By Sidiq Harjanto, translated by T.T. Chan
On 18 and 19 March 2023, SwaraOwa/ KopiOwa partnered with PPM Mendolo to organise the ‘Mendolo Coffee Meet’ event. We had three items on our agenda – roasting coffee together, discussing the relevance of biodiversity to women involved in coffee agroforestry in Mendolo Village, and taking local children birdwatching. The first two are the subject of this post.
On the first day of the event, we invited women to explain the nitty-gritty of coffee-related customs in Mendolo, particularly the art of coffee roasting. We likewise engaged women of different ages in discussions about the role women in the village have to play in coffee agroforestry.
Various methods of roasting coffee
Coffee has become an integral part of the Mendolo community’s fabric. For locals, coffee is a constantly recurring theme in daily life, being drunk in the morning before they head to the plantations and again in the evening when gathering with family. There is even a special type of coffee called “kopi jembawuk” that is reserved for specific rituals. This coffee is brewed with coconut milk and sweetened with palm sugar.
In recent times, coffee has evolved into a commodity not only consumed locally by the Mendolo community, but also sold beyond the village.
In Mendolo, everyone has their own taste in coffee. While some villagers enjoy plain coffee, others prefer further ingredients being added to their beans during the roasting process. The most common of these ingredients is white rice, as it is said that adding it helps reduce the bitterness of dark roasted coffee beans.
Some locals also add slices of coconut during roasting in a process known locally as ‘nglamir’. Its fans claim that coconut slices bring out a savoury taste in the beans. However, coconut slices are not as commonly used as rice, as the former makes the coffee powder less durable and more prone to turning rancid. For this reason, mixing coconut with coffee is usually done only on special occasions.
The tools used for coffee roasting are relatively simple, comprising a clay or metal pan, a stirring rod or spatula, a sieve and a wooden or gas stove. To start off the roasting process, the pan is heated for about five minutes. Once it is hot enough, approximately 500 g of raw coffee beans are added in, and then stirred continuously using the stirring rod or spatula.
Throughout, these coffee-roasting women closely observe every change in colour, shape and aroma that the coffee beans undergo. As soon as the beans crack and take on a brownish hue, they turn down the heat. The coffee is stirred continuously for as long as it takes to yield the taste that best suits each individual’s preferences. The whole process takes about 20 minutes. Once fully roasted, the coffee is cooled off on a sieve. The next step is grinding. It involves using a mortar and pestle to crush the beans, which are then passed through a sieve to obtain relatively fine coffee powder.
The Role of Women in the Coffee Tradition
Coffee Land management activities
|Land preparation||+++||+||Hue, sickle|
|Making plating hole||+++||+||Hue, wooden for making hole|
Post harvest activities
|Coffee pulping||++||++||Pulper, basket|
|Hulling||++||++||Rice mill ( Male), Pounder (Female)|
|Coffee bean sortation||+++||Round Bamboo Tray|
|Coffee Roasting||+++||Frying pan, stove, tray|
|Coffee Pounding||+++||Pounder, sieve, basket|
Gender contribution in the coffee management chain
In his 1982 book Gender, Ivan Illich argues that the term ‘gender’ does not only denote the difference in sex between males and females, but also refers to the various differences in their social life. These differences include the types of work they do, the tools they employ, their language use and understanding of space-time.
Our focus group discussions revealed that while men and women contribute roughly equally to the coffee supply chain in Mendolo, their roles in it differ noticeably. For instance, men tend to be more involved in managing the coffee plantations, while women play a larger role in post-harvest activities typically carried out around their homes.
Some tasks are gender-specific, such as pruning and grafting, which have traditionally been done only by men. On the other hand, coffee roasting is a skilled role mainly reserved for women, who roast coffee mainly for their own family’s needs and occasionally also those of their neighbours.
Just as Illich stated, differences in the type of work done by each gender imply differences in tools. In this vein, the distinct roles of each gender in the coffee supply chain result in each gender having a different set of tools. Grafting knives are tools exclusively used by men, while mortar and pestle are closely associated with women.
As coffee roasting is a skill specific to the women of the community, we were eager to explore it further. It was noteworthy that among the women present, those who possessed the skill were almost all above 40 years of age.
As the skill is no longer being acquired by the younger generation, Mendolo’s tradition of coffee roasting may soon disappear with the women at our event. To make matters worse, our changing times have also seen a rapidly growing preference to buy factory-packaged coffee. We therefore need to act fast if we are not to lose the art of coffee roasting that Mendolo’s womenfolk are such consummate masters of.
Returning to Illich’s perspective, each gender complements the other in their different roles; the maintenance of everybody’s way of life depends on mutual reciprocity between the genders. It is crucial to realise this so that the balance of roles is perpetuated and women do not experience discriminatory treatment.
Presidential Decree No. 29 of 2000 on Mainstreaming Gender in National Development has put gender issues and upholding the dignity of women firmly on Indonesia’s national agenda.
Just as gender issues are crucial to Indonesia’s national development, so too the role of women needs to be strengthened in efforts to conserve nature. Many studies have in fact shown that involvement of women increases the success rate of conservation initiatives.
Now how do we find the thread that links greater agency for women to the conservation of Javan gibbons and their forests that are also home to various other wildlife? In Mendolo, SwaraOwa endeavours to engage local women through programmes focussing on local food production and stingless bee husbandry. We believe that it is only when women are closely involved in local food production and have alternative sources of income that the pressure human communities exert on forests can be reduced. In other words, developing sustainable livelihoods for women and equipping them with knowledge about forests is key to the success of conservation.