A decade of working in specialty coffee, and until a couple of months ago, I’d never stepped foot on a coffee farm. ‘Shocking’, I hear you say. I agree! Working as a barista, coffee trainer and, in this past year, as a café owner, I feel like I’ve covered almost all aspects of coffee. But there has always been a gaping hole in my coffee experience — origin.
As baristas we read, talk, drink, even dream about coffee for most of the day, but it’s easy to forget about where it all begins. When I heard that the annual Five Senses’ Bali origin trip was fast approaching, and that there was a spot for me, I could not pass it up. I booked my flights, and a few weeks later I was setting off to popular Bali for an experience most tourists don’t have.
I really had no idea what was in store for me when I stepped off the plane. Not only had I never been to see coffee at origin, but I’m probably the only West Aussie who’s never been to Bali. I like to think I’m a seasoned traveller, but my travels have never taken me there. As I waited for the rest of the group to arrive, I became more and more excited. We met up and drove to the more relaxed area of Ubud which was our base for the next five days. It’s a beautiful part of Bali, with rice paddies forming part of the view from our villas. This was my kind of work trip! I’d been pre-warned however that this was no holiday; we’d be working hard on the farms with the coffee growers in the Kintamani region, picking coffee, planting nurseries, and walking — lots of walking. It was all of those things and more. One of the BEST trips of my life, and I feel privileged to have had this opportunity.
Being on the farms, meeting the families and communities behind the coffee and seeing the relationship that has been forged over many years with Five Senses, I had an overwhelming sense of appreciation for how much work, commitment and trust goes in to producing the coffee that we work with every day in our cafes. This reality hit home very quickly during our first task. The team was sent with baskets tied around our waists to a plantation which was ready for picking. Our task was to pick a very specific cherry from the coffee trees that we would then process and plant in a new nursery at Tri Karya. Our team of ten took approximately three hours to pick 50kgs of cherry, which was then pulped down to around 9kgs of green coffee. If I wasn’t already shocked, I then learned that if our picking was to be roasted, it would be further reduced to around 7.5kgs of roasted coffee. I quickly did the maths. Most busy cafes would go through that in one morning. My appreciation for the work that happens at the farm has increased ten-fold. I have a feeling we slowed the coffee farmers down considerably that day. Once they had filled their baskets in half the time, they proceeded to follow me around the plantation and fill mine. I don’t think they’ll be offering me a job anytime soon!
I returned to Ubud that day with a strong sense of partnership with the families at Ulian Murni. The hospitality, kindness and friendship they showed made me excited and honoured to be part of something very special. It’s with this sense of privilege that I returned to Perth and my little coffee bar, bursting with ideas and eagerness to hold up my end of the deal and represent the amazing coffees we have access to with precision, passion and a lot of love!
Vanessa Robertson is the owner and operator of Bench Espresso in East Perth, Western Australia.