Vancouver's Nusa Coffee seeks to bridge Indonesian farmers, immigrants, and Canadians

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      When Liza Wajong started importing coffee from Indonesia to Vancouver, she realized that it would be better for her to open up her own café. That way, she could provide a better cultural context for the coffee.

      "I think it's about time for Indonesian coffee to be featured in such a prominent way," the Jakarta-born Wajong told the Georgia Straight at her Kitsilano coffee shop.

      Wajong, who has lived in Vancouver since 1999, opened up Nusa Coffee at 2766 West 4th Avenue first as a pop-up, then as a permanent shop on January 12.

      The cozy 700-square-foot space, with touches of Indonesian décor, seats up to 16 to 20 people.  

      "People, sometimes, they're more interested to know more about Indonesia not only through the coffee but actually through us because we are the diaspora," she explained. "For us, it's more like this is our coffee and we come from this is our culture and we want to engage with multicultural Canada so…it's a way for us, especially [as] immigrants, to really integrate. We're not just Indonesian. We're Indonesian Canadian so that is a big thing for us."

      Nusa Coffee owner Liza Wajong
      Craig Takeuchi

      While she wants to help Canadians learn more about Indonesian culture, she also wants to be an example and inspiration for other immigrants like her.

      "I want to become a bridge so that they know they are opportunities," she said. She said she wants to help immigrant entrepreneurs become more aware of economic opportunities like grants and financial programs from banks and other institutions.

      Meanwhile, she has not forgotten about helping her home archipelago. She works with Indonesian farmers directly, to help break down any barriers and allowing them to negotiate with her in ways that they are unable to with bigger companies.

      What's more, she also sets aside five percent of her earnings to donate to Indonesian farmers, particularly to benefit berry pickers, who tend to be all women.

      Her coffees come from five regions in Indonesia.

      From Sumatra, she serves Sumatra Gayo coffee. The area is also where the famous delicacy coffee kopi luwak is from. The distinctly flavoured coffee comes from the partially digested coffee berries eaten and—are you ready for this?—defecated by the Asian palm civet.

      Although that description might turn some off, it's an extremely expensive coffee (it can cost anywhere from $10 to $20 a cup or even more) that some coffee aficionados highly prize. Wajong said she's hoping to hold periodic coffee tastings at which she'll serve kopi luwak.

      From Bali, she obtains coffee from farms in the highlands that use subak, or traditional irrigation and planting systems.

      She gathers shade-grown coffee from Flores, one of Indonesia's Lesser Sunda Islands.

      Her strongest coffee is her Toraja from Sulawesi Island, due to its proximity to the equator.

      Of course, she also has one of the most famous synonyms for coffee: java, which she gets from their namesake, or more specifically, East Java in the Ijen Crater region.

      All of her coffees can be made by drip, pour over, French press, or syphon.

      Craig Takeuchi

      To go with the caffeine, she also serves a variety of western baked goods in addition to some traditional Indonesian sweets, which often use coconut sugar rather than refined sugar.

      Although she is still working on her food menu, she currently offers risssoles (breaded and fried chicken spring rolls), steamed pandan cake with coconut, pastel (which she calls an Indonesian samosa), yam and coconut cake, and banana-flavoured sticky coconut rice (wrapped in a banana leaf).

      As she's only just started up her coffee shop, she says there may be more developments to come in the near future. For the time being though, it's a start that she has been happily surprised and encouraged by the enthusiastic response Vancouverites have given her. 

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook