Java—the island’s name is synonymous with coffee, yet the quality of the beans harvested here (let alone the living standards of the people who grow it) hasn’t always been what it could. Enter Klasik Beans, an upstart cooperative that is championing sustainable, small-scale coffee farming in the mountains of West Java and beyond
By Rachel Will
Photographs by Muhammad Fadli
The coffee farm I am visiting is nestled on a terraced hillside in the Sundanese highlands of West Java, flanked by what looks like a wall of Dr. Seuss’s truffula trees. It has taken me months to pin down a meeting with Eko Purnomowidi, a founder of the Klasik Beans Cooperative. But after a brutal seven-hour car ride from Jakarta to the Garut area during the biggest Muslim holiday of the year, I am finally face-to-face with the man who by many accounts is at the heart of Indonesia’s burgeoning specialty-coffee industry.
“How did you find out about us?” is the first thing he asks me.
How didn’t I find out about you? I ask myself. Was it when a coffee roaster in Jakarta referred to the man raising the quality of Indonesian specialty beans to export quality through education? When the owner of a hip Jakarta café told me about a hillside farm and guest-house operation in the mountains of Garut? Or perhaps the Balinese farmer improving his methods to meet your standard of quality?
We are sitting under the eaves of the farm’s bamboo kitchen, the rays of the setting sun filtering through the surrounding foliage. Eko is making coffee from freshly ground Arabica beans with a basic French press; as we chat, he offers me fresh corn and Sundanese snacks like nasi kuning (yellow rice). When the coffee is ready, he pours it into a glass tumbler. I inhale the scent before taking a tentative sip—I can taste the forest in the mellow, aromatic brew. Oh yes, I remember, that’s how I found out about you.
It’s a rare Sunday that I don’t find myself posted up with a photogenic flat white at One Fifteenth Coffee in South Jakarta. The café, which takes its name from the ideal coffee-to-water brew ratio, is an oasis in Indonesia’s bustling capital, outfitted with communal wooden tables and cozy couches and serving single-origin coffees from independent growers across the archipelago. It was here, during one of One Fifteenth’s coffee-cupping sessions, that I first met Arief Said of Morph Coffee roasters. Arief shares the same indulgent weekend schedule as me, and during various subsequent meetings at the café he spoke of the Indonesian specialty beans that make the shop’s brews so good.
“There’s a man,” he told me one Sunday, “who goes all over Indonesia teaching farmers about how to grow quality coffee. He’s started a cooperative to raise up the livelihood of its members and help them gain the perspective needed to be a global player.”
Lia Gunawan, the owner of One Fifteenth, was equally effusive when I mentioned Purnomowidi’s name. “That’s a great story,” she said. “He has farms in Sunda and teaches international visitors about Indonesian coffee. You should interview him!”
So I e-mailed the man. And I waited. And waited.
It was almost two months before he replied, but in the meantime, my research into his cooperative had further piqued my interest. The Klasik Beans team has been building up the local specialty-coffee industry since 2008, counting cult coffee roasters like Chicago’s Intelligentsia and Australia’s Five Senses among its fans. Though Indonesia is the third largest exporter of coffee globally after Brazil and Vietnam, its Starbucks-ready commodity crop hardly encourages quality or sustainability. Klasik Beans hopes to change that, to help encourage organic farming methods and improve the lot of coffee farmers. Ask any of the cooperative’s 500-plus members, and they’ll tell you about their children who can now attend school and about the fields they proudly call their own.
By the time I received Eko’s response, I was already hot on his trail in Bali. Scottish chef Will Meyrick had offhandedly mentioned to me how his two restaurants in Bali, Sarong and Mamasan, were hosting educational coffee workshops and promoting sustainable farming methods. “We know how to order a latte and drink it, but we don’t know the process behind the coffee,” Meyrick told me. “This is where Eko comes in. He is incredibly proud of Indonesia, and of his Indonesian beans.”