Have you ever tried Indonesian coffee?
Indonesia was one of the first and earliest countries in the world to start growing coffee for commercial purposes. They started before many African countries (where coffee originated, in Ethiopia), before most Asian countries, and even before the South American coffee powerhouse, Brazil.
However, though it may seem like an initial success to the Indonesian coffee industry, they went through a horrible history of diseases, brutal colonialism, and other struggles that lasted for around 400 years.
But despite the dark history of Indonesia’s coffee, coffee still remained a central part of Indonesian life – thus contributing to the global fame of their coffee, such as Java and Sumatra coffees. They are still a powerhouse, coming in 4th in worldwide coffee production.
Let us explore the history of Indonesia’s coffee, as well as what we can expect from Indonesian coffee today.
A Brief History of Indonesian Coffee
In the early 1700s, coffee was first discovered in the African country of Ethiopia. Coffee bean plants made their way to Indonesia by way of smuggling shortly after its discovery.
Before coffee spread throughout the entire world, most of the global coffee production took place in the Arabian world, particularly in Yemen. In the 1500s/1600s, they were the only country where one could purchase or trade coffee because of their plant growing process. Other countries had not yet learned how to grow the magical bean, so Yemen held a monopoly on the global coffee market.
Yemen had laws in place that forbad citizens from exporting coffee seeds, in order to keep their monopoly intact. While this monopoly lasted for a few dozen years, Europeans and Asians quickly realized how much more cost-effective it would be to plant their own crops. As a result, seeds were smuggled out of Yemen and the spread of the plants began.
Unlike other Asian countries such as India, Indonesia did not smuggle out coffee seeds from Yemen. Instead, it was the Dutch colonists and traders who brought smuggled coffee seeds to Indonesia from Yemen in the late 1600s. The Dutch attempted to plant coffee seeds on their own homeland, but due to European winter, planting coffee proved to be difficult.
Smuggling Coffee Into Indonesia
Then, they realized that they can simply turn to the tropical Asian weather, where planting is more feasible. Since they had control over Indonesia, they decided to plant their coffee seeds there – and it worked!
The first island to grow and produce coffee was Java. Java, which is home to the city Jakarta, quickly became one of the most popular coffee blends.
In 1699, the Dutch Colonial Government decided to start mass-producing the coffee beans. Eventually, the first major commercial export in Indonesia took off in 1711. Java quickly became one of the biggest producers of coffee worldwide and became Europe’s preferred origin of coffee.
Coffee plantations quickly spread to neighboring islands in the late 1700s because of the close proximity of other islands. Over time, islands like Sumatra, Bali, Sulawesi, and Timor, among many other smaller islands, established their own coffee plantations.
A Thriving Coffee Industry, Hurting Citizens
Although Indonesia’s coffee industry is thriving, this is at the expense of its coffee farmers – ironically, the growth in coffee production bringing starvation and poverty at the very same time. This came as a result of the way the Dutch treated the islanders. Dutch plantation owners were grueling, demanding, and cared little about working conditions.
Despite the horrible working conditions, Indonesia’s coffee industry would soon lead to the country’s urban development. Roads, railways, and shipping ports all enhanced the connection of Indonesian islands among one another.
However, it is not just the terrible working conditions that hurt the coffee farms of Indonesia. From 1860 to 1880, a deadly disease hit coffee crops as well. The disease, commonly known as “coffee rust,” and hit Asia and devastated the crops. It swept and destroyed coffee plantations across Indonesia, then to Malaysia, Sri Lanka and other Asian nations.
To deal with the disease, the Dutch government decided to buy and plant Robusta coffee beans instead – a coffee type that’s very resistant to diseases, hence the name. These beans fight off diseases, making them a great choice to plant across affected Asian countries, and eventually, saving coffee plantations from the disease.
During WWII, in 1942, the Dutch would eventually let go of Indonesia. This was because of the Nazi invasion in Europe, followed by the Japanese invasion in the Pacific, eventually taking control of Indonesia. But the Japanese reign is short as they will surrender to the US after 3 years.
Since then, Indonesia became free and finally began to grow its own nation.
Qualities of Indonesian Coffee
The quality and characteristics of Indonesian coffee will vary, depending on which island it was grown as Indonesia is comprised of thousands of islands. The definition of an Indonesian coffee based on its island origin (such as Java coffee or Sumatra coffee) is often so strong that some professional coffee tasters would know from which Indonesian island the coffee is raised just by tasting it.
Now, let us take a closer look at the three biggest coffee-producing islands in Indonesia. These islands became so popular for their coffee blends that they named them after their names. They are Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi and are popular worldwide.
Java coffee beans are one of the most famous, specialty-grade beans of Indonesia. They tend to have earthy sweetness and are rich in spiciness. Java coffee beans are less likely to be an Arabica type, possibly due to the disease that forced the Dutch to switch to Robusta coffee.
Sumatra coffee is another Indonesian coffee that’s famous in the North American regions. It is known for its low acidity, heavy body, and flavor profiles that hint of spice, forestry, and earth.
Sulawesi or Celebes coffee beans are far less known than the first two, but just as delicious. The coffee beans are specially made and delicious! Celebes coffee is often similar to Sumatra beans, but they tend to have a more intense cedar aroma, slightly fruity flavor, and a buttery feeling once you drink it.
How They Grow Indonesian Coffee
After the Dutch and Japanese left, local governors decided to divide the plantations among its laborers. Small family farms account for over 90% of coffee production across Indonesia.
While Robusta coffee beans are widely popular in Indonesia, in recent years the Arabica beans have become more popular as well, especially in Java and Sumatra.
Unlike other countries, Indonesia processes their coffee via what they call the “Giling Basah” method. This unique method de-pulps harvested coffee cherries by hand and dries them on a large patio for a few days.
The beans go through a semi-drying process, then the collector takes them to blend the beans from different producers using a hulling machine. He then blends the beans while they’re still moist, then drying them again on the patio for several days.
This process enhances the spicy and earthy flavor profile of Indonesian coffee.
Try It Out — Indonesian Iced Coffee
Indonesian coffee is delicious whether it is hot or cold. Now that we are entering the summer months, we want to share one of our easiest, and yummiest iced coffee recipes — our Indonesian Iced Coffee. If you want to check out more of our recipes you can find “The Best Frozen Coffee Recipes” HERE.
- 1 cup of chilled coffee
- 1/4 cup milk or creamer
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1/2 cup of ice
How to make it →
- Brew a cup of your favorite coffee.
- Place it in the fridge and wait for it to chill.
- Prepare 1 glass by filling it with ice.
- In the glass, pour in the coffee, milk/cream, and maple syrup.
- Stir the ingredients, combining them until consistent.
After learning everything there is to know about Indonesian coffee, do you think its time to give the roast a try? Shop our Indonesian coffee HERE.