Depending on where your coffee comes from, it will taste completely different. And this is so apparent as you travel through the islands of Indonesia (well, travel through your coffee cup anyway). You can experience huge flavor variations in Indonesia coffee despite not going very far.
As the world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia is made up of 17,000 islands of which around 6,000 are inhabited. But, today, only 5 of the Indonesian islands have serious coffee farming and it’s worth trying coffee from each one.
Coffee growing in Indonesia has a long history as it was one of the earliest countries to start growing coffee on colonial plantations. Plus, it is home to the island of Java, whose name is still synonymous with the drink to this day.
In this article, you will go on a journey through each of the different regions to understand the variations in everything from soil to altitude to processing. As Indonesian coffee can fall into a wide spectrum of styles, some unique to the islands, we also pick out some great options for you to try.
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Sumatra Gayo Peaberry, Volcanica
Coffee from the Indonesian island of Sumatra is famed for its big, bold flavor profile with low acidity. This offering from Volcanica certainly delivers on this front with complex tastes of stone fruit and caramel. Peaberries are only found in around 5% of coffee crops so it makes a pretty special brew.
Overall, coffee from Indonesia is full-bodied, has a syrupy mouthfeel, and is low in acidity.
Coffees that are semi-washed (Giling Basah) have a very distinctive flavor profile. They are very big-bodied with earthy, woody, spicy notes, and minimal acidity. When processed this way, the main flavors that dominate the palate are from the processing, not the individual island’s terroir.
On the other hand, washed processed coffees from Indonesia tend to be much lighter in body, with complex fruit, floral notes, and refreshing acidity. These single-origin beans are harder to find than the semi-washed big hitters but are well worth the effort.
But you can also expect specific flavors to come through depending on which island your Indonesian coffee has come from:
- Sumatran coffee is famed for its big, heavy flavor profile which is balanced by low acidity. You will taste a complex combination of earthy, creamy tones alongside rich chocolate
- Javan coffee is the cleanest and sweetest of all coffees from Indonesia. It also has low acidity with flavors of molasses and figs
- Coffee from Sulawesi will be lighter than the other islands and less earthy. You will taste flavors of nuts, chocolate, cardamom, and cinnamon.
- Balinese coffee has a complex flavor profile. You can expect strong flavors of spiced citrus and woody tones with minimal bitterness
- Coffee from Flores has sweet flavors of milk chocolate alongside floral, woody notes and a syrupy body
With such a diverse range of coffee flavor profiles and characteristics, it can be an overwhelming choice. So, here are our top picks to help narrow down the selection:
Volcanica, Sumatra Gayo Peaberry: Best Overall Indonesia Coffee
Grown near the northern tip of Sumatra, this stunning peaberry coffee shows the immense complexity of flavors in Indonesian coffee.
Peaberry coffees have a unique, richer flavor that is much loved by coffee connoisseurs. This happens when a single seed is found inside the coffee cherry instead of 2. So they are pretty rare, only found in 5% of coffee crops.
Thanks to the high altitudes in the Gayo Mountains, this coffee is grown between 4,500 and 6000 feet above sea level in the rich volcanic soil. The altitude means that the coffee trees take longer to grow, developing more complex flavors. So, you can expect delicate stone fruit and caramel with floral notes that work with the subtle acidity and lighter body of these great-tasting Indonesian coffee beans.
The coffee farmers work in conjunction with the Orang Utan Coffee Partnership. This is an organization that protects the habitats of Sumatran orangutans by ensuring sustainable farming practices and no clearing of rainforest land.
Not only is the environment looked after but also the people, thanks to the Direct Trade Certification.
Fresh Roasted, Java Taman Dadar – Best for French Press
Finding single-origin Java Arabica coffee is surprisingly difficult. This is partly due to the millions of coffee products with “java” in the name but have nothing to do with the island itself – the name has just become synonymous with great coffee products. So, this single-origin Indonesian Java Arabica coffee by Fresh Roasted is a rare find.
