East meets west in the quest to produce the world’s best cup of java.
By Melinda Chickering
ali-based entrepreneurs Asher Yaron and I Nyoman Wirata are aiming for nothing short of perfection in a cup. Wirata brings the agricultural expertise of generations of growing coffee beans in the highlands around Kintamani. Yaron contributes years of experimenting with grinding, roasting and brewing, which eventually prompted him to design his own micro-roaster, a key element of the duo’s business and dream. “Fresh roasted always tastes better,” says Yaron, a
about food”. “I thought I had my technique down and I would make coffee for friends,” he says. He pauses for dramatic effect. “They were so unimpressed.” One day, Yaron sampled some coffee that a friend had fresh roasted in a popcorn popper. “It was like BOOM, the answer!” he says. “If they could do it, I knew I could do it.” The popcorn-popper-roasted coffee led to Yaron’s revelation about coffee quality: “Fresh roasted is always going to taste better than not fresh roasted.” He then started roasting his own coffee on a barbeque grill, with pleasing results. “Everyone I shared the coffee with was blown away,” he recalls. “They had never had fresh-roasted coffee before.”
PHOTO BY GLENN CHICKERING
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caffeinated American who, before moving to Bali, had lived in New York, Arizona and a small town in Oregon. In his ongoing search for “the perfect cup of coffee”, Yaron undertook various experiments with grinders and brewing, and even invested in a top-of-the-line espresso machine. At the time, he was buying the beans from Costco, a large supermarket. Yaron’s “aha!” moment came after he moved to Ashland, Oregon, where, he says, “there is real awareness
During his years researching coffee, Yaron met a woman named Avara. They married and came to Bali for their honeymoon, with no specific plans save to let the spirit move them. They settled into a hotel in the Campuan area of Ubud. “As soon as we sat down, Balinese dancers came out and danced just for us,” Yaron recalls. “We knew it was a magical place.” At that time, Wirata had a clothing shop called Sama Sama, where the couple met him. Avara, a handbag designer, went into business with Wirata, producing handbags in Bali for export to the USA. Their partnership has lasted 13 years. Now, Wirata and Yaron are embarking on a new venture – to transform the way both Balinese and expats in Bali think about coffee. “Bali coffee is usually roasted until black, ground by hand to powder, then put in plastic and stored on a store shelf,” explains Yaron. “This makes for a bitter aftertaste, with no complexity and freshness.” The flavor profile of coffee can be even more complex and varied than that of fine wine, he insists, if Nature’s
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gifts to this heavenly bean can be coaxed to reveal themselves properly. Yaron cites research that says fresh-roasted, freshly ground coffee has health benefits absent from coffee that has rested for a long period since roasting. Healthy antioxidant-containing oils in the beans go rancid during weeks of storage. A gentler roast and a fresher ground stored mere days in glass rather than months in plastic makes all the difference in a cup of coffee’s flavor and health benefits, argues Yaron.
without chemicals, and you can put that money in your pocket.”
Gear to Grind
“When I met Asher, he was making all of this equipment,” says Wirata. Among “this equipment” is the 5-kilogram-capacity stainless-steel roaster sitting in the kitchen of one of Wirata’s warung near Ubud. As the roaster works its magic, sweet warm smells like a chocolate cake baking waft from the rotating barrel. “When I tasted the coffee … Wow!” Wirata says. “It was hard to believe that was my coffee!” Wirata left the family farm as an adolescent in hopes of improving his life. After years away, traveling and opening up small businesses, he found himself drawn back into coffee and the traditional, organic farming methods used by his forefathers around Kintamani. Now, he says, he knows “how to grow coffee from the seed until the harvest”. Entrepreneurial pursuits such as his clothing shop and handful of warung pay for his four children to go to school. He reminisces about days spent in the fields with his father as a child. Today his family farm still uses organic methods to grow their coffee. “If we buy the chemicals, we’re spending mostly on the chemicals,” he says. “In our experience, it’s better
Other elements central to Wirata and Yaron’s coffee business are environmental friendliness and sustainability. Most coffee familiar to people in Western countries is shipped all around the globe, from one country where it is harvested to another where it is roasted and packaged, then back again or to a third where it is consumed. Yaron believes that coffee that is grown, roasted, ground and brewed all in the same place both tastes better and leaves a much smaller carbon footprint. “After roasting, coffee quickly loses its fresh taste in a matter of days,” he insists. “I have done years of taste tests to prove this theory. The big companies don’t talk about this and want people to believe that coffee in vacuum-sealed packaging has a long shelf-life.” He has even come up with a little chant: “Keep Bali coffee in Bali.” He dismisses imports from Europe, Central America and Africa in favor of the local product: “There’s good coffee here.” To bring those coffee beans to their full cup of potential, though, Bali needs fresh ideas about roasting. That’s where Wirata and Yaron hope to make their mark. They are installing barista kiosks in warung around Bali to offer the freshest-roasted Bali beans by the kilogram for those who brew at home, and by the cupful for those ready to sip. And Bali has more to offer too: A blend of freshroasted beans with palm sugar and cashew milk – all grown organically and produced locally in Bali – is, Yaron believes, the recipe for one of the world’s finest coffee drinks.
WEEKENDER MAGAZINE, JUNE 2011