Coffee was first exported from Indonesia in 1711 by the Dutch East India Company who sent almost all of the produce to Amsterdam where it was sold for incredibly high prices. Coffee was therefore a profitable export for the Dutch, though the same cannot be said for the farmers producing it due to the colonial rule.
Indonesia began with Arabica production but following a bout of leaf rust in 1876, much of this crop was destroyed leading to the introduction of the more disease resistant Robusta which makes up a large proportion of the coffee produced in Indonesia today. Producing regions include: Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, Flores and Bali – each of which have slightly different ways of growing, processing and trading coffee.
Indonesian coffees are prized for their unique flavour profile which is completely distinct when compared with coffee from any other origin. They are often low in acidity with heavy body and rich chocolate notes, though they can also be slightly wild and funky with notes of earth, wood and spice. This flavour is mostly brought about the method used to process the coffee known locally as ‘Giling Basah’. In this process the coffee is picked, depulped (usually on the individual small holding) and then partly sun dried until the moisture content of the beans reaches 30-35 per cent. Unusually, the parchment beans are then hulled at this stage to tear off the outer layer protecting the inner bean revealing a whitish coloured, swollen green bean. The drying is then completed on the patio until the moisture content reduces to a level where mould formation is not a risk. After this is complete, the beans turn to a dark green/blueish colour which is very distinctive and makes Indonesian beans processed in this way instantly recognisable.
This process does not come without its problems – due to the fact that the protective layer is removed at an earlier state, the beans are left exposed to the elements (and insects) during a really important stage in the process. This can put many specialty buyers off due to the increased risk of defect and slightly ‘scruffier’ look to the bean. However, it is possible to find clean and consistent Indonesian coffees which add a lot to blends due to the depth of flavour they can provide.