Enjoying Indonesia’s Coffee Taste in Melbourne

Posted on 17 November, 2020

Indonesian version, click here

Written by Ben – AIYA Victoria Committee
Edited by Dinda Ichsani  – AIYA National’s Blog Editor

At the start of the year on February 24, a new cafe opened in Melbourne called Jabarano Coffee. This name is a blend of the words Jawa Barat and Americano, with the café being opened by West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil, and the café looking to introduce Australians to West Java coffee. This got me interested in learning more about Indonesian coffee, which I hadn’t previously known much about. 

History of Coffee in Indonesia

The Dutch introduced coffee into the East Indies (now Indonesia) near the end of the 1600s, bringing cuttings from India which were initially planted in West Java. Coffee then spread to other parts of the East Indies, which then became the most important coffee supplier in the world until the 1840s. Until 1830, coffee production was mainly through government-owned plantations, but in 1830 the Dutch introduced cultuurstelsel (cultivation system). This system was introduced due to the Netherlands being on the edge of bankruptcy and needing profits to come from the East Indies. This system stated that Indonesian farmers had to allocate one-fifth of their land, or one-fifth of their labour, to the cultivation of government export crops. In the past, Indonesian farmers were required to surrender two-fifth of their rice harvest under a land rent system. However, the new cultuurstelsel system was corrupt, with government officials determining the type and quantity of export crops, and this often far exceeded one-fifth of total production. This system led to famines for Indonesian farmers, and the system ended in 1870. This system led to native people learning to farm coffee, but having to sell it at low prices to the Dutch, which the Dutch then exported for high profits. 

After this system ended, the number of private estate plantations increased, but during this same time, leaf rust swept through plantations causing exports to crash. This led to the introduction of robusta coffee to Java as it is more resistant to rust than arabica varieties. After Indonesia achieved independence, small coffee farmers grew, and now national coffee production is dominated by smallholder farmers, usually with less than two hectares of coffee land and often located on Sumatra. Robusta varieties are the most common, however Arabica is still produced in Indonesia, making up about a 10th of coffee production, but a third of coffee exports, due to its better quality. World War 2 also negatively affected coffee production in Indonesia, as planters turned to food crops, and so coffee production decreased. Coffee in Indonesia has persevered through, with Indonesia now one of the top 5 coffee producing countries in the world.

Coffee in Indonesia Now

Coffee is one of Indonesia’s bigger agricultural exports, with Indonesia producing 7.6% of total coffee exports. It also contributes to 0.71% of Indonesia’s exports, with there being 1.97 million coffee farmers in Indonesia. However, prices of coffee since the 1970s have tended to fall, with famers gaining about 19-22% of total price of a cup of coffee sold, with the small farmers of Indonesia having little bargaining power. Due to Indonesia being entirely within the tropics, Indonesia is able to produce various types of coffee. Examples include gayo coffee with a strong aroma and balanced body, Mandheling coffee which has a spicy, slightly earth and fruit-like flavour, Java arabica which is chocolate-like and flowery, as well as the well known kopi luwak, which has high acidity, some bitterness, with a strong sweet and sometimes fruity aroma. West Java does not produce as much coffee as other areas of Indonesia, however Ridwan Kamil believes it will be easily accepted by foreign communities such as Australia. He states this is because of West Java’s Arabica coffee, with lower acidity and a sweet taste, as well as being of high quality. You can find Jabarano at 555 Flinders Lane, Melbourne.

My Experience 

I wanted to try Indonesian coffee for myself but COVID-19 provided a small roadblock to this desire. I managed however to buy some Indonesian coffee from a café called Vacation on Exhibition Street, Melbourne. When I visited, you could not buy drink-in coffee of Indonesian origin, but they did sell 300g packs of roasted coffee beans, including Indonesian coffee beans from Toraja, Sulawesi. 

Indonesia Sulawesi Toraja Coffee at Vacation

You can also buy their coffee online and have it shipped within Australia. However, I did note that in store, I was able to purchase a lighter roast of beans which allows for lighter flavours, whereas online there was only a darker roast of the same coffee beans, which results in a more bitter but “coffee” taste. It was similarly priced to other specialty coffee and is of higher quality but also higher price than coffee you will typically find in supermarkets. I found the coffee I made with these Indonesian beans to be quite enjoyable. I couldn’t taste any bitterness or acidity to it really, and it was quite light and smooth to drink with a slightly sweet aftertaste. I enjoyed drinking it as both a black coffee and white coffee which surprised me, as often I can find black coffee to be a bit too bitter or heavy for my taste. While I did find the coffee to be quite light and maybe slightly fruity, I don’t think I can pinpoint the flavours described on the packaging. I can definitely recommend this coffee and enjoyed it more than some of the other specialty coffee I drink. 

 

I would like readers to note though that this review is just of my experience. Lots of aspects can affect the taste of coffee such as brewing method, variety, origin and roast. This means that not only will coffee at a café made with an espresso machine taste different, but as coffee is grown all over Indonesia, coffee from different areas and even different farms, will taste different. Hopefully my experience means that Indonesian coffee will be well received in Victoria and Australia, and that cafes such as Jabarano will be successful in attracting Australian coffee drinkers to Indonesian coffee.