Sun, 03 Aug 2003

A Cup of Java

------------------ A Cup of Java Gabriella Teggia and Mark Hanusz, Equinox 2003 142 pp --------------------

For an increasing part of the world, coffee has become a potion of infinite delight.

But while modern coffee shops are mushrooming in the cities of the world, one tends to ignore the origins of coffee. There is of course "Turkish coffee" or "Irish coffee", but these terms refer to the way of coffee serving rather than to the roots of the coffee bean. "Java coffee", however, has a long history, and one that links politics with economic windfalls and social conditions.

A Cup of Java, a book of 142 pages and numerous pictures, is told by Hanusz, author of the noted Kretek, and Teggia, one of the founding partners of the Losari Coffee Plantation.

Divided into four chapters, the book describes how a coffee seedling smuggled out of the Arab port of Mocha made the Dutch the first to transport and cultivate coffee commercially, in Ceylon and in their East Indies colony -- Java.

The cultivation of coffee had such an important impact on the coffers of the Dutch it led to its inclusion in the notorious cultuurstelsel, by which peasants in the East Indies were forced to plant cash crops.

While the system caused the intense suffering of the people, its legacy turned out to be on the brighter side, as evident from the over 100 private and government plantations that are scattered along the slopes of the volcanoes over the entire length of Java.

Taking a close look at some of the most venerable plantations, the authors elaborately highlight the Losari Coffee Plantation in the highlands of Central Java, 900 meters above sea level.

This should not be surprising as Teggia has, since 1990, been one of the owners of the renovated estate that was formerly named Karangredjo Coffee Plantation.

Part of the plantation, which is surrounded by eight volcanoes, is a resort where traditional structures and techniques have resurrected the traditional joglo and limas housing style as added value to tourists trying to escape current realities in the nostalgic atmosphere of the "good old days".

Particularly interesting is the chapter on Java's coffee roasters, which describes Tek Sun Ho as a brand established in 1878 (later renamed Warung Tinggi, or "WARTIN"), whetting the tastebuds the same way Douwe Egberts does for a Dutchman, Lavazza for an Italian or Maxwell House for an American.

In 2001 the family enterprise split into two brands, one of which retains the Wartin name, and the other operating under the name of Bakoel Koffie. Kapal Api coffee, which regularly appears on TV ads, may have evoked the impression of being a new brand, but in fact it goes back to 1927.

Highlighting the role of coffee in Javanese culture and society, the authors have surveyed coffee as it is used as offerings for protection at the sacred tombs of warriors, or in trance dances where a dancer will eat coffee leaves to "facilitate" the trance, or to dye one's hair, to paint designs on cigarettes, the Java coffee scrub in massages, or to produce a certain batik pattern.

While the book does not match the famous epic of the Kretek, it testifies to solid research of the subject, comes in a small, handy format and is certainly more affordable. -- Carla Bianpoen