About Indonesian Coffee
Arabica coffee grows best in mountainous regions near the equator, at between 3000 and 6000 feet of elevation, and thrives in volcanic soil – all making Indonesia one of the world’s most ideal places for growing coffee. We are based on Java, the most populous island in Indonesia – whose name has become synonymous with coffee.
At 3,200 miles across, comprising over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the largest archipelago nation in the world. With 120 active volcanoes, ample rainfall, fertile soil, and ideal temperatures, the most populous Southeast Asian nation presents the perfect environment to grow coffee.
Indonesia is the world’s 4th biggest coffee producing country in 2018, according to the International Coffee Organization.
“Bright Java fills the gap for those smaller producers, helping them bring their great coffees to an international market.”
Challenges of Bringing Indonesian Coffee to the World Market
Productivity: Due to mainly smallholders, farm conditions and manual practices productivity averages about 765kg green beans per hectare. Compare that to Brazil which in 2019 has a productivity level of approx. 1632 kg per hectare.
Cost: More expensive to produce, more expensive than competing origins. Robusta is the same. It’s harder to compete with Brazils, Guatemalas, Vietnams, and Columbians on price only.
Processing methods: When global customers usually think of Indonesian Arabica they think of wet hulled (or giling basah in the national language of Bahasa Indonesia). This method varies from the standard method of full wash processing when the outer parchment covering the green bean is removed at 11-12% moisture content. In wet hulling, the parchment is removed when the bean is at 30% moisture then dried on concrete patios or tarps. This imparts a particular flavor quality to Indonesian coffees: muddy, earthy and heavy bodied.
Because of the fame of those wet hulled Sumatra coffees, some people think all Indonesian coffee is imbued with that same flavor profile. For those that prefer the wet hulled coffee, it is difficult to convince buyers of Indonesian origins to branch out from coffees processing in this method.
On the other hand, for those that are turned off by wet hulled cup profiles they tend to approach all Indonesian coffees with a preconceived notion that the coffee will be muddy, herbal and earthy. Producers that make naturals rivaling Ethiopian naturals or honey processed coffees rivaling the best of Central America get overlooked because of the preconceptions of some buyers and roasters.
Honesty and Consistency: Let’s be upfront here. There are too many people in the coffee business in Indonesia trying to make a quick profit with no care for long term relationships with customers or suppliers or honesty in business dealings. Almost everyone has a story of being burned in business here. From rocks in sacks, to just not delivering product – the difficulties are immense. Likewise a producer may make a great coffee one year and the next totally bomb and expect the same or higher prices for their beans. Because of this, most buyers concentrate on working with the few giant corporations in Indonesia who deliver on time and on spec to the detriment of those smaller producers who can provide consistent quality but don’t have the exposure to international markets. Bright Java fills the gap for those smaller producers, helping them bring their great coffees to an international market, and stabilizing the quality and reliability of the process for the international buyer.
History of Coffee In Indonesia
In the early 17th century, Dutch traders brought coffee trees back to their own country (the Netherlands or Holland, in case that’s confusing) and cultivated it in their greenhouses. They already had colonized Indonesia at that point in order to gain a monopoly over the spice trade, and it was known as the “Dutch East Indies”, so they brought coffee trees to Indonesia to cultivate for export.
Around the turn of the 19th century, the fate of coffee in Indonesia took a downturn when many of the Arabica trees from the Dutch were eradicated by coffee leaf rust. Most replantings were with Robusta, which still forms 75% of the coffee crop in Indonesia today.
Most coffee farming here is done by smallholder farmers, about 92%. Many farmers and cooperatives still use completely manual methods to process the coffee they produce.
We live here on the ground in Indonesia so we can connect with the farmers personally and help them create truly great coffees. We don’t want to find only the great coffees that already exist – we want to mentor more farmers to be able to create them. We also want to sell this world-class coffee directly to the coffee lovers, bringing the farmer connection all the way back to the person who enjoys their coffee every day.
Read about some of the coffee hunting adventures and the farmers we meet on them.
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