Indonesian coffee origin and story is always nice to study. Story from the origin and then combine with best place for them to grow, finally make their characters is unique.
Most of story talking about coffee benefits started when Abyssinian (Ethiopia) goat shepherd named Kaldi observe the goats still energetic a whole night. He discover that the goats was eat the coffee leaves and bean in the ancient forest of Ethiopian plateau.
He then reported to the abbot from the local monastery. The abbot then made a drink from the berries and it recipe can alert him for long hours.
The recipe then spread out among the monastery and finally reached to Arabian peninsula, at Yemen which become starting point before coffee beans secret across the world. The story of Kaldi could be debating, but Ethiopia as coffee origin is agreed by all scientist.
When talking about coffee sometime we heard about mocha right. Actually it is related with the history how the coffee finally spreading to the whole places.
After people knew about the benefit, coffee bean then become a commercial and trade to the east across the red sea and reach to the nearest Mocha port at Yemen. So Mocha actually is the port city name and finally people use the Mocha term to correlate with the coffee.
Why we call Coffee
After reaching the port of Mocha, coffee become popular and has high commercial value. Many peoples drink the coffee at that time. Gahwah an Arabic word was the first name for coffee. Gahwah originally refer to wine type, which give power or energy (quwwah) after consume it. Word gahwah actually not correlate with the plant or berries, but most related with the dark color of berries after roasted.
The word gahwah then adopted in Turkey language became kahveh, then Dutch use the term and became koffie, and finally became coffee in English and kopi in Indonesia.
The School of the wise
Story continuous with the facts that finally many coffee house exist in the Arabian peninsula. Coffee become popular as wine of Araby and the coffee house named the school of the wise. The coffee house become a pleasant place to share and hear the information. Till fifteenth century then the coffee house was forbidden in the Arabian peninsula, followed in the Cairo and Ethiopia.
At that time, Yemeni as a district in Arabia is the coffee keeper. Each country who need coffee, they should import it from them. Then in the sixteenth century, coffee spread out to Turkey, Egypt, Persia, and Syria. The trading only for roasted beans to control the commodity by them self. And in the mid of seventeenth century, hundreds of coffee house was exist in The Netherlands, Germany, England, Austria, and France.
Coffee Trees goes to other regions
Finally at 1670, someone was able to smuggle the fertile coffee beans and finally successfully cultivated in southern India. In the late 1600s, the Dutch company VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie) also smuggling the fertile coffee bean and started to cultivate the tree in one of botanic garden in The Netherlands. After some trials, the VOC was not succeed due to the climate is not suitable for the coffee.
Due to the high demand for coffee beans, competition started to open new plantations outside the existing area in the Arabia. The Dutch (represent by VOC), finally succeed when they try to cultivate the coffee trees India and Indonesia (Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi Islands).
The success of coffee cultivation in the Java island, made the VOC was very profitable and had popularized the name of coffee in the world to become “a cup of java”. Here is the journey begin for Indonesian coffee origin and story.
Coffee reaching America at the end of 17th century. After some failed trial by the Dutch at the new Amsterdam (formerly become New York), finally French succeed with their trial at the Caribbean, which has warmer climate. Then easily coffee spreading also to the southern America, especially Brasil and Colombia.
Finally, today we can see that coffee are become top commodity in the world. Many countries has succeed to cultivate the coffee. But the countries which has long history with coffee, still become the top player, such as Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, Ethiopia, and India.
Botany of coffee
Coffee (Coffea sp) is member of Rubiaceae family. The family is consist of 450 genera and around 6000 species worldwide. The genus Coffea has about 100 species and only few of it to become domesticated plants. The most popular species of the Coffee is Coffea arabica, Coffea canephora (var. robusta), and Coffea liberica.
From all popular coffee species, only Coffea arabica is self-fertile, which mean possible for self-pollination. Because of self-fertile, only Coffea arabica which possible to propagate by the seeds. While the other species need out-crossing for pollination. And for propagation usually by vegetative method. As a result, Coffea arabica has high uniformity compare to Coffea robusta or Coffea liberica. Most of commercial coffee in the world is only arabica and robusta.
