Ulian Murni is a farming village of 970 people, 150 hectares in size, found in the Kintamani area 40-minutes north of Ubud. Like most highland communities in north Bali, orange is the standard source of income for the native Ulian, perhaps even the greatest. These days, however, coffee comes as a tight second. Thanks to one man striving to drive the community forward.
Born into a family of first generation coffee farmers, I Wayan Arca Bertayasa’ s aspirations lay elsewhere. For most youngsters in the village, working in the farm isn’t optional. It is a way of contributing to the family welfare. But Arca’s defiance proved to be a blessing in disguise.
He left home and gallivanted to the other side of paradise, found comfort in hospitality and to his own wonderment, thrived. He fulfilled a new dream of becoming an achieved mixologist behind the bar; beyond that, Arca flew under the wing of Scottish street food chef, Will Meyrick, who was serendipitously his ticket to international trajectory. In the span of seven years, Arca helped bolster Sarong, Mama San, and Hujan Locale with his cocktail creativity, and merited the leap to Mama San Hong Kong and Malaysia. But the true turning point occurred after his hospitality reign.
Back in Ulian, Arca’s family had been growing coffee since 1980. His father’s farm flourished with some 100 trees, though limited to one varietal: the Cobra (a Colombian and Brazilian mix).
After his own fruitful ventures, Arca decided to return to his familial duties. He continued his father’s coffee legacy in 2010, but started from zero. He produced fully-washed beans, normally deemed a dime-a-dozen, but his colourful résumé in food and beverage, and impressive confidence, brought Ulian to recognition. As one of the only English speakers in the village, he bridged a network with the coffee community. He supplied from his 5-hectare garden but also beans from his neighbour, soon becoming the lifeline of a newfound sustainable business.
“I wanted to help my family and the community to sell better quality coffee and make sure they are in the clear of sneaky middlemen,” he says.
The orange business, Arca claims, is unpredictable. Some people take without paying. With coffee, he centralises transactions to promote fair trading. He monitors the cash flow, ensuring the money lands straight into respective pockets. No meddling middlemen.
In 2013, his path crossed with roasters from Bali’s bustling south coast who solidified Arca’s passion for coffee. Now household names in Canggu and Seminyak, Hungry Bird and Revolver Espresso were two of his early customers.
These two businesses assisted Arca’s transition from mixology into coffee farming by educating the farmers and providing proper equipment for processing. In turn, Arca was able to understand the market through them. He penetrated the community of avid coffee drinkers, local and from other coffee-consuming countries, especially those from Australia who seek quality coffee. Finally, he gave farming his undivided attention.
Alongside the ‘third wave of coffee’ movement, which secured the drink as an artisanal product, Arca grasped the opportunity to improve on quality. On a revived plot of land, he experimented with different processing methods with what they call the ‘forgotten’ variety. For the longest time, the Indonesian government pushed the production of one variety that is high yielding, but compromises on quality. Arca regained life to a variety that allows the quality to flourish, though yielding less results.
“Mixology and coffee processing closely interconnect. Both require understanding the actions to produce a certain taste and quality — you’re just dealing with different objects. I have been applying similar methods of mixing and matching to give tasty results and to make the customers happy. I was behind a bar before, now I work with nature.”
His specialty coffee is now known island-wide as Arca Ulian Coffee — USDA-standard natural or honey. Arca’s farm has grown from drying cherries in the parking lot to one of the three farms that possesses their own mill where other coffee farmers flock to in times of need.
Life has improved since coffee came to life in Ulian. Their diet was limited to sweet potato; now they eat rice. The ladies here play a pivotal role in the farms and many of them are single parents. Without coffee, they can’t afford to put their children and grandchildren into education. But all of that seems to be in the distant past, thanks to one boy and his dream.
Want to try Arca’s coffee? His coffee beans are served at Hungry Bird (Canggu) and Revolver Espresso (Seminyak) if you want them professionally brewed, otherwise you can buy it online through Hungry Bird’s online shop.