Hailing from Curah Tatal and Kayumas in Eastern Java, this coffee is grown by smallholder farmers. In fact, the name comes from those farmers and means “Flower Garden”.
Once harvested, the coffee cherries are wet hull processed ensuring that classic Indonesian coffee flavor profile. Fresh Roasted then roast and package their coffee in the USA, opting for a medium roast. Doing so delivers a big-bodied punch from the wet hulling alongside subtle tastes of dried fruits and spice notes on the finish. This combination makes them perfect coffee beans for French press.
Volcanica, Sulawesi Reserve, Celebes Kalossi – Best for Espresso
The Sulawesi Reserve Coffee is a rare coffee grown in the superb Toraja region of Sulawesi. Here, many of the trees are more than 250 years old and have been growing since before the Dutch arrived.
Rather than using large commercial plots, this coffee crop is grown in small quantities in small family plots or backyards. By limiting supply and planting in rich volcanic soil, the coffee beans can be selected specifically for quality and flavor.
This coffee is also known as Celebes Kalossi Coffee as it is grown on the Island of Celebes – the name given to the island by Portuguese colonialists.
As the coffee is fully wet-processed, the complexity of beans grown in this region of Indonesia really shines through. The flavors of dark cherry and chocolate are balanced with fresh acidity and a caramel finish which works perfectly in espresso or espresso-based drinks.
Tentera, Organic Flores Coffee
Finding single-origin coffee from the poorest Indonesian island of Flores isn’t easy to do. So, you should snap up this rare find if you want to experience everything that Indonesia coffee has to offer.
Tentera is a family-owned business, headquartered in Los Angeles. It is a true celebration of the islands that the Raidy family call home – Indonesia. Plus Michael Raidy’s other passion – surfing.
The 100% Arabica coffee beans offer up a big, bold flavor but it’s not too acidic, leaving a nicely balanced cup of joe. There are vibrant tangy notes of citrus with some subtle herbiness, all rounded off with a nutty aftertaste. It lends itself really well to milk-based espresso drinks. So if you are a flat white, cortado, or latte drinker – this is for you.
When you buy this coffee, you are also giving to kids in need as Tentera donates 1% of all profits to provide surfboards and trunks to youngsters. The perfect combination of Michael’s two greatest loves: coffee and surfing.
Equator Coffees, Sumatra Queen Ketiara
What to Expect:
Region: Koperasi Ketiara, Aceh, Sumatra
Processing Method: Wet Hulled
Tasting notes: Nutty, herby, chocolatey with hints of vanilla, clove, and tangerine
Important notes: Ketiera cooperative is Fair Trade and Organic certified. Equator purchases exclusively women-grown coffee beans, paying a premium to support programs for women
The Sumatra Queen Ketiara coffee embodies everything the Sumatra coffee profiles are so famous for: it is a big, punchy, flavorful brew.
So, if you are a fan of big flavored brews to get you going in the morning, this is the one for you. The stereotypical earthy flavors of Sumatra and the wet hulling shine through, whilst still being clean and balanced. You can expect notes of dark fruit, spices, and fresh tobacco.
The “Queen” name came about thanks to the consistently high-quality Indonesian specialty coffee produced by the Ketiera cooperative. But, it is not just the great flavor that drew Equator to this coffee, but also because of their mission:
The cooperative is woman-led by Rahmah and has grown from just 38 members to over 2,000 smallholder farms – with 50% being run by women. It is exclusively the women-grown coffee that goes into this blend, with proceeds supporting programs that benefit women.
Fresh Roasted, Bali Blue Moon
Fresh Roasted’s Bali Blue Moon is a milder style of coffee than otherwise found in Bali. The typical earthiness of Indonesian coffee takes a backseat with the rich syrupy dark chocolate shining through instead.
If you want to try Giling Basah coffee but aren’t sure where to start, then this is a great gateway into the bigger flavors. Everything is incredibly well-balanced, making it a very approachable brew.
