Do you like coffee? The magical beverage with a bitter taste but has the sweet characteristic that can make your day brighter and better. Among the variations of coffee in the world, Indonesian coffee may not as famous as the South American coffee but the quality and taste can be your new favorite drink to start the day.
Indonesia was the largest coffee producer in the world in 2014. Coffee cultivation in Indonesia began in the 1600s and early 1700s. In the early colonial period of the Netherlands, coffee played an important role in the country’s growth. Indonesia, geographically and climatically suitable for coffee plantations, because it’s near the equator and with many regions on competitive islands. This creates a microclimate that is suitable for coffee growth and production.
The History of Indonesian Coffee
The Dutch governor in Malabar (Indies) sent Arabica (Coffea arabica) coffee beans from Yemen to the Dutch governor in Batavia (now Jakarta) in 1696. The first seeds failed to grow due to flooding in Batavia. The second seeds were delivered in 1699 by Hendrik Zwaardecroon and the seedlings grew successfully.
In 1711, the first export was sent from Java to Europe by the Dutch East India Company, also known as the Dutch initials VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie). Indonesia was the first place, outside Arabia and Ethiopia, where coffee was cultivated extensively.
In the 18th century, coffee sent from Batavia was sold for 3 guilders per kilogram in Amsterdam. Because the annual income in the Netherlands in the 18th century was between 200-400 guilders, this is equivalent to several hundred dollars per kilogram today.
By the end of the 18th century, prices had dropped to 0.6 guilders per kilogram and coffee drinking spread from elites to the general population. The East Indies were the most important coffee supplier in the world during this period, until in the 1840s that their grip on the supply of coffee was defeated by Brazil.
In the mid-1870s, the Indies expanded the Arabica coffee planting area in Sumatra, Bali, Sulawesi and Timor. In Sulawesi coffee was thought to be planted around 1850. In North Sumatra the coffee plateau was first planted near Lake Toba in 1888, followed in the Gayo (Aceh) highlands near Lake Laut Tawar in 1924.
Coffee at that time was also planted in East Indonesia, like in Flores and East Timor. Both of these islands were originally under Portuguese occupation and coffee was also C. arabica but from different rootstocks. Coffee in Eastern Indonesia was not affected at the same level by rust, and even today, it is believed that some of the coffee in East Timor can be traced back to the 18th century.
Sumatra has the earliest harvest season in Indonesia because of its location as the northwestern island. There are several regions in Sumatra that produce the special class of coffee including Mandheling, Lintong and Aceh, all of which are located in the northern part of Sumatra.
Mandheling coffee is produced around Lake Toba and named after the local population in this region. This coffee is synonymous with Sumatran coffee; spicy, complicated and sweet. The Lintong region is in the southwest of Lake Toba and has a reputation for a more modest profile.
The northernmost region is Aceh or also known as Gayo or Mount Gayo. Coffee from Aceh is generally considered to be the cleanest or most complex of the three with a slightly fewer body and finer acidity.
Java also has a difference as an acceptable coffee producer in this region. Coffee plants were brought to Java in 1699 by Dutch colonists and have produced good coffee ever since. Coffee production on this island was destroyed by rust leaves (a kind of fungi that break coffee plants) in the 1880s.
Most of the coffee on Java was sent by government-owned plantations, but in recent years, smallholder plantations have taken off. Most of the coffee from Java is skinned with traditional methods resulting in low acidity and complex profiles.
Bali produces some of the best coffee in Indonesia. Most of the coffee in Bali is planted in the Kintamani Plateau between the Batukaru and Agung volcanoes. This active volcano keeps the soil fresh with very fertile volcanic ash. Local farmers are members of traditional agricultural structures known as “Sabuk Abian.”
This organization is based on the Hindu philosophy “Tri Hita Karana” which teaches that the three sources of happiness are harmony with God, harmony with others and harmony with the environment. Balinese coffee is characterized by a note of sweet chocolaty and its acidity is slightly higher than its neighbor (Flores).
Flores is one of the most recent arrivals in the world of special grade coffee but has skyrocketed very quickly because of its high quality and exceptional profile. Almost all Arabica production on the island took place around the city of Bajawa.
Coffee in Flores is processed using traditional methods and is characterized by extraordinary smoothness along with a large and rich body. Similar Balinese coffee’s profile, Flores coffee is slightly sweeter and more like chocolate milk. Learning the Indonesian language while drinking coffee is a delightful experience.
If you have a plan to travel to Indonesia, don’t forget to try the coffee and have a talk with the locals to practice your Indonesian language skills. But, if you don’t have the skills yet, don’t be sad, you can purchase Bahasa Indonesia online course at Cakap and learn the language. That easy!