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Students in a long tail boat in Indonesia. Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Indonesia Semester.

Discovering the origins of coffee in Langa

We wake up every morning with the aroma of coffee roasting over the fire. A specific smell, one that wafts through the whole village. A smell that is nostalgic for me – bringing me to many parts of the world where I have visited and learned from coffee farmers what the growing process entails. Egen, our Homestay Coordinator here in Langa remembers from a young age helping his family harvest the coffee every year during the months of June, July, and August. The three month harvest season is busy. Waking up before the hot sun is essential, and hand picking the ripe coffee cherries is no easy task.

Egen brings the students to his family’s farm, where they learned about the different types of coffee trees in the area. Here in central Flores, coffee sells to mostly local markets, with few select farms tapping into the more selective single origin and fair trade markets that then sell for higher prices in Indonesia and across borders. There are hopes within the village here to one day be able to market their coffee directly to buyers, completing the coffee process from harvest to roasting. For now, most families in Langa roast their coffee over the fire for use within the home. The students take part in roasting, carefully trying to not burn the precious beans. After, they get what is essentially a huge mortar and pastel to pound the coffee to a very fine grind. The students tire easily. With sore arms and a new appreciation for coffee, we finally indulge in the fresh roast and happily drink our cup of Langa coffee.

Being here has reminded me to think more critically about what goes into the food I indulge in. Coffee is truly a luxury. A necessity for most, a part of daily life. As I sit and drink (what is now my 5th cup today), I think about each farmer who spends day after day hand picking each coffee cherry. I think about all the moving parts that fit perfectly to bring the beans all over the world and I question whether my decision to take part as a consumer is ethical. The supply chain of coffee is complicated and often corrupt, like most cash crops. The farmer is often left to sell their product at a small fraction of what the international roasters and sellers profit from.

I sit here surrounded by my host family, grateful for their love of the land and love of coffee. Together we laugh about how the people in Langa like their coffee dark and very sweet. Served any other way is the wrong way. I leave the kitchen and walk back through the farm, I’m surrounded by coffee, corn, taro, cacao, banana, papaya all haphazardly growing in a complicated web of symbiotic relation. I thank the earth and thank the farmers who provide the world with the gift of coffee.