This is our Indonesian coffee guide.
We will tell you about the history of the Indonesian coffee industry, the specifics of cultivation and production, and the coffee growing regions plus their flavor profiles.
Let's get started.
Indonesian Coffee History
In 1696, the Dutch governor of the Indian region of Malabar sent samples of Arabica coffee to the capital of Indonesia. Due to weather conditions, the trees did not take root, but the next attempt, three years later, was successful. In 1711, the first consignments of Indonesian coffee began to be delivered to Europe.
The country quickly became one of the three leaders in coffee production. The price of a kilogram of Indonesian coffee beans sold in Europe reached several hundred dollars (in terms of modern money). However, by the end of the 18th century, the price dropped by about five times and coffee became available to the general public.
In those days, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was in charge of all commodity-money relations between Europe and the countries of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and the coffee trade was one of the most profitable exchanges.
Not for Indonesian coffee farmers, though. Their activities were completely controlled by the Dutch government. Local producers were forced to supply coffee, sugar, and indigo to government warehouses in lieu of taxes. As a result, there were not enough rice workers to produce enough food.
By the 1870s, coffee plantations appeared on Bali, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Timor. A little later, the Dutch also grew Arabica on the island of Java.
The switch to Robusta is associated with an epidemic of the fungus Hemileia vastatrix, which infected coffee trees and almost completely destroyed the crop in 1876. By 1900, Indonesian coffee farmers tried to cultivate a new variety of coffee and found that Robusta was more resistant to diseases.
In 1950, after Indonesia declared independence, the Dutch plantations were nationalized.
In 2019, the total coffee production by large estates in Indonesia was around 29.5 thousand metric tons. Indonesia ranks 4th in the world in terms of coffee production.
Indonesian Coffee Production
Indonesia is one of the top coffee producers and exporters in the world. The local climate is great for growing aromatic coffee beans. However, the share of high-quality Arabica accounts for only 25% of exports, the rest is less refined and more affordable Robusta.
All Indonesian Arabica coffee is hand-picked, regardless of the size of the plant and whether it's grown on a family-run farm or by a large-scale coffee producer. The wet processing method is most often used. A few growers process green beans with the traditional dry method—they dry the fruit in the sun and only then remove the pulp.
In some regions, a unique semi-wet method is used. Only the skin is removed from the beans, the beans are kept in their pulp for about a day, then the pulp is removed, but the bean is not completely dried.
The most unusual type of processing, of course, is used to produce Kopi Luwak coffee. Civets feast on ripe coffee cherries, the pulp and skins are digested in their stomach, and the refined beans are released in their excrement. The result is a drink with a mild, balanced flavor and a sweetish aftertaste. The price of this type of coffee can reach $600 per kilogram.
Indonesian Coffee Varieties
More than 90% of coffee in Indonesia is grown on small farms, which rarely exceed one hectare. Some of these farms are certified organic coffee producers—they don't use fertilizers or pesticides.
Indonesian coffee varieties include both Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is represented by six species: Typica, Hibrido de Timor (an Arabica-Robusta hybrid), Linie S (a Bourbon mutation), Caturra (a Bourbon mutation), and Catimor (an Arabica-Robusta hybrid).
Robusta is grown mainly on the island of Sumatra; there are also small plantations that grow this variety in Bali, Sulawesi, Kalimantan, and Flores. Most of the Robusta is used to make instant coffee, and it is also used in espresso blends.
Indonesian Coffee Growing Regions
The Sumatra coffee growing region is located in the western part of Indonesia. Sumatran coffee beans have a complex bouquet, a full and balanced body, and a pleasant, sweetish flavor profile with notes of cocoa, tobacco, smoke, earth, and cedar. The acidity varies depending on the part of the island, sometimes the coffee has hints of tropical fruits, grapefruit, or lime.
Coffee beans from the northern part of Sumatra are labeled with the Sumatra Mandheling coffee brand—this is not a manufacturer's name, but rather a type of local Arabica coffee and an indication of the geographical origin of the product.
The peculiarity of the region is its unique semi-wet method of processing coffee beans. In Indonesian it is called Giling Basah.
Kopi Luwak coffee is also produced in Sumatra.
The coffee growing regions Sulawesi Toraja, Kalosi, Mamasa, and Gowa are located here. The flavor of local Arabica coffee is balanced and clean. It displays nutty notes and warm tones of spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper. The finish is soft and pleasant. Beans are processed using the semi-wet method.
Java was the first coffee growing region where the Dutch grew coffee for export to Europe. There are 5 major estates on the island: Blawan, Jampit, Pancoer, Kayumas, and Tugosari. Coffee is wet-processed with plenty of water. Local coffee has a full body and a sweetish, herbaceous aftertaste.
The Bali coffee region produces mainly organic coffee grown without chemical fertilizers. Local products are wet-processed and are distinguished by a mild sweetish flavor and good consistency. The aroma contains notes of lemon and other citrus fruits.
Most of Sumbawa's plantations are located on the slopes of Mount Tambora. There is also a coffee brand with a similar name—Tambora Coffee—but note that the latter is Colombian, not Indonesian.
Here, coffee trees are cultivated in the natural shade of the forest. Thanks to wet processing, tones of dark chocolate, flowers, and wood are felt in the coffee's aroma.
How to Brew Indonesian Coffee
Finely ground Indonesian coffee beans are suitable for espresso. Coarser beans are brewed in a cezve to make Turkish Coffee. In Indonesia, the cold brew method, French press, and AeroPress are popular.
For a more herbal flavor profile, lightly roast the beans. For a sweeter drink with notes of dark chocolate, use a darker roast.
In Indonesia, coffee is not only drunk by itself but is also added to marinades, stews, and baked goods.