A Closer Look at Indonesia's Coffee Culture

INDONESIA IS A TRULY AMAZING PLACE. COMPRISED OF OVER THIRTEEN THOUSAND ISLANDS, IT IS THE THIRD LARGEST DEMOCRACY IN THE WORLD, THE FOURTH MOST POPULOUS NATION, AND THE LARGEST MUSLIM STATE. OVER SEVEN HUNDRED LANGUAGES ARE SPOKEN, MEANING THAT INDONESIA HAS A LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY ALMOST AS IMPRESSIVE AS ITS BIODIVERSITY. IMPORTANTLY, INDONESIA IS ALSO ONE OF THE PREMIER COFFEE PRODUCING NATIONS ON EARTH.

Indonesia has a long and noble history stretching back millennia. Many of the ethnic groups in Indonesia have had mighty empires with stunning achievements in science, culture and architecture. The coffee history in Indonesia stretches back to the tail end of the 1600s.

The Dutch maritime empire had established itself on the island of Java for centuries when coffee became a sensation in Europe. Looking for ways to establish a monopoly on the trade and cut out Turkish competition, a coffee plantation was established in what is now Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital. For centuries, until Brazilian coffee production ramped up in the middle of the 19th century, Indonesia produced most of the world’s coffee. This is why the word Java is synonymous with coffee.

Coffee production in Indonesia slowed during Japanese occupation in World War Two, and the newly independent nation did not prioritize coffee production as much as it could have. Thankfully, today’s Indonesia is once again a leader in coffee, producing a third of the world’s yield and much of its best. It is also a very equitable trade, roughly 90% of farms are small scale, often family-farms that give average Indonesians access to thirsty global markets.   

As a largely Muslim nation, coffee often replaces alcohol as the social lubricant of choice for Indonesians. The local coffee is so good that it is still exceedingly popular in the non-Muslim regions, like the predominantly Hindu Bali or more Christian Papua New Guinea. In fact, coffee, known as ‘kopi,’ in Bhasa Indonesia –the national language – is so integral to the culture that the term for breakfast literally translates to “before coffee.”

Indonesians are understandably particular when it comes to how they drink their coffee. Today the citizens of cities like Jakarta are happy to take their coffee in any of the assortment of modern methods, but the traditional and still most popular method of brewing coffee is called Kopi Tobruk. Kopi Tobruk is usually served in a beer mug where a tablespoon of fine Kopi Trading Co. grounds are placed in the bottom. Water is then brought to a boil and immediately poured onto the grinds, water that has reached a rolling boil can burn the coffee. The drink is stirred and then left to sit for 3-5 minutes. By then the coffee is cool enough to drink and the grounds have settled.

We look forward to exploring more of Indonesia’s beautiful islands and history with you through the lens of coffee.