Indonesia has a long history of producing coffee for the world. One of the first regions to produce coffee outside Africa, Indonesian coffee exports were the first true contender to the coffee monopoly of Arabia.
The Dutch East India Trading Company introduced coffee to Indonesia in the late 1600s. Having (allegedly) smuggled coffee seeds out of Yemen via the Port of Mocha, they were primed to begin growing and harvesting their own coffee plantations and become a major supplier to Europe, bypassing the historic coffee capitals of Yemen and India.
They were remarkably successful. Producing arabica coffee initially on the island of Java, the Java name became synonymous with coffee worldwide as production began to spread to other islands of Indonesia including Sumatra, Sulawesi, Bali and Timor.
After aggressive leaf rust decimated crops across the country between 1860 and 1880, robusta became the primary coffee grown in Indonesia as a hardier alternative. Today, roughly 90% of Indonesian coffee grown is still robusta, with the remaining 10% of arabica coffee producing signature flavours that many coffee drinkers are familiar with.
With coffee typically grown at altitudes between 750 — 1,500 masl., the islands of Indonesia produce a variety of flavour between them.
Specialty arabica coffee from Indonesia typically comes from Sumatra, Timor and Sulawesi. Although making up a small proportion of Indonesia’s total coffee production, the arabica cherries possess unique flavour profiles that are well known in the coffee-growing community.
This is in part thanks to a unique processing method utilised called Giling Basah, which enhances the notes that Indonesian coffee is known for. Common flavours of Indonesian specialty coffee include earth, spice, sandalwood and tobacco. These heavy flavours contribute body to many coffee blends around the world.
A large amount of Indonesian coffee is processed in a unique way: Giling Basah. This method is only used in Indonesia as a means to export coffee as quickly as possible, necessary thanks to Indonesia’s humid climate.
The Giling Basah processing method is interesting, to say the least. In its early stages, it is quite similar to any washed processed coffee. Cherries are picked and pulped before being sent to fermentation tanks. Washed processed coffees will ferment until the sticky mucilage on the outside of the parchment can be washed away before drying for about 10 – 20 days.
After Giling Basah coffee is fermented, it’s dried until it reaches 30% moisture level before being sent to a mill to remove the final layer of parchment. At 30% moisture level, the wet parchment is still firmly attached to the beans on the inside — with wet coffee being so soft and fragile, this separation process is incredibly difficult. These mills use hull machines to separate the parchment and beans before the coffee is dried further — any rough handling results in damaged and defective beans which can compromise the flavour of a roast.
Processing coffee with the Giling Basah method results in a signature flavour that Indonesia is known for; heavy body with minimal acidity, often with tones of tobacco, spice, wood and earth. While these flavour notes might not sound delicious, they are famous and highly desired around the world for a dark, brooding cup of coffee.
With frequent rainfalls and high humidity, the Giling Basah method enables coffee to move from harvest to roaster as quickly as possible — resulting in unique flavours that Indonesian coffee is known for.
Sarimakmur / Wahana Estate — Sidikalang, Sumatra.
One of our most notable partnerships in Indonesia is with Sarimakmur in Sidikalang, on the island of Sumatra. Sarimakmur owns a remarkable farm called Wahana Estate — if you’re familiar with Allpress coffee over the past few years, this name will ring a bell.
Set up in 2005 to showcase the flavour of Indonesian specialty coffee, Wahana Estate produces high-quality, traceable specialty coffee. We have proudly partnered with Sarimakmur since 2012 and sourced their Wahana Estate coffee since 2015 as they continue to grow some of the most remarkable coffee in Indonesia.
Wahana Estate is set up with very sophisticated drying facilities; a two-hectare canopy for drying and sixteen mechanical dryers — they were among the first in Indonesia with this kind of processing infrastructure. This was built to show the potential of Indonesian specialty coffee using different processing methods; these facilities allow them to create natural, washed and honey-processed coffee as well as the traditional Giling Basah.
The estate includes 250 hectares of coffee growing land, 100 hectares of natural reserve, and 30 hectares of coffee nursery with the rest of the space hosting a health clinic, daycare, school, church, mosque and accommodation for the 300 permanent workers. During the harvesting season, the number of workers explodes to over 1,500.
Aceh — Sumatra
Another impressive coffee we source from Sarimakmur, this is a co-op coffee sourced from smallholder growers in the Aceh region of Northwestern Sumatra.
Incredibly consistent, our Aceh coffee is selected and organised by flavour profile by the co-op before final dry-milling happens at Sarimakmur’s primary mill in Medan. The attention to detail with this coffee makes it stand out as one of our most notable partnerships.
This coffee is double or even triple-picked — it is sorted through both mechanical sorting equipment and by hand to remove visual defects. Passing the beans through the grading process 2-3 times ensures a very clean and consistent product with very low defects.
Our signature coffee, Allpress Espresso Blend, relies heavily on Sumatran coffee. Processed using the traditional Giling Basah method, the Sumatran brings great body, some spice and earthy notes with dark fruit notes and sweetness.
We source specialty Sumatran coffee from our friends at Wahana Estate, most recently as a charity collaboration. All profits from this coffee were donated to SurfAid, a charity that works to improve the health, well-being and self-reliance of people living in isolated regions of Sumatra connected to us through surfing.
We regularly feature Indonesian specialty coffee in Our Coffee Galaxy. While not often thought of as a leading specialty coffee origin, the region produces exceptional flavour from many proud, dedicated farmers.