All of Fresh Roasted Coffee is Rainforest Alliance and USDA Organic certified for a double ethical coffee tick, meaning you can rest assured that the environment is protected. They also have a quick turnaround time for roasting to ensure optimum freshness, even though it’s sold through Amazon.
Out of the Grey, Sumatra Mandheling
At the lofty heights of 3,900 to 4,900 feet above sea level, on the slopes of Mount Leuser, this phenomenal Sumatra Mandheling coffee grows. The combination of rich volcanic soil and the slow ripening at altitude allows deep, complex flavors to develop.
To ensure you only get the very best quality, the coffee cherries are double and even triple picked (referring to the number of times they are hand selected). By taking these extra steps for quality control, you are guaranteed a consistent cup of exclusively optimally ripe cherries.
Thanks to the wet-hulling process, you get a very full-bodied coffee that punches with spicy and earthy notes. It’s pretty in your face so it’s not one for the faint of heart but it’s also low in acidity, making it a great choice for anyone with digestion issues.
Overall, this is an unapologetic Sumatran coffee that doesn’t try to tone down its unique flavors. As a result, it might not be to everyone’s taste. But if you like big, bold coffee with serious intensity, and low acidity, then you’re on to an absolute winner.
It is possibly the most controversial coffee in the world, made from the digested seeds of coffee cherries eaten by Civet cats. The droppings are collected so that the partially digested beans can be processed and dried before roasting.
Referred to as “cat poop coffee” it has attained cult status: Some will claim the fermentation caused by partial digestion makes a deliciously fruity and complex coffee. Whilst others are drawn to the exclusivity of the high price tag.
However, there are animal welfare issues. Due to the high price tag, the Indonesian coffee market has seen a surge in sales of fake Kopi Luwak coffee. And, worse, some business owners have taken to keeping caged Civet cats and forcibly feeding them coffee cherries. The result is very different from wild Civet cats who not only live a better, uncaged life but also naturally select only the best coffee cherries to eat.
There is also much debate as to whether it actually tastes better than more conventionally processed coffee. Many serious coffee tasters even write it off as nothing more than a “gimmick”.
If you’re intrigued and want to try Kopi Luwak it’s imperative you do your research to ensure that no Civet cats have been harmed in its production. Volcanica sells a great option for an ethical Kopi Luwak which you can check out below. But, as a good rule of thumb, if it seems cheap for such an exclusive coffee, then it’s almost definitely either fake or unethically sourced.
Kopi Luwak Coffee – Cage Free, 2 oz. – $69.99
from: Volcanica Coffee
There are some larger farms that sell individual coffees but these are fairly rare.
Buying coffee labeled as “Sumatra” or “Java” can be a bit of a gamble due to the large variations between growing conditions in different areas of the islands. So, to find the best Indonesian coffee beans, we recommend buying from a roaster or on a recommendation you trust (like ours, we hope!)
Indonesian coffee growing started on Java and then slowly spread to the surrounding islands. First, it spread to Sulawesi in 1750, but it didn’t make it to Northern Sumatra until 1888.
Sumatra is the largest Indonesian island – and one of the most famous coffee producers. As the most westerly island, it has the earliest harvest from November to March.
Across the island, there are 2 main growing regions: Aceh in the north which is home to the Gayo Mountains, and Lintong to the southwest of Lake Toba. Whilst it is possible to find coffee from more specific areas, this level of traceability is pretty new and still not common.
In terms of flavor, Sumatran coffee is identifiable by its complex earthy, chocolatey, creamy tones thanks to the volcanic soil. Here, wet hulling is also a common practice which contributes to the bigger, heavier notes and low acidity. Northern Gayo coffee tends to be a dense, heavy bean bursting with intense, strong flavors. Whereas Lintong coffees are more rounded and crisp.
When buying coffee from Sumatra, you may also come across Sumatra Mandheling coffee. This isn’t a specific place or variety, however, and instead refers to an ethnic group. Indonesian Mandheling coffee is one of the most full-bodied in the world with big syrupy feels.
