In this country profile guide on Indonesian coffee we explore the whole archipelago, covering the history, landscape, and the terroir of this extraordinary country.
There’s sadly an all-too-common link throughout history when it comes to coffee producing countries: namely, colonization. While the introduction of coffee to Indonesia has ultimately worked harmoniously for the people and the terroir, it has not been without its challenges. From seeking independence, to preserving traditional methods of processing, Indonesia has worked tirelessly to make a name for itself, committed to generating recognition for each beautiful coffee producing region—no easy feat when Indonesia is built up of over 17,500 islands and, thanks to a turbulent history, has had to work to undo the generalised labelling of coffee from the country. Chances are, you’ve had a ‘Java coffee’ before—but there’s much more to Indonesia’s coffee than this one name.
Indonesia has endured a long history of struggle for independence. Following a period of occupation under the Japanese during World War II, Indonesia sought independence from Dutch rule in 1945—a power the Netherlands had held over the country since the early 1600s. Despite declaring independence, it wasn’t until 1949 that the Dutch officially recognised Indonesian sovereignty.
Further turbulence ensued, however. From attempted coups to the impact of the East Asian financial crisis, Indonesia’s history has been anything but quiet, with the geographical landscape of the country changing, too. In 1969, the United Nations acknowledged the western segment of New Guinea as part of the country; in 1976, the former Portuguese territory of Timor-Leste (then East Timor) was incorporated into Indonesia, but following a UN organised referendum in 1999, Timor-Leste declared independence, becoming fully sovereign in 2002.
Located off the coast of mainland Southwest Asia in the Indian and Pacific oceans, Indonesia is the world’s largest country comprised of islands, and the world’s longest archipelago, stretching some 3,400 miles along the equator—spanning a distance equivalent to one-eighth of Earth’s circumference. The five main islands are Sumatra; Java; Borneo (also known as Kalimantan); Sulawesi; and New Guinea. The capital, Jakarta, is located near the north-western coast of Java.
There are over 100 active volcanoes in Indonesia, with hundreds more considered extinct. The country has a tropical climate that varies with location, season, and altitude, with microclimates common, and weather largely determined by island structure and position alongside the equator. Indonesia’s location, between two landmasses (Asia and Australia) exposes it to seasonal patterns of rain brought by monsoon winds, with the heaviest rainfall occurring between December and March. Temperatures are highest along the coast, with the dry season – more pronounced from central Java, eastward, taking place between June and October.
The climate, paired with nutrient-rich, volcanic soil, supports a diverse, abundant range of flora and fauna. Mangrove swamps and marshes thrive along the coast, while tropical rainforests cover higher terrain. And, of course, coffee, thanks to optimal conditions, grows exceptionally well, with approximately 1.24 million hectares of coffee plantations; 25 percent is dedicated to Arabica production.
Indonesia is one of the most diverse coffee regions in the world, contributing five percent to the world’s coffee exports, employing 1.77 million people. Today, 99 percent of coffee is produced by smallholders, grown as a cash-crop for farmers. Intercropping is popular, growing fruit, vegetables, and maize alongside coffee. Bourbon, Caturra, and Tim-Timor are the most popular varietals grown.
Coffee was introduced to Indonesia by the Dutch governor in Malabar, India, but the first seedlings failed to grow, due to flooding. The second attempt, however, was successful, and in 1711, the first Indonesian coffee beans were exported from Java by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). A lot of Indonesia’s speciality coffee is referred to only by the name of a few of the islands, such as Java – a name familiar with Westerners, thanks to the control of the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century. Coffee growing islands include Bali, Papua, Sulawesi, Lintong, Flora, Java, Mandheling, Mangkusaja, and Sumatra. Sumatra is responsible for 60 percent of all coffee grown in Indonesia.
Multiple harvests are possible, depending on the location of the farm. Most farms are small, running from 0.5 to 2.5 hectares on average. Cooperatives are increasingly common, giving farmers greater control, and providing better transparency throughout the supply chain—important in a country where transportation can prove challenging for export, alongside language barriers: there are ten main languages spoken in Indonesia, and over 700 local languages. The majority of coffee processed uses a traditional method known as Giling Balah, which is a wet hulled process.
While the humid climate can cause issues, Indonesia provides an idyllic landscape for coffee production, with fertile soils, high altitudes, and consistent temperatures. Coffees are often clean, bright, and fruity, with low acidity, and a range of sweet and citrus-focused notes. There’s a real diversity of flavour on offer, with cup characteristics and profiles changing, depending on the island grown. From leather and spice aromas to heavy bodied brews, Indonesia’s speciality coffee potential is just getting started.
[updated Jan 23]
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