The Jakarta Post
Coffee grower and connoisseur Eko Purnomowidi finds a new home for Sundanese Arabica.
Having been involved in the coffee export business for years, Eko Purnomowidi used to believe that when talking about Arabica, discussions should only revolve around the two major regional players Toraja and Sumatra.
His opinion changed when his curiosity was piqued by a fellow exporter showing him a new variety of bean at a gathering in Medan. The bean was of a similar color to the Sumatran bean but was a different shape and when he tasted it ' he was very impressed with its character.
'My friend said it was from Bandung. I didn't believe it at first as I wasn't aware of it being a significant coffee growing region,' Eko told The Jakarta Post.
His friend said that it would be blended with Mandailing, an idea that Eko lamented, as it had the potential as a single-origin ground.
Eko later collaborated with search and rescue (SAR) volunteers from Persaudaraan Gunung Puntang Indonesia (PGPI), who agreed to help him research the Sundanese coffee variety in Panawuan and Gunung Puntang, which were coffee plantation areas during the Dutch colonial period.
When the group first arrived in Panawuan in 2008, it was only the older generation that had any memory of the area's coffee history. Those who lived near the forest did work the land; however, their crop of choice was vegetables and their methods were having an adverse affect on their forest.
Some had planted Sumatran coffee but the quality of the beans was low-grade due to poor pre- and post-harvesting treatment.
The SAR group introduced the local variety to the farmers and worked with them to establish small-scale plantations. As a result they setup the cooperative Klasik Beans and later developed a local variety and bridged the gap between the farmers and foreign buyers.
Eko passed on everything he learnt about growing coffee.
'A farmer asked once why we had to harvest them when the cherries were red, I said that it benefited farmers as the ripe cherries weighed more and it was better for the plants,' said Eko.
He finally convinced hundreds of farmers to stop clearing the forests and instead participate in the initiative.
'Coffee is best grown in forests because it needs shade to protect it from direct sunlight and rainfall. This is why it's good for conservation.'
The first harvest was two and a half years after the first visit and the crops, known as Arabica Sunda Hejo, are sent across the world through Sweet Maria, a coffee trading portal. Their productions have been sent to Europe, the US, Japan, with very little amount catering the local demand.
After the success in Bandung, the cooperative also began to produce Robusta Telagawangi in two areas in Garut, West Java, as well as cooperating with farmers in Kintamani, Bali, to produce local Arabica under the brand Bali Vintage.
'In healthy houses live healthy residents. The same thing goes for coffee,' he said.
Born in Jakarta on June 9, 1968, Eko's father died when he had just graduated from high school, forcing him to work during his undergraduate studies.
He married his childhood friend, Ita Lestari, after they met again near university graduation and they had their first son, Athallah Satya, in 2001.
Eko took a job to build a road in Kalimantan after graduation, crossing Kalimantan forests with hundreds of transmigrants. Angered with the corruption in the project, he promised to always standup against it. He returned to Jakarta after the project was stopped due to the 1998 economic crisis.
He took a job with an exporting company and based in a coffee plantation in Lampung to learn about Robusta in 2000.
He came face-to-face with corruption again and the company then transferred him to another office in Medan and he later worked more with Arabica. He remained with the company before working for Klasik Beans.
Eko dismissed the classic problems of low income and poverty as a constraint to growing coffee.
He argued that most coffee farmers, from Takengon to Papua, were small holders and this was actually an advantage as coffee needed patience and attention.
'The work to grow and harvest coffee can be shared in a family,' said Eko.
He referred to how the Japanese grew green tea; in small plantations because the leaves should be steamed two hours after picking.
'The same thing goes with coffee, sometimes it takes three months for all cherries to ripen during harvest time,' he said.
As it generally takes half a day to care for coffee, he said farmers can still have time to do other activities to get more income. 'Farmers can keep cattle or plant other crops to sustain their daily needs.'
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