Place in world as coffee exporter (14/15):
Sacks (60kg) exported annually (14/15):
Percentage of world coffee market:
Other major agricultural exports:
Typical Varieties Produced:
25% Arabica: Typica, Caturra, Bourbon, Catimor, Tim Tim & S-Hybrids
Key Coffee Regions:
Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, Flores & Bali
Typical Harvest Times:
Varies by location
Indonesia’s production was originally nearly 100% Arabica until, in the 1870s, coffee leaf rust decimated production. Farmers slowly replaced Arabica with Robusta, and today, although Indonesia is a significant coffee producing country – the fourth biggest in the world behind Brazil, Colombia and Vietnam – only around 25% of production is Arabica.
Many coffees from Indonesia are today processed using the fully washed method. However, traditionally the post harvest process of ‘Giling Basah’ (‘wet hulling’) is used. Growers hand-pulp their coffee at their farm, briefly dry it, and then offer it for sale at the local village market or deliver it very wet (around 30-50 percent humidity) to a collection station nearby. Unlike in most countries, where the coffee remains in parchment until it is milled just before export, the coffee is then hulled and re-dried until it is dry enough to store without rotting. The result is a unique cup profile that many people find delicious.
The mills have a network of local representatives in the growing areas that buy partially dried parchment, fully dried parchment, and part and fully dried green to varying degrees of preparation. Uniquely, Indonesia has developed hulling machinery to mill even 18% wet parchment – a very likely cause of the unique blue/green colour that can be found in some lots. It is also the likely cause of the huge quality variance between the best and worst lots - not least because some coffee will be fermented if the hulling process is too slow.
Indeed, Indonesia has a great deal to offer the specialty market, with distinct and unique profiles depending on region and processing. Most notably, Mercanta offers specialty coffees from Sumatra & Java; however, the country’s other islands of Sulawesi, Flores and Bali also produce coffee.
Mercanta sources the majority of our Indonesian coffees from the island of Sumatra, where we have been working with the same milling partner since 2004.
For many years, the coffees from this largest island in the Indonesian archipelago were known simply as either ‘Mandheling’ or ‘Lintong’. This told little of their provenance and even less of their rich and complex characteristics. Many buyers have become completely accustomed to an old, dull, musty character from their Sumatran coffees. Indeed, at their worst Sumatra’s coffees can be earthy, mushroomy and inconsistent. Yet, the finest and freshest examples can display complex herbal characteristics, a clean, bright cup and interesting flavour characteristics. Like Colombia and Kenya, Sumatra produces two crops a year. These are typically in May/June (fly crop) and Sept/Oct (main crop).
We source our Sumatran coffees from Aceh Province (these coffees are loosely known in the commodity world as ‘Mandheling’ - named after the Mandailing people native to Northern Sumatra); and from North Sumatra Province around Lake Toba (known as ‘Lintong’ after a small town to the south of the lake). Neither ‘Lintong’ nor ‘Mandheling’ should be considered anything close to an accurate name for these fine coffees any more than ‘Santos’ is a name for fine estate Brazils.
There are very few coffee estates or cooperatives in Sumatra. Instead, a huge number of smallholders (most farms average two hectares or less) sell small quantities of coffee at their local village market. On these small-holdings, coffee is rarely the sole crop but provides the main cash income for about 5 million people. These farmers - many of whom are women - bargain hard and prices for semi-prepared coffee in the domestic market are very high compared to Latin American or African standards.
Our sourcing policy in Sumatra is simple - we have agreed that we will pay premium prices for first refusal on the very finest selections by cup and preparation. We have visited the mill in Medan on many occasions. It is clean, efficient, well-managed and staffed by a legion of hand pickers, all of whom receive at least the government minimum wage, with many earning more than this with performance related bonuses.
The island of Java – the name now almost synonymous with coffee – is also capable of producing some excellent specialty coffee. The island lies between Sumatra to the west and Bali to the east. Most of the island’s Arabica coffee is grown on five government owned estates, which together cover over 4,000 hectares – Blawan (alt. Belawan, Blauan), Jampit (alt. Djampit), Kayumas, Tugosari and Pancoer.
These vast plantations are clustered on the volcanic Ijen Plateau in the east of the island, at around 1,370 metres (4,500 feet). They were established over 100 years ago by Dutch colonialists and then reactivated by the Indonesian government in the late 1950s, post independence. Arabica coffee has a long history on Java - it was first introduced on the island back in the late 17th century by the Dutch East India Company, which sent its first shipment from Java to Europe in 1711.
Javan coffees are usually fully washed, and known for their low acidity and heavy body. We select our Javans on the basis of their cup profile - we look for a hearty and rich cup, with a weighty mouthfeel, a full body, and some good flavour notes (often figs, dark molasses and clove).
Most of Sulawesi’s coffee is produced by small holders, who are responsible for around 95% of the island’s production. Although some coffees are fully washed, the vast majority are still produced using the semi-washed, Giling Basah method.