Coffee is not usually separated into different lots by specific tree varieties. Instead, most Sumatran coffees will be a blend of unknown Arabica varieties including Typica, Tim Tim, Ateng, and Onan Ganjang.
Have the complex, strong flavors of Sumatran coffee piqued your interest? Check-out our in-depth look at the coffee from this island alongside our top picks for you to try:
Java and Coffee are synonymous thanks to the high-quality single-origin coffee beans produced on the island. This quality is so good that Java coffees commanded incredibly high prices until the end of the 20th century. Despite the fall, it is still considered one of the world’s top coffee-growing regions.
Not only is the coffee some of the best, but Java is also the oldest Indonesian coffee producer.
Most of the coffee plants are on the east side of the island on the high plateaus around the Ijen Volcano. Here, there are five government-owned estates: Blawan, Tugosari, Pancoer, Jampit, and Kayumas. And, more recently, there are some smallholder farms on the west side too, giving you plenty of choices.
The altitude of Javan farms ranges from 3,000 to 5,900 feet asl. So there are some very high-altitude coffees available with all the subtlety and nuance of flavor that you’d expect. The flavors tend to be cleaner, and sweeter than many other Indonesian coffees with low acidity and notes of molasses and figs.
In your search for the best-tasting coffee beans, you may have come across Mocha Java coffee. This was one of the first coffee blends in the world and came as a result of the trade routes at the time. So, the Java arabica coffee beans were mixed with Mocha from Yemen and a whole new deliciousness was born.
Sulawesi is located in the northern-central region of Indonesia and it is possible to get coffees marketed by the island’s former name, Celebes.
The island is home to 7 large coffee estates but they produce less than 10% of the island’s total coffee. Instead, most coffee comes from smallholder farms with just a couple of acres each.
Arabica coffee beans are grown mostly in the higher regions in the south – the Toraja Highlands – so it is often referred to as Toraja Coffee. Also within South Sulawesi is the city of Kalosi, which has become another brand name for coffee beans from this area.
There are also two smaller coffee-growing areas: Mamasa in West Sulawesi, and Gowa to the south of Kalosi.
Giling Basah is common practice on Sulawesi. But the washed processed Arabica from Sulawesi can be exceptionally good quality and well worth seeking out. Of all Indonesian coffee, those from Sulawesi tend to be lighter, still with the typical syrupiness but less earthiness. You will experience nutty, chocolate aromas alongside spices like cardamom and cinnamon.
Flores is relatively small compared to the other coffee-growing islands of Indonesia. It is found around 200 miles east of Bali and is named after its breathtaking underwater gardens.
The island is famous for its rich fertile volcanic soil which not only grows high-end coffees but also supports the endangered Komodo Dragon.
Coffee is a fairly recent addition to the farming landscape of Flores. And, for much of that time, the coffee beans have been blended with those from other islands so it is not common to see single-origin Flores Coffee.
The key coffee region on Flores is Bajawa, where you’ll mostly see the semi-washed Giling Basah coffee. This, combined with Flores’ location, gives the coffee a sweet, milk chocolate taste with floral, woody notes and a syrupy body.
Bali might be better known for its stunning resorts and wellness retreats, but its coffee shouldn’t be overlooked:
It was another latecomer to the Indonesia coffee-growing scene. Upon arrival to the island, coffee was first planted on the Kintami Plateau in the highest regions of the island. But, sadly, it suffered a major setback when the Gunung Agung Volcano erupted in 1963, killing over 2,000 people and devastating the east of the island.
In the 1970s and 80s, the government pushed Balinese coffee bean production – they even handed out Arabica seedlings to farmers. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to have worked too well as around 80% of the Bali coffee crop is Robusta.
Tourism is by far the main economic driver on the island but agriculture still employs a large number of people. Until recently, Japan bought nearly all the coffee from Bali so it wasn’t common to see it elsewhere. If you manage to get hold of some Balinese coffee, you will experience the complex, strong (but not bitter) flavors of spiced citrus and woody tones.
