The last time I visited Bali, it was 1989, the Berlin Wall was counting down the months to its'own tumultuous demise, Cher was trying to "Turn back time" and some bloke was building a thing called the "internet" in a lab in Switzerland. Despite spending some 2 weeks in Ubud, and it's surrounds I never once came across any Mongooses (MonGeese?)
How times change!
I suspect that most people will have heard about the infamous Cat-Poo coffee, immortalised in the movie "The Bucket List." The Local Civet Cats (mongeeses) choose only the best beans, eat them, poo them out and Hey Presto!, "Awesome Coffee."
Present Day Bali.
Kopi Luwak (kopi = coffee + Luwak = mongoose) is a massive tourism business. There are literally hundreds of vendors selling tours to supposed plantations.
We couldn't find anyone who would take us to an actual coffee plantation where the beans are grown and processed. This could have something to do with the growing disquiet over the battery farming practises involving the caged Luwaks. In the end we settled for the tourist trip plus a visit to another venue which had some processing equipment, a small roaster and 3 sleepy Luwaks (they are Nocturnal.)
The tourist trip works like this.
You are picked up by your driver and taken to a "farm", where they have a nice lush tropical garden, 3-4 caged Luwaks, a small hut with a working diorama of traditional-coffee-roasting over an open fire and someone grinding coffee in a large pestle and mortar. A display of some un-roasted coffee beans and at least one Robusta coffee shrub and one Arabica coffee Shrub. You are then directed to the tasting area to taste some teas, Balinese Filter coffee (Robusta) and for $5.00, a cup of filtered Kopi Luwak.
You are informed about the smooth musky aroma and un-rivalled flavour, then directed to the store where you can pay up to $200 per kilo for the coffee.
So is it worth it?
You may be surprised, but the answer is YES!
Aside from any ethical concerns about the caged Luwaks. You get a nice tour escorted by wonderful Balinese people. You sit in a beautiful lush setting and drink the worlds most famous coffee, as well as some exotic teas. All for $5.00 per cup. Just remember that this is a tour, a representation of a reality, which has been remodelled for us, the tourists.
The actual reality of farmed Luwaks being fed coffee beans in order to supply the tourist market is a far cry from what you get to see.
Sadly the whole Luwak circus detracts from the outstanding coffee that you can find in Bali.
Indonesia produces some of the worlds most distinctive coffees and we were privileged to be served outstanding brews from the likes of Revolver Espresso in Seminyak and Dusk Blue Cafe in Sanur.
The Simply Brew Roastery (also in Sanur) is well worth a visit. The brand new Probat Coffee Roaster on the cafe floor shouts "We are serious about coffee" while the queues at the counter back this up. We tried a Wild Luwak coffee from the Aceh region of Sumatra, which was better than anything we tried on a coffee tour. The Java Sunda single origin espresso was full bodied, bright with citrus and baked pastry notes. Owner and Roaster has been roasting for 15 years and is passionate about showcasing Balinese and Indonesian coffees to the booming tourist market.
Like many tourist destinations the world over, the local hotels, cafes and restaurants tend to go with big brand coffee producers while ignoring the fantastic local product.
The Revolver Espresso Cafe in Seminyak is a treat. Its' dark, slightly-grungy, bustling interior wouldn't be out of place in downtown Portland, Oregon or Oslo, Norway. Order an espresso and the barista's eyes light up. The care and attention put into the 30 mls of goodness is worth the Rp25000. ($2.50) The Ethiopia Sidamo in this case was deep toned, with an almost whiskey like smokiness.
I regret the fact that it has taken me 27 years to return to this beautiful island. Yes, there are the same old tourist traps which always existed in the likes of Kuta and Legian, while the "Eat Pray Love" pilgrims have amassed in Ubud. The food and dining is excellent, the Balinese culture and people are truly beautiful, as is the scenery. To top it all off, it is still an incredibly cheap destination to visit.
In terms of coffee, it's much like visiting Auckland, If you walk into the first cafe you come across you'll most likely be disappointed. Ask around, and it's as good as you will find anywhere.