Coffee is a huge part of Indonesian culture and economy. Not only does Indonesia produce some of the best coffee beans in the world, but it also has a rich history surrounding its production that cannot be missed.
Some of you who love your morning cup might not know where exactly your favorite brew comes from, so here's what you need to know about coffee growing in Indonesia!
How coffee arrived in Indonesia
The history of Indonesian coffee began in 1696: the Dutch governor of Malabar (India) donated several coffee plants to the governor of Batavia (now Jakarta). Unfortunately, however, the seedlings were lost in a flood.
A new attempt was made three years later - and lo and behold: this time the Coffea offshoots survived. It took until 1712 for the first, really noteworthy harvest, when the first beans were picked up on the island of Jakarta and exported from there to Amsterdam.
A success story immediately followed on from these beginnings. The island rapidly developed into the most important supplier for the European market. It is precisely because of this history of origins that Arabica coffee still bears the alternative name of Java coffee to the present day.
The year 1877 was a rough one for Indonesian coffee farmers. Most of Indonesia's Arabica plants were attacked by coffee rust, causing serious damage and crop failures. Without further ado, these were replaced by the faster growing and basically uncomplicated Robusta beans.
Today the country has developed into one of the most important producers of this variety and places fourth in the world rankings in this segment directly behind the market leaders Brazil, Colombia and Vietnam.
Coffee farmer in Indonesia
Indonesia as a coffee-growing nation
Indonesia is the world's largest island nation, which extends over a total of 17,000 islands. This goes hand-in-hand with a variety of growing conditions - especially since coffee plants are actually cultivated on a large part of these islands.
Accordingly, they are exposed to different geographical and climatic conditions, which consequently also affects the wide range of coffee available. Specifically, there are differences in humidity, rainy seasons and the associated amounts of precipitation.
In addition, the plants thrive at different heights. One of the most important islands is Java, where cultivation areas can be found between 800 and 2,000 meters above sea level. The fertile soil was also created by extinct volcanoes. Despite all the diversity, there is a certain herbal note inherent in all beans, which is sometimes stronger and sometimes less noticeable.
Volcanic scenery in Indonesia
Indonesia quick coffee facts
Typical Varieties Produced:
25% Arabica: Typica, Caturra, Bourbon, Catimor, Tim Tim & S-Hybrids
North Sumatra and Aceh: January and February, August and September
South Sumatra: June to August
Java, Bali and Flores: August to October
Sulawesi: September to November
North Sumatra and Aceh: October to December, March to May
South Sumatra: March to June
Java, Bali and Flores: June to September
Sulawesi: May to August
Shipping: April to November
Harvest volume 2019/2020: 9.4 million bags (60 kg each)
Share of global green coffee production 2018/2019: 5.5%
3. Italy, Japan, Germany
Harvesting process: picking and selection is carried out by hand
Processing: wet processing
Fermentation: 12 to 36 hours
Drying: Sun-dried (Arabica dries between three and 23 days to ensure the high-quality aroma.)
Sorting: mechanically and by hand
From harvest to sale - the journey of the Indonesian coffee bean
First of all, the diverse growing areas of the island state ensure that the harvest time extends over a few months. The main flowering of the plants lasts from November to February, the secondary flowering can last from April to June.
The fruits are finally harvested from May up to and including August. In Indonesia this is done almost entirely by hand. On some islands such as Sumatra, the sorting process is also carried out manually. It is then referred to as a “double pick” and is a clear indication of the high quality of the beans.
Then the beans dry in the sun. With Arabica beans, which make up a tenth of the total amount produced, between seven and ten days are necessary to ensure the excellent aroma. Often this is preceded by wet processing on many Indonesian islands.
This is how it is handled in the Blawan, Jampit and Sumatra regions, among others. There may be a post-harvest from October to January.
The coffee from Indonesia is shipped from the largest ports such as Djakarta, Surabaya, Palembang, Panjang or Semarang to the customer countries. Important trading partners are Japan, Germany, Algeria, Italy as well as Korea and the USA.
Coffee harvest in Indonesia
Coffee production challenges
Coffee farmers in Indonesia are smallholders in their majority and most of them don’t own much land, a couple of hectares at most. Coffee production for them is a means of improving their livelihoods.
They usually use any income earned from sales to provide for their family and not further investing in their farms. What’s more, production costs keep increasing as the conditions to grow coffee are often difficult due to the farms being on the mountains, the poor transportation system, the lack of automation and modern infrastructure.
In order to make a decent profit, farmers sell at a higher price and oftentimes prefer selling their crop domestically to avoid shipment abroad.
Despite all these challenges, there are efforts and initiatives with the aim to highlight and promote Indonesian coffee and its unique characteristics, such as the annual Cup of Excellence competition and the projects run by the Indonesian Coffee Cooperative.
Indonesian coffee has a long history and the coffee community remains curious and very much involved in its future. I hope this blog post about Indonesian coffee has been informative and insightful for you.
Now you know a couple of things about coffee growing in Indonesia and perhaps next time you drink a freshly brewed and delicious cup of Java, your thoughts might wander to Indonesian coffee farms.