Panen Raya (Harvest Time)

April 28, 2016

Back when I was a dirt dweller, I used to buy coffee beans from this little warehouse in Oakland. The company, Sweet Maria’s, was owned and operated by a guy who personally flew around the world, visiting plantations, sampling coffee beans at the source, and then buying small batches from the best of them. I have wanted his job ever since.

When I imagined this sailing adventure, I pictured myself, sailing through the world’s finest coffee growing regions, making dozens (if not hundreds) of forays into the mountains to restock my ever dwindling supplies of green beans. As the journey wore on, it became apparent to me that this dream was (perhaps) a bit unrealistic. The resources and local knowledge needed to find and visit the farms change with every locale, and the time and money needed to make the trips is not insignificant on our modest budget.

I’ve contented myself with buying green beans from the roasters in the cities, and sometimes getting ungraded (un-sorted) coffee from the markets. I saw lower grade coffee drying on the side of the road in Flores, and went to a tourist trap in Bali, but that was as close as I had come to a real working coffee farm.

With our time in Southeast Asia winding to a close, I had written off the dream. Maybe the next trip around the world would afford me more time and money. We arrived in Padang with only two objectives. Provision and check out. Next stop Mauritius.

Our first day was a scouting mission, and it was off to a really rough start. Our initial dinghy ride to shore had to be aborted after an enormous, very localized wave nearly capsized the dinghy and soaked her crew. Our second attempt went only slightly better. After over an hour of idle chatting, we made it off the docks and into an overpriced cab. We spent the early afternoon terrorized by a techno-filled mall before escaping to the more comfortable street bustle of the city. Eventually we found ourselves, hot and tired, in a great little coffee-shop bistro in Old Padang called Coffee Theory. Our iced lattes were served cold cream over coffee ice cubes and was about the most divine thing in our world at the time. I asked the barista about filters for our Aeropress and a guy on the customer side of the bar said “I’ve got some you could buy.” He introduced himself as Ary and we started talking about coffee. I asked the question I’ve come to ask anyone who seems to care about coffee; “Do you happen to know where I might be able to buy some green beans?”

“I happen to be going up to a farm in the mountains tonight. It’s begun to get a really solid reputation for quality.” I went back to our table to tell Vick. I wasn’t even thinking of going myself, but I thought maybe we should ask him to pick up some beans for us. I told her what Ary told me and she started planning for my absence. Light dawned. Ary confirmed what Vick has intuited, there was a seat for me if I wanted it.

Somewhere around 11pm that night, I got a call from Ary that he was on his way. Vick dropped me off and I waited beneath a streetlight in front of a gorgeous modern mosque. I waited. Then waited some more. Ary was checking in regularly, but also lost. Eventually a young guy came out of the mosque and started chatting with me. We called Ary together and the next thing I knew, I was on the back of a scooter, heading who-knows-where at high speed. 20 minutes of hairpin turns later we were pulling over to the warang (food shop) where Ary and friends were eating. We piled into the van, picked up seven other guys and headed for the hills.

We arrived at the headquarters of Solok Radjo somewhere in the neighborhood of 2am. Four of us crashed out on the floor of the guest room (thanks guys for giving the old man the mattress) and the rest went to make coffee… for real. I suspect that they fell asleep eventually (because the room was packed when I woke up) but I can’t imagine how that happened. We got up at seven and (after the obvious coffee breakfast) loaded up to go to the most amazing lookout, on the way to the farm.

I spent the day picking beans, learning about the various curing processes, roasting in a traditional clay roast pot, laughing and joking with my new posse (the Fruited-G crew) cupping (tasting) coffee from different micro-lots and generally living the honest-to-god dream that I have had for at least a decade. It didn’t hurt one bit that this was all happening on a gorgeous day in the very heart of paradise.

Our ride home was an adventure as well, full of rain and raucous laughter and a movie worthy slalom down the mountain road. As we entered the city limits, I felt myself holding on tight to something. We dropped the crew off in small spurts, two here, three there. Until it was just four of us. Those stalwart few picked up the remaining Convivia crew and grabbed a delicious (and overdue) dinner before doing a few chores and dropping us off at the dock. As we pulled away from the dock I realized that I had forgotten the beans, it was then that the penny dropped.

While it would be perfectly reasonable to assume that I had forgotten the very object of this adventure (the 10kg of farm fresh green coffee beans) because I was overtired, the actual reason was that somewhere between that scooter ride, and the dock the next day the bond of camaraderie,  shared experience, and easy laughter had eclipsed the material objective so thoroughly, that I actually didn’t have a care for those beans.

So, to the Fruited-Gs and the Portafilter Posse, thank you! You’ve made my dream real, and given me something even more important, friendship. I owe you all some ink, though,  so don’t think you’re off the hook. See you in 15 years (give or take).




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