Today, coffee is the most consumed beverage in the world. In fact, it’s estimated that over 400 billion cups of coffee are drunk each year. Considering that in 2019, the earth is home to roughly 7.7 billion humans, it’s fair to say that the coffee tree has so far done very well in terms of evolutionary dominance.
But how did a fruit-bearing tree so successfully intertwine its evolutionary survival with ours? Coffee shares a similar tale with many of our other photosynthetic partners. Our demand for the fruit infatuates us to plant and protect its offspring at all costs, often to the detriment of its less fortunate cousins.
Still, that doesn’t answer the question of how coffee has become so powerful. The answer is that it’s latched onto more than just our shortlived desire for a dark roast espresso – it’s weaved itself into our cultural web.
In the west, our morphing coffee culture has given birth to newfangled concoctions that are far distant from our coffee-drinking ancestral roots. While a Starbucks sugar-free caramel latte macchiato might cause most traditionalists to wince, these examples offer a distinct window into the melting pot that is western culture.
To explore deeper, and in attempts to simplify the relationship between coffee and humans, we’ll need to delve into a place where coffee consumption is much more akin to the days of old. One such place is Lombok. Located in the equatorial archipelago of Indonesia, coffee here is much more of a traditional element of daily human life.
Currently, Indonesia is the fourth-largest producer of coffee in the world. You might have heard the term “java” as a pseudonym for coffee blends. This name originates from the Dutch colonial era, whereby the Dutch East India Company planted and exported coffee from Java, now the world’s most populous island.
Through delivering the infectious beverage to Java, the Dutch set forward a sweeping wave that would once again, carve its way through ancient cultures and customs throughout the archipelago.
Though delayed in terms of a historical standpoint, especially in contrast to Africa and the Middle East, coffee in Indonesia is now regarded as Indonesian as Nasi Goreng. Yet, in Indonesia, coffee has spread itself deeper again, with distinct flavors, preparation methods, and coffee customs becoming unique to individual islands and their peoples.
The Sasak People of Lombok
The Sasak of Lombok are a testament to indigenous perseverance. While many native populations in Asia and throughout the world have experienced segregation, the Sasak today still make up a strong 85 percent majority of Lombok’s inhabitants.
Nevertheless, it’s not to say that the local peoples of Lombok haven’t experienced historical hardships. Imperial western influence has cast the burden of several decades of foreign occupation, both by the Dutch and subsequently, the Japanese.
Though history hasn’t played nice, traditional Sasak culture, from vibrant celebrations to traditional clothes and food has remained steadfast. Perhaps it’s therefore why many locals prefer traditional means over corporatized western ideals, even when it comes to something as simple as a cup of coffee.
One such example of tradition is the inspiring story of Mamiq and his son Gunter.
Traditional Lombok Coffee
Mamiq, known also as “Henry” holds an inspiring story of local entrepreneurship. Growing up in Ampenan, the old port capital of Lombok, he was forced to make ends meet at a very young age.
Mamiq’s father was a tobacco salesman, who had crafted a unique spice mixture that he sold to local Chinese businessmen and Dutch soldiers on the busy port streets of the then central capital; Ampenan. One day, with what could be considered a stroke of child inquisitive ingenuity, Mamiq decided to test his father’s special spice mix in a cup of local Lombok coffee.
He recalls that first sip as a significant moment in his life. Immediately, he was determined to offer his new invention to his family and friends, and after seeing their surprised nods of approval, Mamiq’s entrepreneurial spark set him out on a mission to spread his creation with the world.
Pulling out his handcrafted wooden stool and bench, Mamiq set out the following morning to sell cups of his spiced coffee. He waited, yet the initial attempt was fruitless. Nevertheless, as as we are well aware of in the west, the wall of hesitance towards the unfamiliar requires a little creative marketing nudge to fell.
Unsatisfied but unwavering, before setting off to try again, Mamiq gathered a piece of scrap wood the following morning and scribbled; “Free Coffee”.
It was a hit.
From that day, Mamiq’s “Kopi Rachick” was born. To this day, his spicy twist on traditional Lombok coffee continues to be a favorite amongst villagers and politicians alike.
The Traditional Coffee-Making Process
The Sasak people of Lombok are extremely proud of their strain, which they refer to unanimously as simply “Lombok Kopi”. These unique beans are grown on the volcanic slopes of Lombok’s Mt. Rinjani and are named “Robusta”, a strain particularly resistant to disease and known for its high caffeine content.
Just as Mamiq’s special spice mix has remained unchanged for generations, so has the coffee roasting and preparation. The importance of tradition and culture in the craft is clear from the get-go.
From the inception, the coffee-making methods follow the traditions of old. Picked fresh from Rinjani, raw beans are mixed with fine sand in a large, metal wok, which is heated by a wood fire in the village barn. The roaster takes meticulous care to stir the beans, ensuring a well-rounded and smokey roasting.
Once steaming and glistening, the roaster separates the sand from the beans using a large wooden sieve. Then, after being allowed to cool, the roasted beans are ground to fine powder in a traditional stone mortar and pestle.
Finally, Mamiq adds his secret spices, of which he’d never reveal the entire recipe. Although, being a firm believer in herbal medicine and traditional healing methods he does hint at a few spices now proven to have tangible health benefits. He claims that this had always been ancient knowledge, far before the findings of modern science. To this day, he swears by his coffee for helping him never needing to visit a western doctor.
Kopi Rachick isn’t a global brand or multi-million dollar company. Its success lies in a more humble feat. Mamiq and his son Gunter share their coffee with regular visitors and passers-by at their family-run food stall daily.
People of all race, culture, and religion are drawn to their modest warung not for a quick caffeine fix, but for a warm welcoming and to share stories. In Mamiq’s warung, both the powerful and the poor are equal. Here, police and politicians share the same plastic stools and sip the same glass cups as local villagers.
Culture in a Cup
It’s said that life starts after coffee. Wall-street professionals, Israeli soldiers, Nordic fishermen, Mexican farmers, extremist jihadists, climate strikers and Australian farmers – they all begin their day by sharing a cup of coffee. From a macro perspective; if we truly zoom out and observe humanity through a global lens, we’d be hard-pressed to identify a more unifying, centripetal human quality, despite the overwhelming individual differences.
Perhaps then, that these seemingly novel but deeply-rooted folkways and customs that we all experience can be the building blocks for getting over our difference. We just need a little local spice to help bridge the gap.
Kopi Lombok Video
Below is a short video that tells the story of Mamiq’s coffee. Today, Kopi Rachick’s future remains strong through the next generation; Gunter, who continues to grow his father’s legacy of making great spiced coffee.
Interested in traveling to Lombok? Don’t miss my complete list of things to do in Lombok guide.
We Seek More – An Introduction
If you’re a regular reader of We Seek Travel, you may have noticed that this article differs considerably both in terms of content and writing style.
While travel is a deep passion and the supportive foundations of this blog, I have long been an admirer of independent journalism and cultural storytelling. Truth be told, unique insights into cultural, historical, and earthly narratives of both people and planet inspires greater fascination for me as a writer and photographer.
Consequently, I have decided to build a branch of We Seek Travel dedicated to articles that take a more journalistic approach in thought and purpose. Entitled We Seek More, I seek to evoke in the reader’s mind a more profound understanding of humanity through dispersed yet interconnected stories.
Moreover, We Seek More will be the home for another fascination I share with many; the pursuit to overcome physical trials through self-imposed challenges. To gain more insight into these ill-disposed undertakings, I hope to delve deeper into the world both through the stories of others, and through my own challenges.