July 23, 2021 7 min read

Indonesian Coffee A Brief Tale of Java

Where is the Island of Java

Java is an island in Southeast Asia, situated in the Indonesian archipelago. It lies between Sumatra to the west and Bali to the east, with Borneo to the north and Christmas Island to the south. Java is the most populous island in Indonesia and the world's most populous island, home to over 140 million people.

The History of Java

  1. Early Civilization: Java has been inhabited since prehistoric times, with evidence of early human settlements dating back to the Pleistocene era. The island has a long history of indigenous cultures, including the early Javanese kingdoms such as Tarumanagara, Mataram, and Majapahit.

  2. Hindu-Buddhist Period: From around the 4th century CE onwards, Java experienced significant cultural and religious influence from the Indian subcontinent. The island became a center of Hindu and Buddhist civilization, with the establishment of powerful kingdoms such as the Sailendra and Srivijaya.

  3. Islamic Influence: The spread of Islam to Java began in the 13th century, primarily through trade and missionary activities. By the 16th century, Islam had become the dominant religion on the island, leading to the decline of Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms and the rise of Islamic Sultanates such as Demak, Mataram, and Banten.

  4. Colonial Period: Java came under European colonial rule in the 17th century, initially by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and later by the Dutch colonial government. The Dutch established Batavia (now Jakarta) as the capital of their colonial possessions in the East Indies, exerting control over Java and its resources.

  5. Dutch East Indies: Java served as the center of Dutch colonial administration and economic exploitation in the Indonesian archipelago. The Dutch implemented various systems of forced labor, including the cultivation system (cultuurstelsel), which required peasants to grow cash crops such as coffee, sugar, and indigo for export.

  6. Independence Movement: Throughout the 20th century, Java played a central role in the Indonesian independence movement against Dutch colonial rule. The island saw significant political activism and resistance, leading to the proclamation of Indonesian independence on August 17, 1945.

  7. Modern Era: Since gaining independence, Java has remained the political, cultural, and economic heartland of Indonesia. It is home to the capital city, Jakarta, and several other major cities, including Surabaya, Bandung, and Semarang. Java's economy is diverse, with agriculture, manufacturing, and services sectors contributing to its growth and development.

Overall, Java's history is characterized by a rich tapestry of cultures, religions, and civilizations, shaping its identity as one of the most dynamic and influential regions in Southeast Asia.

Where is Indonesia Located

Indonesia is located between the Pacific and Indian oceans and made up of more than 17,000 islands. The islands people tend to be most familiar with are Sulawesi, Sumatra, Papua New Guinea, and Java. If you wonder, why these seem familiar it is because the islands are also home to some of world's most beloved coffees and you have probably been drinking coffee from these beautiful remote locations.

Shipyard Dutch East India Company

A Shipyard owned by the Dutch India Company

Photo Courtesy of Stadsarchief Amsterdam / Wikicommons

Java and the Dutch East India Company

The Dutch East India Company realized that coffee was going to be big business and they managed to monopolize world coffee trading from 1725 through 1780. Coffee grew well on certain islands in Indonesia, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Java. The capital, Batavia (today known as Jakarta) was located on the main island of Java.  Boatloads of sacks of coffee left from Java, and the bags were stamped with the word 'Java' so the words Java and Coffee became synonymous.

History of Java, Sumatra, and Papua New Guinea Coffee

Coffee was introduced as a crop from colonizing countries and is not a native to the area. Indonesia was first colonized by Portugal in the early 1500s for its resources such as clove, nutmeg, and cubeb pepper. Britain and the Dutch quickly followed, and eventually the Dutch East Indies was established in 1800, which was the colonial term for Indonesia at the time. Native Indonesians however, continued to fight for their independence and freedom. By 1945, under the leadership of Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, Indonesia claimed its independence. The Netherlands tried to re-establish control over what they considered “their land” but relinquished that fight in December 1949 with growing pressures from global powers.

Female Coffee Farmer on the Island of Java

Female coffee picker on a coffee farm, east coast of Sumatra circa 1905

Photo Courtesy of Kleingrothe, C.J. Medan 

Who Brought Coffee Trees to Indonesia?

The Dutch introduced coffee trees to Bali and Sumatra, where it’s still grown today. Another island where coffee was planted was the island of Java. Javanese coffee plants absorb the nutrients and flavors of their volcanic soil to create rich, full-bodied coffee often with notes of dark chocolate and spicy chili.

In Sumatra, the first coffee seedlings failed due to flooding in Batavia. The second shipment of coffee seedlings was sent in 1699 with Hendrik Zwaardecroon. The coffee plants grew and in 1711 the first Sumatran coffee beans exports were sent from Java to Europe by the Dutch East India Company, known by its Dutch initials VOC (Vereeningde Oost-Indische Company). Within a few years, Indonesian coffee beans dominated the world's coffee market.

