Opinion

Kopi Bubuk Flores and ancestral spirits

It doesn’t take one long to learn that Flores and the surrounding archipelago is a special realm.  Alien plant life, pink, black and white beaches, Komodo dragons, animistic mountain tribes and, of course, the stunning mountain ranges enshrouded in thundering mist. 

But that’s not all there is in Flores—java!  Not Java—java, as in joe.  A bean head, such as myself, will travel to the farthest reaches for a good, solid bean.  And that is why my compatriots and I found ourselves hiking through jungle-covered mountains into what felt like a realm within a realm, the storm-cloud mountain world of the Manggarai tribe. 

When we finally arrived at the little hut on stilts at the path entrance to the Manggarai village, Wae Rebo, the rain was nearly torrential.  Rivers of brown mud ran down the mountain path below, heightening the anticipation for the legendary coffee for which we so desperately sought—Kopi Bubuk Flores.  We whacked the big hanging hunk of bamboo in the hut with a wooden stick, signaling our arrival to the villagers. 

Shortly thereafter, we were taken to the tribal leader’s massive five story roundhouse with a conical thatched roof.  We sat in the smoky dimness as the man spoke in his native tongue from the center of the house.  The translator—according to my cousin who translated the words of the translator for me—said the man had prayed to his ancestral spirits (who apparently resided in the upper levels of the house) for permission for us to stay, which they so very graciously provided. 

After a confusing explanation of do’s and don’ts like “don’t incur the wrath of the ancestral spirits or they will most surely curse you and that probably means not getting a righteous cup of joe,” we retired to the roundhouse assigned us, where we would be sleeping side by side all along the circumference of the house.  There were hairy grey spiders the size of a pygmy’s hands; but no matter, it was time for the coffee.  When the tray of tea, coffee pots and cups was brought out, I lunged like an emaciated panther and poured myself a cup of steaming bean juice.  I sniffed it.  I sipped it.  I felt the coldness of the mountain night air coming up through the floorboards of the stilted house and all along my spine.  The heat of the coffee in my mouth, then my esophagus, then my assortment of innards…

Meh. 

McCafé is less bland.  My case to prove that Robusta is every bit as good as Arabica is not helped.  Still better than Starbucks, though.