Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by viravira on 2 February 2018 • Destination
I’m surrounded by coffee lovers – or so they claim. I see how snobbish they can be with their knowledge on coffee, however much or little they know, and they judge others by how they have their coffee. I don’t like that kind of attitude but I let them be because maybe they do know what they’re talking about. I know they know more about coffee than I do.
I don’t care much for the coffee itself. Drinking a cup of coffee almost always makes my heart rate increase and drains my energy I just want to lie down and rest. But I love sitting in coffee shops with stylish interior design, drinking tea or water and eating cakes, which is a plenty around me now that coffee is a trend in Jakarta. Most of them provide cozy atmosphere for me to draw, type on my laptop, or simply gossip with a friend.
Whatever it is, I still don’t care for coffee. Until recently.
Last week I was in Papua – for the first time! – with my friend Motulz for a work trip. We sat in Pit’s Corner, an industrial designed coffee shop in Jayapura. We were served iced coffee by the café’s owner, Piter Tan, so I gave it a go out of courtesy. I sipped and I sipped in between our conversations, expecting to feel a discomfort like usual. Then I finished it and I felt normal. No increased heart rate, no energy drain. This is rare. And I liked the taste. It had the right sweetness for me and only a tad sourness.
“That’s Wamena coffee, our special,” Piter said. He suggested that it’s probably the amount of sugar combined with the caffeine that makes my heart beats increasingly. Then we talked about his cafe business, in which he injected much of his passion. But the conversation was mostly about Wamena coffee, a Papua original which he’s trying to introduce to a wider audience.
“Wamena has good coffee, it’s a shame that the people are neglecting the potential,” said Piter. With an altitude of 1600 meters asl and above, Wamena grows good coffee. “The higher, the better quality,” he added.
Wamena is blessed with such fertile land, but they hadn’t had the proper knowledge on growing good coffee. Piter patiently educates the farmers in Wamena on planting to harvesting good coffee and drying the beans. He buys their coffee with a very decent price. Very slowly the farmers begin to understand the benefits they could get from the coffee that initially grew wildly in the forests.
“But these farmers are getting older, there needs to be a regeneration. I thought of a way to make the youth care about coffee. It has to be something cool. So I made a barista school,” he pointed to corner in the café: Papua Barista School & Coffee Lab. Being a certified Q grader, Piter teaches the class. For local Papua kids, who show serious will to learn, he gives the lessons for free!
It’s not a secret that people from east Indonesia have less opportunities in many fields than we are in the west, mainly because they’re furthest from the central government. Being born and raised in Jayapura, Piter is among the lucky ones to have more access to education abroad. “I believe these kids are smart, they just need the chance to prove it!” And it will be awesome when they later become baristas, who aren’t only skilled in blending coffee but also familiar with the plants. Baristas who know their coffee from A to Z!
Now Piter has 5 students, originating from Wamena, Yahukimo and Oksibil. That cool image of barista may have attracted them at first, but they also have the motivation to make a better living for their family or their village. Nonyo, 18, is from Wamena and has been learning for 8 months now. He goes to a technical school in the morning, “because I want to help my father with the coffee machines,” he said. He helps out in the café in his free time, making coffee for customers.
“Leo is from Yahukimo, even further than Wamena. He came and asked me for the barista lesson. When I asked why, he told me about the poverty in his village. He wants a better life for his family. I can’t say no to that,” said Piter. From some talks with locals, I heard that many of the young men like to use their money for alcohol even though the basic needs aren’t yet met. So it’s moving to see how these 6 young men are thinking straight and willing to work for their family’s welfare.
On our visit to Wamena, I went with the farmers to the forest on harvest day. So it’s not really a plantation, only clusters of coffee trees among other trees. Quantitatively, the Wamena coffee is nothing compared to other coffee producing places in Indonesia, which some are run by the government or big private companies, like in Java or Sumatra. So no wonder that Wamena coffee is still rare. The coffee cherries picked from the trees are put in buckets, then carried by hands to one of the farmers’ house to be processed.
Getting to know Wamena coffee, the farmers and their up and down stories, is totally an eye-opening experience for me. I can’t claim I’m a coffee lover yet, but I do have an interest in coffee now. Up until now I’ve had several cups of Wamena coffee, single origin (I know what that means now!), and my heart is beating alright. I’ve heard clichés like “there’s a story behind every coffee bean”. Now I’ve proved it. It’s the stories (and normal heart rate) that suddenly changed my attitude about coffee, Wamena coffee to be specific.
Travel to Wamena: