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Coffee in Indonesia

Among the numerous luxuries of the table ... coffee may be considered as one of the most valuable. It excites cheerfulness without intoxication; and the pleasing flow of spirits which it occasions...is never followed by sadness, languor or debility.

-Benjamin Franklin

Roasted coffee beansThe statement by Benjamin Franklin has perhaps become more meaningful with time. Little did he know that 200 years later, people would not only continue to enjoy coffee but that coffee would become a trendy beverage marketed and enjoyed in all parts of the world.

Because of its popularity, coffee has become one of the five highest traded commodities in the world. Most of the countries that produce coffee are located close to the equator. Because of its geographical location, Indonesia’s climate is highly suited to the growing and production of coffee. Currently Indonesia is the 3rd largest producer of coffee in the world.

Brief History of Coffee in Indonesia

Coffee was not a native plant to the archipelago. In the 17th century, when Indonesia was still under Dutch occupation, the VOC brought Arabica coffee plants to Indonesia. They were interested in growing the plants and sought to break the worldwide Arab monopoly on the coffee trade.

The Dutch Colonial Government initially planted coffee around Batavia (Jakarta), and as far south as Sukabumi and Bogor. Coffee plantations were later established in East Java, Central Java, West Java, and in parts of Sumatra and Sulawesi. Large areas of forested land were cleared and cultivated specifically for the development of these plantations. The growth of coffee plantations was responsible for the development of a lot of infrastructure in Central Java during the turn of the 19th century. Roads and railways were needed to transport the coffee beans from the island interior to the ports where the coffee was loaded on ships and exported.

Hand sorting coffeePrior to World War Two, Central Java, in particular, had a very strong rail transportation system that brought coffee, sugar, pepper, tea and tobacco out of the province to the port city of Semarang. East Indonesia, East Timor, and Flores were also producing coffee during this period. These islands, however, were still under Portuguese rule. The Portuguese had also imported Arabica coffee plants, but they were from a different root stock that what the Dutch had imported.

Near the turn of the 19th century a huge portion of the coffee plants in Indonesia, as well as Sri Lanka and Malaysia, contracted coffee rust. Coffee rust is a fungus that creates the growth of a fine yellow-orange powder like substance that starts on the underside of the leaves of the plants. This fungus spread very quickly and wiped out entire plantations, devastating the colonial Indonesian coffee industry. The east side of the islands was also affected, but not to the extent that Java was hit because of the different root stock they had planted. Some plantation owners did not replant coffee plants but opted for tea or rubber trees instead which they felt were less prone to disease. Many of these plantations still remain in operation today.

The Dutch responded to the coffee rust by importing and planting Liberica coffee. This variety had a short-lived popularity and was also affected by disease. The Liberica cherry can still be found throughout Java, but is seldom used as a commercial crop in Indonesia. The Dutch colonial government then opted for the more resistant Robusta variety to replant the affected plantations. Robusta still makes up around 90% of the coffee crop in Indonesia today.

World War II and the struggle for independence played a big part in subsequent changes in the Indonesian coffee market. today. Plantations were taken over briefly by the occupying Japanese. After independence, the plantations throughout Indonesia either came under the control of the new government or were abandoned. Many colonial plantation owners fled the country to avoid being arrested. Today close to 92% of coffee production is in the hands of small farmers or cooperatives.

Coffee Production in Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi

There are three main coffee growing areas in Indonesia. Java is the one of the largest islands in the archipelago and also the largest producer of coffee. Java is renowned for its gourmet Arabica coffee. Arabica coffee is most suited to altitudes over 1500m. It grows well in temperatures of 16-20 degrees Celsius. Arabica plants tend to be more prone to disease, so farmers must pay close attention to the plants while they are growing. Java is also known as producing one of the finest aged coffees in the world in Old Java. Javanese coffee beans can be stored in warehouses for two to three years. This increases the strong full bodied taste that Arabica is known for.

Mountainous Toraja areaAnother major coffee producing island in Indonesia is Sulawesi, which was once known as Celebes. Coffee grown in Sulawesi is mostly processed using the dry method. . The most famous coffee growing region in Sulawesi is Toraja, where the coffee grows in the mountainous area near the center of the island 1500 meters above sea level. Coffee in the region is grown using traditional practices of coffee cultivation, mostly on privately owned smallholder plantations. Picking and sorting of the coffee cherries is done by hand making the coffee of very high quality as only the best cherries are picked. This type of growing and harvesting is utilized due to the very mountainous terrain and the haphazard planting of the coffee trees, resulting in a yield of only 300 kilo per hectare of coffee. Toraja Arabica has a very distinguished personality in terms of its full bodied taste paired with caramelized coffee in Indonesiaaroma, and a crisp and clean aftertaste. The earth and the other vegetation of the region are partly responsible for giving the coffee its flavor. The low annual yield of Toraja’s Arabica makes this coffee highly sought after by coffee connoisseurs worldwide. Toraja Sulawesi coffee is particularly popular in Japan. There is a very limited supply of Toraja coffee in the world due to the cultivation practices and conditions. The highest grades of Toraja coffee are normally reserved for export.

Sumatra is another major coffee producing area of Indonesia. Sumatra produces two of the world’s most famous and high quality coffees - Mandheling and Ankola (seldom-used market name for Arabica coffee). Sumatra Mandheling coffee is produced outside the city of Padang, in the west coast coffee district. This coffee is characterized by a low-key acidity and a heavy, almost syrupy, body with a concentrated and complex flavor. Grown in west-central Sumatra, both of these coffees are dry-processed and are renowned for their unique and rich flavor. Indonesia’s most highly sought after specialty coffees are the Toraja and Mandehling.

The names of newer regional specialties have attracted attention in recent years, including Arabica Wamena, Kenaliwa Black Pearl Papua, Aceh Gayo, Flores Bajawa, and Kenaliwa Supreme Bajawa coffees.

Coffee Plants

Green coffee cherriesCoffea Arabica, known as Arabica coffee, accounts for 75-80% of the world's production. Coffea canephora, known as Robusta coffee, is more robust than the Arabica plants, but produces an inferior tasting beverage with higher caffeine content. The coffee plant can grow to heights of 10 meters, if not pruned, but normally the trees are pruned to a reasonable height for easy harvesting. Coffee trees flower twice a year. In Sumatra the season runs from November to January and in Java from late July through to September. The flowers grow in bunches that hang from the tree. Only about 25% of the flowers will grow into coffee cherries. The Arabica species is self-pollinating, whereas the Robusta species depends on cross pollination. After pollination the fruit remains almost dormant for 6-8 weeks. After this time the cherry starts it rapid growth stage where it goes from the size of a pin head to the final cherry size within a 15-week period.

Coffee Processing

picking coffee in indonesiaOnce the cherries have reached a level of ripeness where the outer skin turns red, the picking begins. Bigger estates often do strip picks using machinery whereas the smaller plantations will hand pick the coffee cherries. Hand picking is of course the preferred method as only the choice cherries picked and the pest infected beans and debris can all be sorted out. Beans at this newly picked stage can only last two days before they need to be further processed. This is the processing method most commonly used for Toraja coffee.

The next stage of processing produces “green coffee”. There are two methods that are used to do this: the dry method or the wet processing system. The dry method is predominately used in Sumatra and by small hold farmers in Java, Bali, and Turning the coffee to dry evenlyFlores. This method involves drying the beans outside under the sun. The beans are laid out either on a concrete pad, or on sacking laid out on the side of the road. Ideally the stacks of bean should not be more than 5 cm high and the beans need to be turned every two hours to ensure correct humidity level is achieved before hulling. It is vital to avoid being rained upon.

The drying process can take several weeks. Over this time the beans are raked and turned as often as needed to ensure a universal drying effect is achieved. Once coffee in indonesiathe outer area of the bean begins to fall off, the coffee is ready to have the pulp removed. It is normally dried until the moisture content of the bean is approximately 11%. The mulching is done by machinery- although some of these mulching machines are still hand driven! The final product is a green bean, about 1/3 the size of the original cherry. The dry method produces coffee that is heavy in body, sweet, smooth, and complex.

The second method of drying coffee is the wet processing system. Wet processing means the bean can begin the final preparation stage immediately after being picked. Instead of drying under the sun the cherries are processed through a water system. This process results in a coffee that is cleaner, brighter, and fruitier. The pulp of the coffee cherries is removed to release the two coffee beans inside. The beans then sit in water for 24-48 hours to ferment. This is the heart of wet processing--when the fine, acidy flavor of great coffee is produced.

indonesian coffeeThe fermenting process softens the outer skin which makes it easy to remove. The system works well although there are often times when the sugar in the beans can ferment, causing the flavor of the beans to be affected. Most large coffee estates in Java use this system as it speeds up processing and generally makes selection of the final green bean much easier. The quality of green bean from wet processing is generally higher.

After fermentation, the remaining pulp is washed off and the beans spread out to dry. The coffee can also be dried in a mechanical dryer, powered by a wood, gas or solar power. As in the dry method the beans need to be dried until the moisture level reaches a[proximately 11%. The coffee is then referred to as parchment coffee and is ready to be warehoused in sisal or jute bags until readied for hulling.

coffee in IndonesiaMachines are used to hull the parchment layer (endocarp) from the wet processed coffee. Hulling dry processed coffee refers to removing the entire dried husk -- the exocarp, mesocarp and endocarp -- of the dried cherries. Green coffee can last for years if it is stored in the correct conditions. It is vital that it is not exposed to high humidity as this will cause molding. It can also absorb flavor from other things stored around it so to avoid tainting the taste care must be taken in choosing the warehouse location.

Roasting Coffee

roasting coffee in IndonesiaRoasting transforms green coffee into the aromatic brown beans that we purchase, either whole or already ground, in our favorite stores. Most roasting machines maintain a temperature of about 550 degrees Fahrenheit. The beans are kept moving throughout the entire process to keep them from burning and when they reach an internal temperature of about 400 degrees, they begin to turn brown and the caffeol, or oil, locked inside the beans begins to emerge. Throughout the roasting process the beans must be kept moving so they don't burn or roast unevenly, and cooled, or quenched, when the right moment has come to stop the roasting. Coffee that is not roasted long enough or hot enough to bring out the oil, has a pasty, indonesian coffeenutty, or bread-like flavor. Coffee roasted too long or at too high a temperature is thin-bodied, burned, and industrial-flavored. Coffee roasted too long at too low a temperature has a baked flavor. Roasting must be stopped at precisely the right moment to obtain the flavor and roast desired. The beans are quickly dumped into a metal box, where pyrolysis continues until the beans are quenched with either cold air or a light spray of cold water. Most specialty roasters air-quench their coffee.

Some coffee producers do not have their own roasting machines and rely on others to roast their beans for them. During the roasting process the water that is contained in the bean evaporates coffee in Indonesiamaking for a lighter yield than what was originally put in the roaster. This makes it impossible to rely on weight to ensure that the beans that went into the roaster are in fact the beans that come out. For this reason many producers in Indonesia will supervise the entire roasting process of their beans as some ethically challenged roasters have been known to switch the quality of bean that they are roasting with an inferior quality or even take out some of the beans and replace the beans with corn. After corn has been roasted with coffee, it is almost impossible to detect.

Grinding and Brewing Coffee

To truly get the best taste from coffee it is best to grind the beans just before brewing it. It is best to use 10 g (2 tablespoons) of ground coffee for each 180 ml (6 fluid oz) of water. Keep these proportions consistent, regardless of the quantity you make. You can adjust proportions to taste, but remember that skimping (i.e., grinding finer and using less coffee) makes for a thin, bitter brew. The taste of ground coffee will start to deteriorate almost an hour after grinding so it is best to grind only what is to be used immediately. Grind the coffee as fine as you can make it without losing any through the holes in the filter of the coffee maker. Never grind it to a powder. Completely pulverizing it destroys the essential oil, which becomes vaporized by the heat and friction of the grinding process. Too fine a grind will cause over extraction and bitterness. Too coarse a grind will cause watery coffee. the appropriate grind should allow the coffee to finish dripping in several minutes.

Brew with hot water, as opposed to lukewarm or boiling water. Boiling damages coffee flavor because it vaporizes much of the coffee essence while it continues to extract other bitter chemicals. Don't percolate or reheat coffee; it has the same effect as boiling, only less so. Don't hold coffee for very long on the heat for the same reason. Coffee can be kept warm over a burner for only about 20 minutes before the flavor starts to become unpleasant. A temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal, which means bringing the water to a boil and then waiting a couple of minutes before brewing. It is better to keep your coffee in an air pot or vacuum server to keep it hot rather than keeping it on heat for long periods of time.