Physical differences between Robusta and Arabica
Physically, robusta leaves are larger than arabica even though the chromosome number of robusta is viewer. Robusta only has 22 chromosome pairs and arabica has 44 pairs. Best climate for robusta also warmer than arabica. robusta need 24-30oC for optimal growth and resilient with the direct sun light, while arabica need 15-24oC. This the reason why in Indonesia, arabica is grown in the higher elevation or surrounding the mountain but robusta is common in lowland.
Among the commercial coffees, arabica is the oldest. Robusta was domesticated 100 years after arabica. Robusta is easier to grow and also more resistant against insect and diseases. While in height robusta also taller than arabica, with 4-6 meters while arabica only 3-5 meters.
Flowering time for robusta also has no season, while arabica only flowering after rain. That why when we compare the yield, robusta is more productive than arabica. Robusta only need 3 years to produces fruit, while arabica need 4 years. If we see the beans, robusta beans are smaller, ticker, and more circular but arabica are more oval and bigger. But overall from price perspective, robusta is cheaper than arabica
Taste and Chemical differences between Robusta and Arabica
The caffeine and chlorogenic acid (CGA) content in robusta is twice or more compared to the caffeine of arabica. The taste of robusta is bitter and arabica is sour. The bitter taste is related to the high caffeine and CGA content. By this reason, why arabica taste also dependent on the micro-climate and growing condition. If we taste robusta, we always find bitter and bitter again, where ever the robusta came from. But arabica has variation, rich with taste and sensation.
The sugar content of arabica is higher than robusta, almost twice. While the lipid content in arabica also about 60% higher than robusta. Oil content in arabica also higher than robusta. The taste difference also related with the key chemicals flavors among the species. If arabica has sotolon, abhexon, and furaneol as key flavor, in robusta we can found dimethyl ethyl-pyrazine, diethyl methyl-pyrazine, ethyl guaiacol.
Indonesian coffee Origin And Story Continues
The Dutch’s VOC finally found that Indonesia is the best place to grown the coffee. At the end of the 17th century, they brought arabica coffee from Malabar-Southern India to Batavia (Jakarta). They grew the coffee there in area near Jatinegara (the reason why then the place name was became Pondok Kopi). But the trial was failed caused by flooding and earthquake.
A Cup of Java
Then they tried to grew arabica coffee in the other places like, East Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Bali, and other Indonesian islands. They succeed and coffee become important commodity for the VOC. At that time finally the coffee quantities exported to Europe from Indonesia exceeded the total quantity of coffee from Mocha.
The VOC become a world role player for coffee trading. Then a cup of coffee become famous as “a cup of java”. The term then inspire Gabriella Teggia and Mark Hanusz to wrote a book about Indonesian coffee.
Converting from Arabica to Robusta
In 1876, leaf rust disease infected almost all arabica coffee in Indonesia. Unfortunately, when the VOC decide to use liberica, it also susceptible with the rust disease. And finally at 1900, the VOC tried to introduce the robusta which known more resistance again the rust diseases.
Because of robusta yield is higher and the climate is sufficient, Indonesia become one of the highest country for robusta production in the world. And it also then change the coffee map in Indonesia, from arabica to robusta. Nowadays, southern Sumatera and central java still famous for the robusta center, and Arabica is more to the highland areas of the northern and central Sumatera, east java, Sulawesi, Bali, Nusa tenggara, and Papua.
Puslitkoka Part of Indonesian Coffee origin and Story
After independence as republic, Indonesia needs a long time to return to being one of the largest coffee producer countries in the world. Starting with the nationalization process of several plantations and research centers from Dutch era, to the opening of new plantations in some islands.
Pusat Penelitian Kopi dan Kakao Indonesia (Puslitkoka) or Indonesia Coffee and Cocoa research Institute is located in Jember, East Java. Establish in January 1, 1911 with the former name Besoekisch Proefstation during the Dutch colonization.
The importance of coffee and their succeed in as a trader stimulated them to set up the coffee research station site which located in a coffee plantation center. Jember has highland surrounding Ijen mountains which suitable for the arabica. Today, many varieties produced from Puslitkoka and become important coffee variety for Indonesian growers.
Why Indonesia coffee is special?
