There is a Hindu Balinese philosophical idea called “Tri Hita Karana” (“three of the harmony”), which means keeping balance in life. It’s a three-fold concept that involves—in briefest description—that a person remain in balance with the divine, with other people, and with the land in which they live. This has ruminating upon religion over my coffee this morning. Or rather, ruminating about religion and coffee this morning…
This philosophy is evident in Balinese agriculture. Some of their agricultural practices date back more than a thousand years. Tradition, it’s called. Itself an ideal that is often held in esteem by numerous people from other cultures. Like here in the States, “tradition” is a word bandied about, especially in regards to this country’s often-mistaken history and it’s religious stance. Regardless, the traditional farming methods of Bali are practiced in their coffee production, and there isn’t a lot of the same sort of ethical problems that are involved with East Timor or the Congo, or the debated certifications stemming from Fair Trade or Organic labeling. Nonetheless, Bali—and Balinese coffee—does have its own dilemmas. The most problematic may well be tourism.
According to several sources, between 12-20% of Bali’s coffee land has, in the past decade, been stripped of agriculture in order than the tourists who flock to Bali may have more and larger resorts in which to relax and soak in the healthy tropics… The allure of Bali is its tropical mystique, and that tourist mystique is far more important, is it not, than the actuality of Balinese life, agriculture, and tradition. It is only when the value of something is measured in financial benefit to the few that the suffering of the many is seen to have little or no value at all.
More demand and less coffee means the price of that coffee will rise for those who sell it retail, but sadly, that profit margin does not drip through a filter to reach the cups of the farmers who have less land, less crops, and less money. But they should be happy that the tradition of international commerce continues on the other side of the Club Med fence.
Bali’s coffee trade, like the rest of this cosmopolitan world, needs to quickly adapt to surviving all this progress. Practices like Subak Abian, are working to keep the balance in this onslaught of financially-driven progress.
So what about religion…? Not to mention this coffee? Is Bali Blue Moon any good?
Well, first religion. I wonder if, when someone walks into a Starbucks (or the equivalent) and orders a good ol’ cup of American joe, they have any idea that there is so little “American” coffee in the world (the largest figure I came across was about 1.2% of all coffee in the world is grown in Hawai’i, making “American” coffee to be only—or more likely less than—one percent)? In a rough guesstimation, I’d say that about 85-90% of all the world’s coffee is grown and processed and handled on the wholesale market by not only non-Americans, but folks of a darker skin hue, and of a religion that is non-Western. Islam and Hindu can (along with a huge portion of world population) claim the largest demographics of coffee-producers on the planet. In cursory glance, Buddhist and Confucian are probably both numbered higher than Jewish or Christian. In response to my own rhetorical question, when I worked in a coffeehouse *mumble-mumble* years ago, I always found it amusing when someone would order a cup of good ol’ American coffee. Even in the pre-gourmet days of coffee in the States—y’know, when “Juan Valdez” walked his donkey down the mountain so that the white male IBM worker could enjoy his good-to-the-last drop cup of coffee on his coffee-break, there wasn’t “American” coffee. Columbia and Brazil were the top produces for Folgers and Maxwell House. Then, of course, came the 1980s and one of Juan’s relatives immigrated to the US, named an oil tanker after himself, and spilled that tanker’s thick black contents all over Alaska’s shoreline and Juan Valdez’s coffee was washed up. Had the spill been liquid coffee instead of something more crude, this world’s history would have been a much better place. Or, at least, the inept and drunk ship’s captain with little oversight would have been more wakeful and not so inclined to wreck a boat. But I digress… constantly.
Religion is a part of coffee. There is debate among the more fundamentalist sects of Islam as to whether or not coffee is an intoxicant. I, like the Sufis, would say yes, but it is an intoxicant that brings one closer to their own divinity (as the Dervishes do). Many Hindus don’t so much as see coffee as divine, but that the process of growing coffee is, as the Balinese demonstrate, part of being in balance with their divinity.
As for cupping Bali Blue Moon (the second of a trio of coffees from Schuil Coffee Co.), I confess an uncertainty with concluding anything even after a half-dozen pots of this in the past two weeks. At first, I found it rich and loamy, with a sweet bite to it (a result from its low-altitude growing). Then, I mellowed toward it and found it to be rich and warmly calming, but then that sweet bite came in again and was, well… too much of a bite.
This coffee is richly simple, complex in aftertaste. It’s like having a shark in my coffee cup. I love sharks, and understand them to be the mirror of human aggressive fear (oh, no a shark was spotted off the coast of Bali—let’s hunt and kill every shark we find! they’re a danger to us visiting tourists!), and I don’t mind swimming with them. But the danger in swimming with sharks (or hiking a trail in Yellowstone Park, or crossing College Road on foot in Wilmington, North Carolina), is that you have to be cautious. This is a very good coffee, but it can overwhelm in a hurry. It’s a single-cup cup of coffee.
I guess a few people I know would say the same thing about my and my stated opinions. 😉
[Ed. Note. Wasn’t as pleased with the result of this one as with the previous. But part of this is the process of doing it. This was was also rushed due to a) unforeseen events; b) crappy internet, c) procrastination. This was more of a Monday Monologue pre-dated to be a Sunday Soliloquy.]