Cover Feature: Lessons in Life From a Coffee Grower (The Foodie Magazine, Mar 2015)

To honor the utmost effort given by the coffee farmers, The Foodie Magazine underwent an excursion to observe the great contributions they have given for us.

The envoy of the farmers was Yoseph Kusuniyanto, and this is his story.

Yoseph Kusuniyanto (5)

Ah, coffee and lifestyle nowadays. For several years now, we see people in suit dropping by at a famous chain coffee shop for their regular cappuccino takeaway, and in another place there are these hipster teenagers taking their compulsory Instagram shot on their piccolo with hands in frame and some croissant or cakes at a quirkily named, third-wave coffee bar.

Meanwhile at the same time, a fancy espresso machine is extracting some Central American single origin ground coffee and in one corner; a tattooed, slickly haired barista is demonstrating his skills with a 3D latte art. He’s surrounded by curious customers, ladies in particular.

It was fun right? Well, what we don’t know exactly is that it’s not all about the excitement of modern lifestyle at that end only. For once in a while, let’s see the flow backwards.

The roasters like Aroma, for example (since we also feature the owner in this issue), plays an important role in sustaining the lives of the farmers as well as the other end. Some modern roasters even gave more thoughts on how to cultivate specific standards that suits well with their and the consumers needs. They share their knowledge and needs directly with the farmers so at the same time they’re working to improve the overall quality of the coffee itself and the welfare of the farmers as well.

If it weren’t for these people, our side of the story may not as colorful as we think.

Yoseph Kusuniyanto (4)

Whatever came from this part, be it with other plants or coffee, it has a level of complexity that people often taken for granted. Meanwhile, there are heroes who spend long hours on the chilly, lonely part of the mountain to produce the best coffee who are often forgotten.

That’s why in this issue, we did some extra miles to see what they do and how their contribution can be remembered in history.

A coffee story to begin with

The slopes of highland Lembang after the rain was not only enchanting but the mist gave away the mystical aura you rarely see anymore living in the big cities nowadays. Although this hilly part of Bandung has now been developed into farms, rural housings, and tourist attractions such as ranches, theme parks, waterfalls to as far as Gunung Tangkubanperahu; it’s still charming and whimsical nonetheless.

Aside from being known as an area that produce vegetables, berries, milk and livestock; this highland has its share with our coffee world as well.

Yoseph Kusuniyanto (2)

Yoseph Kusuniyanto became our host that day who invited us to his humble abode for a cup of coffee and a story to begin with.

Years ago, it was never his intention to live a life as a coffee farmer but Pak Yoseph had been learning for a long time about farming, be it from books or from helping his friends out.

“Several years living in Jakarta working as an manager for a camera company was strenuous and stressful for me. I fell gravely ill and made a decision to withdraw to Bandung. It was a good call, since it took several years for me to recover fully and to finally taste my dream job”, said Pak Yoseph opening up his life story.

Now he’s in his late 40s. His hair has gone white, slim, and he has sleepy eyes. However, he appears like a figure that everybody could rely upon. He’s calm and collected as years of hardships have proved his mettle, but also educated with his experience as a farmer and a student of life.

Sometimes, he emanates this childish enthusiasm when talking about coffee and showed us his curiosity with each new thing that he just learned from us. We were lucky to bring a respected expert Adi Taroepratjeka with us. It’s as if they’re living their own world when talking about it.

“In the beginning, it was never easy. I used to become a pitbull breeder, sorting out my friends’ farms, and I even grew my own lily and rose”, he said. The latter at one point brought him immense success when several times he supplied the Presidential Palace needs for fresh flowers for events, but he stopped the flower business after reaching one point.

Until one time, a group of coffee farmers started to ask him to help and share his expertise as a green thumb. His coffee story finally began.

A farmer’s hardships

Our 4WD Cherokee finally reached the checkpoints at the edge of a pine forest. The stony road proved to be a no challenge for our adept off-road adventurer a.k.a The Foodie Magazine’s proud photographer, Dennie Ramon.

But there’s one other obstacle to tackle.

Pak Yoseph said specifically that we must respect whatever the guard has to say about letting us in or not. If he says we can go in with the car, then it’s a job well done.

Luckily, Pak Yoseph managed to convince the guy and spared us the fuss to walk the dirt path.

“Coffee farmers are accepted in this part of the forest because both Perum Perhutani (state owned forestry company) as the landowner welcomes improvements by enthusiastic outsiders like us. Kopassus, who is leasing some part of this land, also appreciates our work with the land and for taking care of the environments”, he said. “Even so, at times we would hear explosions and the soldiers training not far from our plot!”

We parked our car at one side of the road to explore the forest and continue to walk all across the coffee plantations owned by Pak Yoseph and his fellow farmers.

“Under these thick pine trees, the sunlight can’t get through well to support what the plants need. That’s why it may take longer to produce the coffee cherries”, he explained as we tread through the rough terrain. “The weeds are problematic as well. We had to share our fortune and pay the workers to clear things up for us once in a while. Luckily, I have formulated the effective way to put up with the cost, working hours, and the right timing to do that.”

In addition, Pak Yoseph did the extra mile to line up the plants so his plot looks tidier than other farmers. “At most, one worker could only plant around more than a dozen plants per day. Working in the mountain is not easy since the air is thinner here”, he continued.

Yoseph Kusuniyanto (3)

Pak Yoseph is currently growing Caturra beans from Brazil, an Arabica cultivar that has a high yield capability with wonderful flavor profile – naturally sweet with citric characters. We had several cups of it back at his home before and after we visited his farm. Did it the old fashioned tubruk way with sugar. Nice, but it was too dark roasted.

“From time to time, I offer thousands of seeds and fertilizer to people around here but they just don’t want it. What happened next was the seedlings went missing. I don’t know who did it but since then, I decided to cultivate the seeds at home first before planting them here”, said Pak Yoseph frowning.

On his backyard, he grows the seeds based on the criteria some Jakarta-based roasters asked. He’s now juggling between taking care of his plantations, catering the roaster needs, and his family as well. “Not only that the yielding capability of coffee is for long term, it also provides 90% of my family needs. The rest 10% I got from helping people with their farms. I am grateful for it”, he said.

On the horizon, the rainclouds were all that we could see. It started pouring down steadily as we head back to Pak Yoseph’s house. His wife had prepared us warm rice, good salted fish, and some home grown vegetables with delicious sambal. It was a lunch like we never had before and much more satisfying that I could ever ask.

Yoseph Kusuniyanto (1)

Life gives what Pak Yoseph and his family need by living a rural life as a hardworking farmer. Everything may seem simpler up here in the mountain, but it’s not without the challenge itself.

For Pak Yoseph, it’s a never ending cycle to learn more and contribute better for the society with quality coffee. Although sometimes he’s too shy to admit that, the farmers wouldn’t fare better without his counsel and hard work.

Now, the rest is up to us who can be the ones that support his work and appreciate each cup of coffee that passes us by in our lives. They all came from the tears and blood of the unsung heroes deep in the mountains.

—–

Featured in THE FOODIE MAGAZINE March 2015 edition

Download it for free here via SCOOP!

Photography by Dennie Ramon

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