Coffee production in Papua New Guinea can be traced back to the 1920s when eighteen commercial coffee production sites were established.

The first coffee planted on the island was actually Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, which is usually known as some of the most expensive coffee in today’s market due to its extremely high quality and the small number of farms in Jamaica.

Major infrastructure has been put in place to help ease the exportation of coffee, which employs more than 2.5 million people and is 1% of the world’s coffee production. Coffee production took off in the 1970s and became internationally noticed in the 1980s when frost in many Brazilian farms allowed Papua New Guinea to take the limelight.

Kopi Luwak Coffee and the Palm Civet

With the introduction of coffee, humans were not the only people to take a liking to the taste of Indonesian coffees.

The common palm civet is a mammal that has made its home in South and Southeast Asia. It is pretty distinct looking with a long tail and raccoon-like face. Its diet consists of insects and small reptiles as well as fruits like coffee cherries and mangoes. While it plays an important part of the ecosystem, most farmers consider them pests because of their love of coffee cherries.

However, farmers soon discovered that the excrement of civets fermented only partially digested coffee cherries. This fermentation removes some acidity of the beans and a new, smoother cup of coffee called kopi luwak was then born. In the wild, it can be hard to find and has therefore been associated with exclusivity. In Northern America, a single cup of kopi luwak coffee can cost you anywhere from $35 to $80 USD.

However, this industry has taken a dark turn. More civets are being confined to cages, some as small as rabbit cages, and force-fed cherries to produce kopi luwak. They have also been forced into cages so visiting tourists can see the animal in person. According to National Geographic,

From the size and sanitation of the cages to the ability of their occupants to act like normal civets, every plantation the researchers visited failed basic animal welfare requirements. “Some of these cages were literally the tiniest—we would call them rabbit hutches. They’re absolutely soaked through with urine and droppings all over the place,” said Neil D’Cruze, one of the researchers.

Some of the civets were very thin, from being fed a restricted diet of only coffee cherries—the fruit that surrounds the coffee bean. Some were obese, from never being able to move around freely. And some were jacked up on caffeine, D’Cruze said.

Currently there is no way to tell if a cup of kopi luwak comes from a free animal or one forced into captivity.

Kopi Joss (Charcoal Coffee)

While globally Indonesia may be famous for kopi luwak, locals are a lot more familiar with a coffee you are likely to find from local street vendors in Yogyakarta - kopi joss.

It is prepared in traditional Javanese street fashion - hot water is added to extremely fine coffee grounds and sugar to produce the cup of coffee.

Flaming charcoal is then added directly into the cup (after ashes have been gently blown off), and the cup brews for one minute longer as the coffee puts out the flame. The hot charcoal usually makes the brew bubble over and create a mess. After cooling off, the drinker is supposed to fish out the charcoal and set it aside.

Traditional Indonesian Coffee Recipes

Kopi Tubruk

While you can find nice coffee shops sprinkled throughout the major cities in Indonesia, if you really want to experience Indonesian coffee culture it is best to get out in the streets and away from the malls. Kopi Tubruk is the most popular brewed coffee in the country, and in the warung kopi, roadside stalls, you will find unstrained brewed coffee in a glass. Indonesians prefer to drink coffee black with sugar. Indonesians also serve coffee with herbs and spices like Kopi Jahe, ginger coffee.

To make a cup of Kopi Tubruk:

  1. Add two teaspoons of fine or medium ground coffee (sugar is optional) into a cup
  2. Boil the water and then add it to the cup at the boiling temperature
  3. Stir so the water and the coffee grounds mix well
  4. Let it stay and cook with the coffee for a few minutes until most of the ground coffee has settled in the bottom
  5. Enjoy your coffee but leave the "mud" at the bottom alone. Don't drink it.

Es Alpukat: Indonesian Coffee Avocado Milkshake


  • 1 ripe avocado (or 1/2 if your avocado is super-large)
  • 1 cup strongly-brewed coffee, chilled
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla or chocolate syrup to taste


  • Scoop out avocado flesh with a spoon. Discard the seed & skin.
  • Add avocado to a blender with the ice, coffee, sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla.
  • Blend until smooth.
  • Drizzle lines of chocolate syrup along the sides of two glasses.
  • Pour blended mixture into glasses, and top with chocolate syrup.
  • Optional: For visual interest, make a "spiral" shape on top with chocolate syrup, then use a toothpick to pull lines from the center, outward toward the edge of the glass, creating a flower motif.

What is Sumatra Coffee?

The History of Dutch Coffee