Business Spotlight

Old Friends Coffee is a small roastery and café that opened in Nyuh Kuning village, near Ubud, in 2016. Old Friends is owned and managed by I Made Sipil (Made) who is a third-generation member of a coffee-growing family in Belantih, Kintamani, in the highlands of northern Bali.

Made said that originally he wasn’t interested in the family business. He left home in 1999 to take an English course in Denpasar, and started working as a tour guide in Nusa Dua.

He said his uncle, who managed the family coffee farm together with Made’s grandfather, always told Made that the way land is farmed is very important; that farmers should work together with Nature, using traditional farming techniques and not try to modernise farms and get maximum output and profit, which can often exhaust the soil and pollute water.

After Made married his Japanese wife, Rie, he wanted to find different work. “ My wife didn’t want to go back to an office job and I didn’t want to go back to being a tour guide. Everything in Bali had changed. Tourism was bringing massive development.” There was more traffic and pollution, and land prices were skyrocketing. Made said he saw that disparity was growing in Bali and many farmers were being forced to sell their land. He said that the status of farmers remained low and tourism was driving the economy. Many young people didn’t want to become farmers, wanting to work in tourism instead.

Made returned to his family business of growing and selling coffee. “But I was [of the] opposite opinion of my uncle,” he said, ”I just wanted to farm for profit.” Made said it took him a long time to accept the concepts of farming in balance with Nature. “I was still ignorant of the soul of farming,” he said.

Rie and her Japanese family actively supported Made in farming in a sustainable way. They encouraged Made to learn to be a traditional farmer, like his uncle, and not focus on making profits. Made said his views started to change. He learned his uncle’s methods of companion planting. This concept of planting other plants (orange, banana, chili, ginger, turmeric and more) together with coffee trees increases shade so the coffee plants need less water, naturally controls pests so farmers don’t need to use pesticides and can even add flavor to the resulting coffee, such as chocolate or banana plants.

Rie first developed the concept of “From Farm to Cup” for their coffee business. Made said it took him two years to really understand the mentality behind this idea. Made had always respected the Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Karana (Three Causes of Prosperity), which teaches that people must keep a balance between the spiritual and physical worlds, and take responsibility for maintaining this balance in all aspects of their lives: relationships, in the community and with the environment. Now he really started to put it into action.

Made said local coffee buyers tried to lure him into supplying them with beans based entirely on volume and profit, but he resisted.

Made had seen the numbers of young people in his village with blood and kidney diseases spike and he associated this with pesticide use and polluted water. “Life [in Bali] is out of balance,” he said. “We are cutting down our trees, destroying our rivers. Bali is on overload with all the development.” Subaks are disappearing, streams are shrinking and people are increasingly only interested in making short-term profit. “You can earn more profits over 5-6 years [using commercial methods] but in the end you will ruin the soil,” said Made.

“I wasn’t just thinking about business. We need to wake up to what we’re doing to Nature in Bali,” he said. “The Balinese are doing more and bigger ceremonies, praying for big harvests.” But he said, the Balinese are moving away from their roots and the concept of Tri Hita Karana. Made said, “God is in the water, in the wind, in the soil. While the Balinese are praying for profit, they are destroying the real sources of our religion, what really sustains us.” He said, “there’s a real connection between how we approach farming and the soil, with our religion and our beliefs.” He feels that the spirit of the Earth in Bali is shrinking, not being nurtured or supported.

For him, “farming is praying, is meditation, is fun, is super-cool.” He said that he feels it’s cool to to take care of our families and to be in touch with Nature.”

He talks to other coffee growing families, sharing his methods and encouraging them to grow coffee more traditionally. He also shows them that traditionally-grown coffee produces a better quality, and better tasting, bean. Made’s brother-in-law started growing coffee using traditional methods and Made was able to show him how he could increase his profits. “My brother-in-law used to get IDR 2,500-3000 per kilo selling the cherries, or IDR 20,000 selling the green beans. After he worked with me, he was able to sell his green beans for IDR 60,000 per kilo. He was surprised,” said Made.

Made has tried to convince other local families to grow coffee for him using his methods. He roasts the green beans and sells the coffee through his business, providing a fair-trade outlet for coffee farmers. “I will give farmers money before the harvest to help them financially, but I tell them, you must plant my way.” So far, only one other family has taken him up on his offer. He could see the quality of their beans had really improved afterwards. “I held the green beans in my hand and smelled them. I could tell that the quality was better now. I was able to offer them more money than they usually got for their beans and they were very surprised.”

In addition to selling (in my opinion) the best coffee in the Ubud area, Made and his wife have turned their small café into a way to raise people’s awareness about where coffee comes from and why it is better to support small farmers and traditional growing methods. A book, describing these traditional methods, and how cofffee is grown, sits on a table. Photos of Made’s family and cofffee farm hang on the wall. Visitors can buy a coffee or a kilo of beans, and Made is always happy to share his knowledge of coffee, coffee-growing and why we should all care about Tri Hita Karana.

You can contact Made through his website, or email him at Visit Old Friends Cafe in Nyuh Kuning village, on the other side of the Monkey Forest from Ubud.