Coffee Press

The coffee press is a modern variation on the traditional open pot style. Hot water is poured over coarse ground coffee and allowed to steep for approximate four minutes. A mesh filter is then pushed down to the bottom of the pot which separates the coffee from the grounds. The brew is normally a better quality than drip coffee since paper filters remove subtle flavors and add a taste all their own.

Drip Coffee Makers

This type of coffee maker is among the most popular and convenient. It is best to use a permanent metal mess or synthetic filter for these units as it will improve the taste of the coffee.

Espresso Brewing

This method of coffee making uses pressure rather and gravity to brew. This type of brewing is becoming increasingly popular not only in commercial but home use. The coffee is inserted in a small container and water condensed from steam is passed through it under high mechanical pressure to brew the coffee. Most machines will have other steam taps for frothing milk for cappuccino. In Italian, the word espresso means "individualized". These brewers are a bit more complicated to use, but tend to make a much better cup of coffee. This type of brewing is normally used by barista to make cappuccino and espresso in up scale coffee shops.

When you get your delicious Robusta or Arabica coffee beans from Indonesia, consider using Bunn coffee makers to make sure you are getting the best possible roast from your beans and the most delicious cup of coffee!

Other brewing methods include traditional Italian stove-top coffee makers, vacuum brewers, and cold water extractors.

Enjoying Coffee in Indonesia

As expatriates, residing in one of the major coffee producing countries in the world, you have a wealth of opportunities to taste new coffees, visit the actual plantations where they are grown, and learn more about the beverage you enjoy so much!

Jakarta and other major cities have numerous coffee shops and cafés where brews from different countries can be enjoyed in a quiet and comfortable atmosphere. Indonesian consumers have embraced the worldwide coffee craze with gusto and you’ll find Starbucks (US), Coffee Bean (Singapore), Segafredo (Italy) and others in malls in major cities. It is ironic that a huge amount of Indonesian coffee is shipped overseas, processed, and then shipped back to Indonesia to be sold under these familiar international labels at worldwide prices.

Some of the best coffee can be sampled at small “warung kopi" (roadside stall) where kopi tubruk is often served in a glass. A visit will certainly be a memorable experience, as traffic whizzes by, and the locals try to figure out what a foreigner is doing in a warung! Be forewarned, Indonesians drink their coffee with LOTS of sugar, and warung kopi is served with the grounds steeping in the bottom of your glass! Take that last sip with caution! You may be surprised once again if you ask for kopi susu (coffee with milk) as it may be prepared with canned sweetened condensed milk! Many people often joke that you have to strain the coffee grinds through your teeth when you drink this type of coffee, or refer to it as 'mud coffee'.

One of the most infamous coffees from Indonesia is kopi luwak which is harvest from the droppings of civet cats. The coffee has a distinctive flavor and highly sought after by coffee aficionados looking for a unique coffee experience. It used to be extremely rare and hard to find, but a good variety of brands are now sold in better supermarkets.

Grocery stores offer a wide variety of Indonesian coffees and specialty shops offer you the chance to taste locally roasted specialty coffees. With the recent restrictions concerning the amount of liquids allowed on the airplane, coffee has become a great gift. Coffee tasting sessions can be set up with Caswell’s Coffee and you’ll soon educate your palate and learn how to distinguish the differences between many types of coffee. This is a great activity for an office get together or a community group activity.

If you’re looking for a travel adventure, check with your travel agent to see if there are coffee plantations that you can visit during your travels around the archipelago. Even without a formal agri-tourism program, most plantation owners are more than happy to allow you to take pictures of harvest and various processing that you happen across. If your Indonesian is up to the task, you can talk with the agricultural workers and learn even more!

Whatever your interest, use your time in Indonesia to learn more about coffee!

Coffee: kopi
Black Coffee: kopi pahit
Coffee with milk: kopi susu
Coffee with sugar: Kopi manis or kopi dengan gula
Coffee plantation: Perkebunan kopi
Coffee steeped in a glass (with grounds): kopi tubruk
Coffee collected from civet cat droppings: kopi luwak

Specialty Coffee Association of Indonesia - www.sca-indo.org

Other interesting articles about Indonesian Coffee

The History of Coffee in Indonesia