Bali Travel: Jungles and Java
One of my favourite things in Bali is the coffee—strong, earthy, fragrant, dark and served with thick cream and musky brown sugar. The islands of Java and Sumatra are more widely associated with excellent beans. But Bali’s coffee is just as good and just one of many spices and fruits—vanilla, cloves, cinnamon, snake fruit and dragon fruit, to name a few—that grow well here.
The coffee is good everywhere in Bali. I had cups of it at the volcanic baths near tranquil Lake Batur, at cafés in ancient Ubud, in the rice paddies, at the airport in Denpasar and on the edge of my private plunge pool at Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan. I loved Bali’s coffee so much that I decided to check out the source at Oka Agriculture and Coffee Plantation in the upper-ridge outskirts of Ubud.
Exiting the ancient, bustling capital, my driver ascended into a quieter and much cleaner world. The road ran straight up into the slate blue sky, passing ornate temples and art studios. Each small town was cleaner than the last. The village names spilled out of my mouth like names of ancient Hindu gods—Tegalalang, Tampaksiring, Sekaan and Penyebah. We drove to the very end, where tethered, lonely prayer flags flapped in the wind. This was a slice of Bali not seen by all. Volcanic Mount Batur, half covered in an asymmetrical swath of black lava, loomed high—1,717 metres (5,632 feet), to be precise. These conditions, as it turned out, were ideal for coffee growing.
At Oka, I wandered down a small jungle path filled with vanilla orchids, cinnamon trees and coffee trees to a woman in a lavender batik sarong and grey flip-flops. She was roasting coffee beans over a wood fire in a giant wok-sized pan. The smell was heavenly, and I decided to sample a flight of Oka’s products.
Oka is one of the island’s several producers of Kopi Luwak, aka civet coffee. My guide smiled when my face distorted as he described the process. Apparently this civet coffee bean is digested in the stomach of the Asian palm civet, a nocturnal, sloth-like tree creature native to Bali that is as addicted to the bean as you and I. The civet’s stomach can digest only the coffee bean’s hull, so the rest passes through the animal’s digestive tract. It, um, emerges fortified with the civet’s proteolytic enzymes and amino acids. The remaining bean is then (thankfully) washed. What is left over is Kopi Luwak, one of the world’s most rare and most expensive beans, evidently selling in places like Seattle and Vienna for more than USD 20 a cup.
The taste was nice, though less caffeinated and more acidic. I tried a flight of Oka’s other products, including the plain coffee, lemon grass tea, ginger tea, a thick hot cocoa and an excellent ginseng coffee mix. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ll stick with Bali’s plain coffee.