed Q Grader and an Authorized SCA Trainer (AST).

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