Balinese Coffee: Where To From Here

Edited February 26, 2016

In February of 2016 I gave a presentation in Jakarta about quality potentials in Balinese coffee. Attendees included licensed Q-graders, producers, traders/brokers, cafe owners, and coffee enthusiasts from the general public.

My goal for the presentation was to show people the unrealized, potential quality in Balinese coffee and get them thinking about how the coffee industry can help producers improve their coffee.

There were good questions from the attendees, such as 'can a natural-processed coffee be sold as Kintamani Arabica Coffee?' (the answer is 'no') and there were times when attendees would outwardly show surprise when I showed pictures of coffee produced using quality methods compared to pictures of coffee produced without quality methods.

The natural question that arises from a topic like this is 'how do we get to a state of higher quality from the current state of Balinese coffee?' The answer, like so many things involving coffee, is complicated.

The Indonesian government should lead by example

On the day we decided to work together and build a mill in Bali, the farmers and I had a long conversation about what we wanted to achieve. We were talking about the Book of Requirements (BoR), which defines the processing steps required by the Geographical Indicator (GI) in order to be called "Kintamani Arabica Coffee" and Bapak made a statement, which for me encapsulates so much about not only the cultural differences between us but also about the fate of the project from the very beginning. Bapak said that the government-run mills in Kintamani don't even follow the BoR. I have now come to understand that, for Bapak, that was a statement on how much work he was willing to do based on the example set by the government. At the time that he said it, I wrongly assumed it was a statement about how successful we would be by setting ourselves apart from even the government-run mills.

Balinese Subaks need to want to improve

Subaks need to decide, on their own, that they want to advance their trade-craft and become competitive in a third-wave-style market. They must explicitly decide they want to implement technological advancements that move their craft from a tradition-based craft to a process- and technology-driven craft in which quality and consistency become the priority ahead of quantity, i.e., quality then quantity (as in the case of the nearby, large, private mill that I was using as a benchmark of quality production).

The Balinese coffee market is starting the slow progression from traditional-style coffee sold in kopitiams to third-wave-style shops that focus more on quality and the artisanal aspects of coffee production. These third-wave shops are a perfect place to showcase a specialty-grade Kintamani Arabica Coffee. Millennials appreciate quality and have the disposable income to buy it. If the farmers fail to shift their focus, they risk going the way of the dinosaurs; extinction—right alongside the kopitiams.

Don't get me wrong; I understand that a small portion of a producer's yield will likely qualify as specialty grade. The changes I am proposing can and should be applied to all coffee production in Bali. In so doing, the quality of all grades of coffee will improve and the Island will be on the way towards re-establishing its reputation as a producer of quality coffee.

The use of moisture meters at the drying patio, in order to improve consistency and reproducibility is just one simple and inexpensive step that should be taken. Other simple steps:

Enforce the GI

When the GI was developed, control mechanisms were also defined to "ensure the credibility of the Kintamani Bali coffee GI1."

Currently, when farmers need bags for their coffee marked with the GI, they can get the bags as long as they are known to be from Kintamani but that is only a small fraction of the spirit and letter of the GI. The defined 10-step process is a key element for obtaining high quality. Verification of process-implementation is therefore a fundamental need. There is already a system defined for verification and traceability of Kintamani Arabica Coffee, it just doesn't seem to be properly enforced1:

Enforcement of the BoR should achieve a few goals: Kintamani coffee should increase in value once quality and consistency have noticeably improved. This should, in-turn, incentivize farmers outside of Kintamani to also improve quality and consistency in order to remain competitive.

Additionally, defending the GI should improve the legal strength of other existing, as well as future GIs. As it becomes known that the Indonesia government will legally defend its GI's, there should be fewer challenges to their legitimacy.

kintamani gi mark

Buyers need to be loud and persistent

Local buyers (roasters) need to reinforce the message that they want to buy Balinese coffee but it needs to have better quality and consistency before they'll invest. This is already happening to a certain extent but the message doesn't seem to resonate with the farmers. Why not?

Currently Balinese farmers are getting paid well-enough for their high-grade commercial coffee that they can maintain a quality of life that seems to suit them. If that statement is truly accurate, the need to advance Balinese coffee must come from non-economic incentives such as the preservation of their agrarian heritage, retention of farmland as farmland, etc.

This leaves us with more questions asked than answered:

  • Does the next generation of farmers have any compelling incentive to follow in their fathers' footsteps?
  • What can buyers do to influence the situation?
  • What is their incentive to do so?
  • What needs of the farmers are not being met by current coffee prices?
  • Same question goes for the next generation.

You can download my presentation notes titled: Quality Potentials In Balinese Coffee. Spread the word. Spark a conversation!

Further Reading, in reverse-chronological order:

Mill Project In Bali Complete

Who's Quality Is It Anyway?

Ulian Project - New Wet Mill

Pictures of the mill on Flickr

1. Case study on quality products linked to geographical origin in Asia carried out for FAO, Mawardi, 2009, p. 22

Edited February 26, 2016: "Further Reading" links added.

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 exploring coffee production and how to improve the lives of those who produce the noble bean.