Like in other countries, the past few years have seen specialty coffee picking up steam in my home country Indonesia. Below is an exploration of the scene based on my recent trip to Jakarta and Bali.
Killing time while my wife was pampered with a traditional Javanese massage, I stopped by Giyanti, a café/roastery in the nearby antiques district of Jakarta. A narrow garden hallway opened onto the outside seating area, where a sculpture of caffeine’s chemical composition adorned one of its walls.
Within the entrance stands a red Petroncini roaster and an imposing black Kees Van der Westen Spirit. The espresso pulled with the Spirit had a syrupy body with distinct sea salt caramel note and lingering sweetness. It showed great use of the machine’s pressure profiling—a gradual pressure buildup and 8 bar full infusion in this case. The deft barista was no other than Hendrik Halianto, the shop owner himself. (Rumors have it that he does not let anyone else pull the shots.)
Halianto’s shop exemplifies the recent growth of specialty coffee shops modeled on Western-style third wave shops, especially Australia. Though my trip is limited to Jakarta and Bali, the trend is evident.
Look past the fancy Spirits or Slayers, however and you’ll find something particular to Indonesian shops. Most of the coffee is sourced from the country’s island regions such as Bali, Java, Sulawesi, Flores, Papua, Sumbawa, and Sumatra.
While the reason may be economic, there is a palpable pride in featuring local beans. The rise of specialty shops reflects Indonesian coffee drinkers’ desire to consume higher quality beans than mere fillers for blends.
Though rising sharply, current personal consumption in Indonesia (1.3 kg per capita) remain much lower than in other countries (4 kg per capita in USA; 10 kg per capita in Finland). However, the Indonesian specialty crop itself rose dramatically in the last few years. A Jakarta Post article from October 8th, 2014 lists an exponential jump in Indonesian samples on offer at the third biennial Indonesia Specialty Coffee Auction when compared to prior ones: 30 in 2010, 62 in 2012, and 144 in 2014.
One of the pioneering shops in the Indonesian specialty scene is Anomali Coffee (est. 2007). Co-founder Irvan Helmi also helms the Specialty Coffee Association of Indonesia (est. 2008). In a recent profile, Helmi states that the number of Indonesian specialty shops registered with SCAI doubled in the past year—from about 100 in 2013 to around 200 in 2014. Twice that number, he believes, remains unregistered.
It’s difficult to gather large samples of all the beans from shops across Jakarta and Bali, let alone the entire nation. But talking to baristi and sampling beans from around 10 roasteries/shops reveal a somewhat consistent preference. The beans I tasted so far actually show skills and comfort with medium roast. A barista from Seniman Coffee in Ubud, Bali even told me that light roast beans tend to not sell well.
So if you order an espresso or a brew from a newer specialty shop, you’ll likely get a cup that imparts chocolate and caramel sweetness along with a heavier body. A phrase oft repeated by some baristi when describing a coffee they like is “bodynya dapet” (“the body is there”). If there is preference for fruitier
coffee, it would be the berry notes from natural processing. With few exceptions like Bali and parts of Java, a majority of Indonesian coffee is traditionally natural processed or wet-hulled.
What’s in a name?
As the world’s largest archipelago (ca. 18,000 islands), Indonesia’s position as a coffee-growing nation is unique for having the different growing regions separated by water. It would be fascinating to study how much this separation leads to different terroirs and farming cultures the way it has led to fostering different ethnicities and dialects amongst the islands. It is too simplistic to refer to beans from the different islands as simply ‘Indonesian’.
Indonesian coffee’s reputation for heavy body, low acidity, and earthy notes merely describes one spectrum of the nation’s specialty production (e.g. Sumatra Lintong). Other islands grow beans with brighter and more complex acidity thanks to different climates and farming practices. Beans from Bali’s Kintamani region, a designated Protected Geographic Indication, can show tangerine or lime notes in the cup, while those from South Sulawesi’s Toraja impart honeydew melon notes. All these are partly thanks to drier and sunnier climates as one moves eastward from Sumatra, the westernmost part of Indonesia.
Specialty coffee farming in Toraja, in particular, has been greatly stimulated by the Japanese estate Toarco Jaya (est. 1976), which was the first to introduce full-wash processing in a traditionally wet-
hulling region. The beans may have a familiar echo among US baristi since James Tooill (former Argo Sons roaster) made it to the 2014 US Brewers Cup finals with these beans. This is impressive since the other 5 finalists competed with geshas, easily costing 10 times as much as the former.
Yet premium beans like Toarco’s do not usually end up in the Indonesian market. 85% of Toarco’s crop goes to Japan, with the rest going to Europe and the US. This is where recent specialty shops across Indonesia play a pivotal role in changing domestic accessibility. Toni Wahid, who maintains a comprehensive blog on Indonesian coffee, indeed sees the specialty shops’ most positive role as making good Indonesian beans equally available for the domestic market. The specialty coffee scene, he believes, can be a pioneer in slowly shifting back premium products from export to domestic consumption.
“Let’s not stumble like [people in India],” Wahid draws a cautious analogy, “who don’t much recognize Darjeeling tea….Just imagine such a great tea, yet they rarely enjoy it.”
Besides domestic accessibility, another positive outcome of the Indonesian specialty trend is improvements in post-harvest processing. This is a huge concern to shop owners like Derby Sumule.
As direct sourcer, Sumule regularly visits his source farms to monitor everything from fermentation to hulling to drying. Hence the consistently small offerings at his shop, coffeewar (est. 2009), of three origins.
Sumule’s focus on processing even brought him to collaborate with Australia’s Campos Coffee and Jeff Neilson, an Australian academic researching the effects of traceability programs on growers’ livelihood. Neilson, Sumule, and Campos Coffee worked together with growers from the small Benteng Alla Utara village (pop. 2000) in Sulawesi’s Enrekang district. With gradual improvements, the coffee eventually became Campos’ coffee of the month in April, 2013. Here is a video documenting the project. Outside of working with Campos, Sumule also continues to source Benteng Alla Utara beans for his own shop.
Coffeewar is thankfully not alone in cultivating direct working relationships with growers. Others like Anomali, Tanamera, as well as Treasure’s Coffee and Arak Coffee in Bali also follow a direct-trade model. It remains to be seen how Indonesian coffee’s quality growth will be further encouraged and domestically consumed thanks to the specialty scene. I hope that current improvements in processing, growers’ living conditions, and awareness of good coffee at all levels of the supply chain would survive any faddish trappings of the specialty trend.