Indonesian coffee has special characters with many variation of flavors. even though the origin of Indonesian coffee was from same place, but from the story, coffee has long journey till establish in Indonesia. The reasons why Indonesian coffee has diversity on flavors are:
Indonesia is in the ring of fire zone. An archipelago that spread from west to east which about 8500 Kilometres are full of active volcanoes. The Volcanic soils was fertile and full with nutrition for the coffee.
Moist and Different elevation
As tropical country, Indonesia known as very high rainfall and humid country. The climate which make coffee grew with special condition. It combined with the variation of elevation among the places where the coffee grown.
3 geographic regions
Indonesia is formed from the collision of the Asian and Australian plateau which then makes Indonesia have 3 geographic characters. The Wallace area includes Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Kalimantan islands. And Webber area includes Maluku and Papua.
Lydekker is trantition area which includes Sulawesi and Nusa Tenggara. These area correlate with the soil character, climate, and micro-climate and finally will affects the taste of the coffee which grew in the different area.
Robusta is bitter and Arabica is rich with flavor
I was grew with robusta culture. And the best robusta coffee according to me is robusta from southern sumatra (especially Lampung province). Lampung is popular for the best robusta. But, robusta is always bitter. The difference only from the body. We can found light till strong robusta body, but bitter is dominance.
When we are talking about arabica, it is totally difference. You can find many unique characters from Indonesian arabica. In general, Wallace arabicas body is light to medium and Webbers arabicas body is the strongest, and Lydekkers arabicas body is medium.
The variation of characters from Indonesian arabica can be come from their genetic. In Robusta, environmental factors do not really affect to the bean characters probably because of the high content of caffeine and CGA. While in arabica, environment will effect the metabolism inside the plants which finally also affect the chemicals inside the bean.
Common post-harvest of Indonesian coffee
Natural process is the oldest process. The ripe coffee cherries are dried in direct sunlight. During the process, it is reversed so that the drying runs evenly and all the coffee cherries eventually dry with the rinds. The rinds gradually will separates with the beans. It process also called dry process.
This process has started with soaking the berries in the water to separating good quality and bad quality berries. Once separated, the berries then separate from the rinds and pulps with the special machine. The coffee bean were then washed until no pulp is stuck and then dried under the sunlight.
After harvesting, all berries will peeled. The mixture of Beans, rinds, and pulps will be put in the drying benches. The drying process can be direct by sunlight or using drying machine
It process is using 2 steps of drying process and common in Indonesia. After peeling process by machine, the beans with pulps will be put in the first drying process for a while. Second drying process was done after the beans were washed to separate it from the pulps.
Some methods found during the process. The fermentation were done with the berries, or the peeled beans still mix with the rinds and pulps, or only in the washed beans. The duration of the fermentation also vary among the bean producers.
What kind of coffee we can find in Indonesia
Because of the area, climate and soils in Indonesia is special, it makes all coffee in Indonesia is also special. Before we explore, I agree with the peoples opinion who define the character of coffee from the blend between body strength, acidity level, aroma and flavor.
All these characters will appear when the coffee was roasted in the medium level. When we found coffee with dark roasted of course it will difficult to differentiate the characters among the coffee. By long story, there are characters changing of Indonesian coffee from their origin up to day
Body is define the strength of the coffee when it brewed which we can taste it. The range of the body is from light to hard. Body become harder when the bean was roasted till dark. Another way to make the body harder is just finely grinded and pour with hot water (near to 100oC).
Generally robusta is bitter and arabica is sour. The acidity level which people mostly talk is usually only for arabica. Besides caffeine level, the acidity is come from two antioxidants which are chlorogenic acid and quinic acid. The longer and darker beans color during roasting will decrease the acidity. Acidity level define only light, medium, and high.
Common aroma which we can smell from Indonesian arabica coffee is earthy, spicy, floral , and nutty. In general, the lower elevation the coffee grew, we can easily found the earthy aroma. And the higher elevation it will give the variation depend on places.
Overall, flavor is the combination from the body, acidity, aroma, and aftertaste. Based on my experience, the formula to explore the flavor when we taste the coffee are the combination between medium roast, coarse grinded, and 92oC hot water. But it is depend and can by vary among person. We can taste fruity, honey, herb, spicy, and winey
Overall. the quality of the coffee is depend on the post-harvest process, the roaster competency, and finally the barista skill. When all long coffee journey is in all best, we can taste also the best potential of our coffee.