Most of the seed stock initially brought to the islands was a strain of Typica that originated in Yemen. In Sumatra, this strain is called Djember Typica. But Djember also refers to an entirely different varietal found in Sulawesi, which is far inferior.
It is also very common to see other coffee varieties that have been crossbred with Robusta at some stage. The best known of these is Hybrido de Timor which is a parent of the more common Catimor variety. On Sumatra, this is often called TimTim.
Want to get down and dirty with all the different Arabica coffee bean varieties? Then head on over to our in-depth article, including flavor profiles, of all the known varetials:
In 1696, the Dutch Governor of Malabar, India gifted coffee seedlings to the Governor of Jakarta (Batavia at the time). These plants were lost in a flood so a second shipment had to be sent which, thankfully, flourished.
Indonesian coffee was first exported in 1711 whilst under the monopoly control of the Dutch East India Company (or VOC – Vereenigde Oostindische Compagniey). The income generated allowed for infrastructure development and the coffee industry to grow across the islands.
The exported coffee was sold in Amsterdam and commanded extremely high prices. In fact, 2lb (1kg) of coffee beans cost around 1% of the average Dutch person’s annual income at the time. During the 18th century, the price slowly came down but it was an incredibly profitable commodity for the VOC.
As this was the colonial system, these profits never made it anywhere near the hard-working coffee growers in Indonesia.
In 1860, a Dutch colonial officer wrote a book called “Max Havelaar; Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company”. He exposed the abuses of the colonial systems and horrific conditions on coffee plantations. As a result, Max Havelaar became the first Fairtrade label, launched in 1988.
Initially, only Arabica coffee plants were grown in Indonesia. But, in 1876, Coffee Leaf Rust decimated production. So, in the hopes of rebuilding the Indonesian coffee industry, there was an attempt to plant Liberica. However, this also succumbed to coffee rust.
So, Indonesian coffee production switched to the more disease-resistant Robusta coffee species. Today, Robusta still makes up a significant portion of the crop although Arabica is making a comeback.
Now, Indonesia coffee is booming with Java and Sumatra coffee beans known worldwide for their great flavor.
Rather than following the traditional coffee processing methods of washed, natural, or honey, in Indonesia, a process called Giling Basah is used. It means “wet hulling” or “wet grinding”, but is also referred to as semi-washed coffee.
This is a traditional post-harvest process that combines elements of both the washed and natural processes. Whilst this innovative coffee processing method is complex, the main takeaway is the different flavors that develop in the green coffee beans:
Giling Basah reduces the acidity of the coffee beans and increases the body. The result is a softer, rounder, and more heavy-bodied cup of joe. It also introduces a host of other flavors – herby and vegetal, woody and musty – that would be considered “faults” if they were coffee beans from anywhere else in the world.
There are, of course, many people who love the intense, savory notes that come from this style of coffee, including me. And, if you enjoy something, why let snobby coffee lovers take that away from you?
Many big coffee buyers are trying to persuade Indonesian farmers to move towards using the washed process. Their reasoning is clearer identification between the individual farms. We just hope that the farmers are not bullied into decisions that don’t serve them well as washed processing coffee requires large amounts of already scarce water and may not fetch a higher price.
Do you want to know more about Coffee Processing?
Take a deep dive into all the different methods of processing coffee, and how they affect the flavor of your cup of coffee.
When choosing the right Indonesian coffee for you, pay attention to the processing method:
If it has been wet-hulled (semi-washed coffee or Giling Basah), you will get the big flavor punch to the face that Indonesia is so famous for.
Whereas washed/ wet-processed single-origin coffee beans can show off the milder side to coffee from the different islands.
It may be many things, but Indonesia coffee is never boring. It is a delight to explore the nuanced coffee flavor profiles from the different islands.
So, now you’ve read a bit about the Indonesian coffee sector, why not give some new varieties a try. Maybe some lighter Sulawesi coffee or the more floral, sweet flavors from Flores? Whatever you try, we hope it takes your morning cup of joe to a whole new level.
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