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Coffee and Tigers in Sumatra

I've just come back from a very exciting and fun field trip to North Sumatra, mainly to visit some of the coffee growers in an area around one of the big national parks. I've been doing a bit of work for an environmental project that's trying to reduce pressure on the land in around the park by encouraging farmers there to get more value out of their land by planting better varieties of coffee, using shade trees, and using less dangerous chemicals and/or organic pesticides and fertilizer. It was really good fun.

I went to a small, grubby village where the project set up a little coffee shop serving seven different types of premium coffee, dirt cheap or free to participating farmers, to try to get them to understand their product a bit better. Most of them just drink the same crappy coffee that everyone drinks in the cities these days. So, the shop roasts on the premises and grinds just before preparing to let the farmers know what it is that people are looking for.

The other thing was a demonstration farm where they have classes, with a bunch of plants that use the chemical fertilizers and pesticides and a bunch using the alternatives, so that people can see that the alternatives work just as well and are cheaper. At the moment, buyers don't really distinguish between the two, but if you get enough farmers all using the alternatives, they'll be able to get some kind of certificate which means that they'll be able to sell at higher prices.

A few days before I got there, a tiger got caught in a pig trap. They are pretty rare these days, maybe well under a hundred in a large national park. Her front lower leg had gone badly gangrenous, so they evacuated her out and amputated the foot. I went to the place where she was kept, but only saw her on a CCTV, because she's still pretty freaked out and wild, and the less people disturbing her the better. Nobody seems to know what they are going to do with her now, they are all still arguing. I went out with the rangers to see how they set up camera traps and saw the results. They've got good footage of about five tigers, but they can't estimate how many are still out there with the data they've got.

It's a really great area, not far from one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the world, Lake Toba. The people up there are all members of a few scores of clans, with about 50-50 muslim/christian. You find people in the same clan from different religions, and it doesn't seem to worry anyone. If there are fights and conflict, it tends to be between the clans, rather than between the religions.

Very exciting trip. I came back with a few hundred grams of cat shit coffee. Civets eat the coffee beans and shit them out in the forest, and then people go and collect them. They are very highly valued and expensive, with a lot of fakes around. I've always been a bit cynical of the concept, but since I'm pretty sure this is the real stuff, I'm going to give it a try.

Not to mention that I came home to find a very generous gift of some Anson's Imperial waiting for me! And a hundred grams of Cheeta.

Life is good.


  • That sounds like an amazing trip. I've been curious about that civet coffee, it seems very strange that somebody would think it's a good idea to process recycled beans from cat turds into coffee. If I recall correctly it's a favourite of John Cleese. I'd be very interested to hear what you think of it.
  • I've heard about the civet cat coffee back in the '90s when they were offering tastings at some high end gourmet store but I didn't get the chance to go. Please tell us how it tastes.
  • Well, the coffee is good. It's rich, smooth, a hint of acidity but not too much, which is the way I like it. On the other hand, I've had coffee that hasn't passed through the digestive tract of a civet cat which I like just as much or better, and without the premium price -- about double or three times the price of a good Arabica from the same region. So, it's in the category of "something I'm glad I tried, but no need to rush out for more."
  • JakartaBoyJakartaBoy Member
    edited December 2015 PM
    Here's a link to some images of the tiger being evacuated:

    Ah! And here's a youtube video. This one is quite exciting!

    And this one is of the actual amputation process. Not for the queasy.

  • fredhfredh Member
    edited December 2015 PM
    I once spent a month in Sumatra on Lake Toba on Samosir island in the middle of Lake Toba, which is 60 miles long and about 30 miles wide. It is believed to be the largest volcanic lake in the world. It is also the site, and the remnant, of what is believed to be the largest volcanic explosion in the last 3 million years. The Lake is all that's left and nearly all of it is still a super volcano. It's history, geologically, is fascinating.,+Indonesia/@2.161754,97.8428698,507965m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x3031de07a843b6ad:0xc018edffa69c0d05!6m1!1e1

    Those were some of the best days of my life for a number of reasons. 

    Loved the Batak people there and rented one of the Batak houses like the ones below for all of $1.50 per night.

    But that was in 1980 and I am sure things are a bit different there now.

    What did the villagers think of the higher quality coffee--just curious?

    Thanks for starting this thread @jakartaboy

  • @fredh, this area was just a bit south of the lake. I was in one of the districts that bordered the lake on the south side, but didn't get there this time. But I did go there some time last year, for the first time for ... maybe 25 years? And it's changed surprisingly little, at least compared to many other tourist sites in Indonesia or anywhere else, for that matter.

    The villagers took a while to appreciate the coffee, particularly since the guy running the place tried to get them to taste it without any sugar. But they seem to be getting a taste for it.
  • Thanks @Jakartaboy. Keep us informed of your travels. 

    Have you been to Kalimantan or Sulawesi. If so would you recommend the trip?

  • What a great job and they say join the navy and see the world. lol. 
    SWS Anson's Imperial is amazing really top shelf. I haven't indulge too much in flavored snuffs lately but I can't keep this too far from reach.  
    My knowledge is worthless if not shared and applied . "Joseph McKenna"  
  • @fredh, I've been to both on many occasions. Sulawesi has lots to recommend it. Toraja is a well known but not extremely crowded or busy tourism area, with a very interesting animist culture with lots of strange funeral rites and some beautiful scenery. The other big site is Menado, known for diving and the underwater terrain. In between, there's heaps of interesting, less well known stuff, a bit more difficult unless you have local contacts and/or Indonesian language. I'm not really so crazy about Kalimantan, although there is a famous orang utan rehab center.

    @basement_shaman, I'm going to polish off an open tin of Roslein, then I'm going to move on to the Anson's Imperial. I've yet to come across an SWS snuff I don't like, and I'm not expecting this to be an exception.
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