I just remember what my colleague said, that “when we buy dark roasted coffee, it mean we are deal with the work of people who have no respect to the coffee itself”. But again it depend on our choice and habit when we are in touch with the coffee, right?
Let’s start our journey to know more about Indonesian coffee
Nowadays there are many coffee plantation in Indonesia. But different with other industrial plants, coffee plantation almost has no issue related with deforestation. Below is the list of Indonesian coffee which we can found in Indonesia:
Gayo is a highland area in South East Aceh province. Placed in the north of Bukit Barisan mountains which has elevation 1000-1700 meters above sea level (masl). Coffee entering Gayo from 1925 when Dutch start growing coffee outside Batavia. Coffee grow better in the optimum condition and finally Gayo become one of coffee center in Sumatera Island.
Most of Gayo coffee is Arabica and nowadays become one of the best Indonesian coffee. Gayo arabica coffee has medium body with low acidity and nutty/buttery with a bit spicy taste. Aftertaste of Gayo is clean. Other Arabica coffee from Aceh province is Ulee Kareng and Linie Coffee. But for sure, Gayo is the most popular.
South Sumatra province has huge high land area in the west part, surrounding Toba lake. The elevation is vary from 1000 t0 2200 masl. Some area was famous with the coffee plantation such as in Lintong, Sidikalang, Mandailing, and Tarutung. But the most famous coffee from South Sumatera is Arabica Lintong.
Lintong is a highland area with the valley in the southern Toba lake with elevation in 1200-1400 masl. Lintong coffee has strong body with medium level of acidity. The aftertaste is not as clean as Gayo but the aroma is more complex. The most flavor from Lintong coffee is earthy and spicy.
Kerinci is the name from the highest volcano in Sumatra island, which has 3.805 masl in height. It area more famous with the old tea plantation. But because of Kerinci Coffee is special, it also become interesting to put in the discussion about Indonesian coffee origin and story.
Arabica Kerinci is grown in 600 to 1200 masl elevation. Popular with the tea plantation in the southern part. But the arabica from Kerinci also famous as one of the best Indonesian coffee. It coffee was become the best Indonesian coffee in 2017.
In my opinion, Arabica Kerinci is the most “crowded” Sumatran coffee. Why “crowded”? Arabica Kerinci has strong body and high acidity, with the floral and spice aroma, and has sweet after taste. I have experience to taste the fermented processed arabica Kerinci, and the flavor is stronger and become unique.
Lampung is the only province in Sumatra which famous with robusta. Lampung robusta is the best robusta coffee in Indonesia. Ulu belu located in the western part of Lampung Province, and just in the south tip of Bukit Barisan mountains.
Robusta coffee in Ulu belu grown in the 800-1200 meters elevation. It is higher place for robusta in general. But finally we can taste Ulubelu Robusta as coffee with very strong body tasty with the spice flavor and directly make you wake up.
Ulubelu Robusta is my favorite coffee in a deeper meaning. I grew in the Robusta culture and even I can taste a lot of coffee from around the world, but Ulubelu Robusta is still the best coffee.
The best way to prepare the Ulubelu robusta traditionally is brewing by using 100oC boiled water and fast stirring for a 30 times. Or just pour the coffee in the water and heat it and keep it in the boiled water for 5 minutes. All potency of the Ulubelu coffee will be able to tasted.
West java Arabica
After failed trial in the Batavia, the Dutch then did another trial in the location near to Bandung. They brought the coffee beans from the origin place and also from Malabar, and the story of Indonesian coffee were continues.
With the higher elevation and famous as Paris van java, Bandung has nicer climate compare to Jakarta. Some area become place to grew arabica, and today is famous as the coffee area such as in Ciwidey, Pangalengan, Palasari, Puntang, and Garut.
All West java arabica almost has similar character; Light body with the low acidity and spice flavor. If compared to the Sumatran coffee, actually there are now big different in the flavor for each coffee from west java.
