Conversations Over Coffee at the Santi Agra Visata, Bali

THE BEST PART of the Santi Agra Visata coffee plantation is not the coffee, nor is it the stunning view of the sloping valleys of crops and wildlife behind their backyard picnic tables. What makes Santi worth a visit is the refreshing honesty of its owner, Wayan, a young Balinese man with gelled hair and a quick, tacky charm.

We did not know who he was at first — our driver for the day introduced us to the coffee and cocoa beans, and guided us from the parking lot through to the shop and terrace. We did not specifically ask to come here; it was part of a full-day tour, and we played along. When we sat down our driver disappeared, and Wayan showed up with a tray of every type of coffee and tea available for an apparently free taste.

V was in heaven. I was suspicious, looking for the hidden scam. No scheme, Wayan assured us; the samples were indeed not only free but replenishable. The only cost was optional: 30,000 rupiah (or $3) if we wanted a cup of their infamous Luwak Coffee, roasted from the cleaned dung of the cat-like jungle creature for which there is no easy English name. They keep the cats caged up and feed them coffee beans, which apparently the critters love but still don’t look very happy about.

Wayan sat down with us. He opened his plantation to the public three years ago, he explained, though it’s been operational for five. He used to work in a hotel, where he’d practice English with the guests. He has learned a few verbal tricks. A South African woman noted how sweet their ginseng brew was, to which Wayan called out: “Not as sweet as me!”

I asked Wayan how he could afford to give out free samples when there was not even an entry fee. “After people taste, people know what they like,” he told us. The drinks were admittedly terrific — the lemongrass, their top tea seller, had a striking immediacy to it, while the vanilla, coconut and ginseng coffees were all milky smooth, on account of their being ground up together with the coffee beans. Wayan was right — the stuff does sell itself. The only thing holding us back from buying a bag ourselves was the fact that we had limited backpack space for so many weeks longer on the road.

It is odd, then, that Balinese coffee is not as internationally renowned as Java or Sumatra blends. Wayan attributes this to sheer numbers: Bali has 3.5 million people, with just enough coffee farmers to supply the island itself. By contrast, Java may as well be the size of Australia, with the manpower to support it.

It was nice to be able to have a conversation with someone in Bali and not, for once, feel like we’re being sold an ideology. Earlier, we saw the island’s major temples; later, we’d drive to the titanic rice patties. Women try to sell us sarongs and children run up to our car windows, cheerily holding out postcards for sale. We did end up splurging on the poop coffee — not because we especially cared to try it, but because we just kinda liked the place. We almost bought a whole bag, and as we drove away, I wished we had. It would have been worth 10 bucks.

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