The best Indonesian coffees come from prime coffee-growing regions:
Regions around Indonesia are frequently included in the region, as they share not only geographic proximity but also flavor profiles as well. Among these are Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, and even Sri Lanka and India.
In general these coffees are known for their full-bodied, rich taste and vibrant yet low-toned and gentle acidity, and long finish / aftertaste. Some Indonesian coffees are quite earthy in flavour, a quality loved by some people but overpowering to others and take some getting used to, to be fully appreciated.
Agriculture in Indonesia
Indonesia is a prolific export of agricultural products like coffee, and is actually the third largest exporter in the world. A government initiative in the 80s led to a focus on growing goods for export after an oil depression caused significant upset in the economy that had been previously reliant on oil exports. In addition to coffee, Indonesia exports a number of other products familiar to those in the U.S. and Canada such as:
- tabacco and tea
- cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and cane sugar
- palm oil
Typical densities for coffee trees are anywhere from 1,100 to 2,000 trees per hectare (2.5 acres, 107,639 square feet). Coffee trees are often shaded and yield “shade grown” coffee, which grows slower because of lack of sunlight, allowing the roots to feed more nutrients to the green coffee beans inside the coffee cherries before they fully mature for harvesting.
Kopi Luwak (Civet Coffee) comes from the Indonesian islands.
Indonesian Coffee Growing Countries
Indonesia spans a number of islands in the Pacific that lie in the “coffee growing belt”.
Some of the world’s finest premium gourmet coffees are grown in Sumatra and called Mandheling, Ankola, and Lintong. These coffees are distinguished by their full body, more earthy than Java Arabica, and with a low acidity. Sumatran coffees are renown for providing a rich, satisfying flavor. Sumatra coffees (Mandheling particularly) are typically available as both Fair Trade and Organic certified.
Though Mandheling is dry processed, their particular method involves washing the dried coffee cherry in hot water to provide a more consistent appearance of the coffee beans than typical dry processed coffees, and likely contributes to the coffee’s fine flavor.
Sumatra Mandheling coffee is named after the north Sumatran Mandailing people and is considered one of the world’s top specialty coffees. It grows at elevations up to 5,000 feet and as low as 2,500 feet above sea level near Padang in west-central Indonesia.
With a body as full as any premium coffees, Sumatra Mandheling reviews frequently describe that it can be downright syrupy. Despite a subdued acidity the tastes are complex and intense, and a chocolate sweet flavor often holds earthy undertones. Notes of licorice may also be present.
Sumatra Lintong Coffee
Lintong coffees are quite sweet and with low acidity, a medium body and complex earthy aroma. The north region of Sumatra is where the Lintong region is found and where the coffees come from.
Ankola is a premium gourmet coffee grown in Sumatra near the port of Padang at elevations from 2,500 feet to 5,000 feet above sea level. Ankola is a market name.
Java Arabica Coffee
Indonesian Java Arabica coffee is a wet-processed (washed) Arabica coffee that comes from the island of Java. Most of it is grown on the east side in the “Ijen” volcano cluster on the Ijen Plateau at elevations around 1,400 meters.
A good Java coffee exhibits a relatively heavy body compared to the rest of the world, though lighter than some other Indonesian coffees from the surrounding regions. Java coffee has a fairly rustic flavor profile with a lingering finish, herbaceous nuances in the aftertaste, and less acidity. Java Blue is sometimes available but can be spotty in terms of availability.
While the aftertaste of Java may be a bit more pronounced than other Indonesian offerings, it may contain slightly spicy or smoky twists that make it distinctive. Overall it has a sweet impression, with a very smooth and supple flavor.
The finest coffee grown in Java come from the “Dutch Coffee Estates” – plantations on the five largest estates that were established by the Dutch government in the 18th century, when Java was part of the Dutch East Indies, the largest of which encompasses more than 4,000 hectares of coffee plants. These are Blawan, Jampit (or “Djampit” – the biggest producer), Pancoer and Kayumas.
Coffee has been growing in these regions since the 17th century and has been exported worldwide for almost as long.
Monsooning is a more common practice in Java than other countries, which exposes the coffee beans to moisture for long periods in order to change and develop some flavors. This process is not without its risks, as the changes are irreversible and not always for the better, but if successful yield truly remarkable coffees that fetch a premium. While it’s nearly impossible to find the Old Java coffees, similar coffees include the Aged Sumatra and Indian Monsooned Malabar.
Mocha Java Coffee
A good Toraja coffee is well-balanced with undertones of ripe fruit and dark chocolate. Toraja coffee tends to have a relatively low-toned yet vibrant acidity, though usually slightly more acidic and with less body than Sumatran coffees and also more earthy than Java Arabica coffee.
Like Sumatran coffees, the cup profile of Toraja has been called deep and brooding, while the fruit notes are muted.
Sulawesi Toraja coffee is grown at relatively high altitudes on the island of Sulawesi, which was formerly called Celebes (the Dutch colonial name), located in the middle of the Indonesia’s Malay archipelago. For this reason Toraja coffee is also known as Celebes.
Processing of Toraja coffee is done by the Giling Basah wet-hull method, which produces chaff-free green coffee beans which have been milled though not yet roasted) with a distinct dark tint. The semi-dry processing of the coffee beans, which sometimes leads to uneven roasting, has a significant effect on the character of the brewed coffee.
Papua New Guinea Coffee
While not the eastern part of Papua known as Papuea New Guinea technically part of Indonesia, it’s geographical presence and flavor profile of the coffee means that it is worth checking out as part of Indonesia.
Best Indonesian Coffee
Most coffees from Indonesia are highly prized for their complex, spice-y flavors thanks to the rich soils and idyllic growing conditions. Among the best reviewed Indonesian coffees, Sumatra and Sulawesi frequently take the top spots – this is in part due to the more prevalent processing and exporting industries and strong government support. We recommend trying coffees from all the regions however, as they’re all a treat to enjoy.
Best Indonesian Coffee Brands
Your preference for brands will vary based on what flavor profiles and roast levels you enjoy. Indonesia encompasses many countries and each one has something unique to offer, and within a country, different farms and varietals of the coffee will have different flavors. Among the more popular brands are Starbucks, Doi Chaang.
As always, we recommend buying coffee fresh roasted from a local roaster (or ordering fresh roasted online) who imports green coffee beans and roasts themselves. Coffee is a best as a fresh product, and a mid-range Indonesian coffee that is fresh roasted will be better than a top-quality coffee that was roasted weeks or months earlier.
Starbucks Indonesia Coffee
Starbucks has offered the Starbucks Reserve Indonesia Blue Java coffee as part of their reserve program – a chance to try a unique, specialty selected coffee from their sourcing department. The Indonesian Blue Java is near-impossible to source outside the island due to low supply. Working direct with small-hold farmers on farms between 900 and 1,500 meters above sea level, these coffees are fully washed and have tasting notes of sage and earthy flavors, with a sweet and syrupy mouthfeel. Harvest occurs between May and September.