Central Java Robusta
Temanggung is area in central java which famous with the robusta coffee. Medium land near some active volcanoes (Sumbing, Sindoro, Merapi, and Merbabu). Temanggung often got volcanic ashes when Merapi volcano erupted. Special place for coffee. The robusta from Temanggung has medium body with an earthy aroma and spice flavor.
East Java Arabica
Coffee plantation in East Java located in bromo-tengger and Ijen montains. The huge plantation in Ijen plateau was owned by government company. Many of varieties from coffee research center which also located in Jember east java were field tested in Ijen plantation.
Most of East java arabica has stronger body and medium acidity compared to west and central java coffee, but with combination of earthy and spice in flavor. East Java also important place when we are talking about Indonesian coffee origin and story.
Bali Kintamani Arabica
Kintamani is a place in northern part of Bali. The area is surrounding Batur volcano. Arabica was grown in the mid till high elevation of Kintamani. Arabica from Kintamani has fruity flavor with high acidity and medium body.
Toraja arabica is the most popular coffee from Sulawesi island. Although there are many others coffee, such as Enrekang, luwu, bulukamba, jeneponto, sinjai, and sojol. Toraja and Enrekang are in the close area at central mountains in Nothern sulawesi.
Its places was popular with the special arabica coffee with strong body but medium acidity and has chocolate flavor. Aftertaste of Toraja arabica is clean.
Nusa Tenggara Arabica
The most favorite of arabica coffee for me is Bajawa arabica. The coffee has strong body with nutty aroma and medium acidity. The most part I like from this coffee is the strong chocolate flavor and clean-tasty for aftertaste.
I always choose Bajawa coffee for my favorite daily coffee in the usual time. Some others coffee from Nusa Tenggara are Flores, Leworok, Mokblek, and Detusoko arabica.
Papua Arabica, as a last coffee in the Indonesian coffee origin and story
Most coffee in Papua was grown in the highland. Talking about papua coffee, arabica from Wamena is one of the most popular coffee from Papua.
Wamena coffee has medium body and low acidity, plus combination between chocolate and floral aroma, and the spice flavor. It coffee is my second choice when Bajawa is not available. We can found also some coffee from papua such as Timika, Nabire, Arfak, Kebar, Kaimana arabica coffee.
During Dutch colonization era, coffee is become precious commodity. Coffee plantation established in Java and Sumatra. Many Indonesian people became workers in the plantations. People found that Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) really like ripe coffee berries.
They eat it, but they only digest the pulp and the bean is remains in their feces. Civet coffee made the story of Indonesian coffee become more interesting and different compared to the existing coffee processing from their origin
Many civet feces in the plantation containing coffee bean. People collect the feces, clean it, roast the coffee, and they surprise with the taste. They found that the coffee is tastier and has unique flavor. The beans were actually fermented in the digestion system of civet which full with enzymes and gave the special flavor to the coffee. Civet coffee is the most expensive coffee in the world. In Indonesia we named it kopi luwak.
In one occasion, during my trip to Rinjani volcano, luckily I met with the local people who stay near to the forest and has private coffee plantation. I brought home 2 kilograms of civet feces full with the coffee with very cheap price. 2 kilograms of kopi luwak is luxurious coffee for me,
The fermentation process of Civet coffee reducing the body, acidity, and aroma, but increasing and add the flavor from the coffee.
Tips from my personal experience
I am talking about traditional method. I I have to choose, between coffee from machine and from traditional brewing, I choose traditional. The reason is because we can explore the coffee characters completely.
Robusta is easy, whatever robusta or wherever they came from, they just need 100oC hot water and stirring fast for 30 times using spoon. But Arabica is unique. If I want to explore the arabica coffee, I always choose the medium roasted bean, and I grind just in time before I brew. Coarse grind is the best form. When the grinding is to fine, the characters will not appear optimal.
I try to use 92-94oC hot water and the ratio between coffee and water is 1:13 is the best, it mean 1 gram coffee should add by 13 gram water. Taste the coffee when it hot to get the best experience. Finally, learning about Indonesian coffee origin and story made us more aware and respect to the coffee.
always love to learn from nature. Passionate on studying plants in some aspects: the DNA, Identification, propagation, and their uses