The world’s third-largest producer of coffee and fourth-largest exporter. Almost 100 genetic varieties of Arabica. A total of 748 spoken languages.
Yes, we’re talking about Indonesia.
There’s no doubt that this Southeast Asian archipelago is a unique coffee-growing region. We chatted to Eko Purnomowidi, Senior Advisor to Klasik Beans Cooperative, Java and Specialty Coffee Manager in Indonesia of Olam Specialty Coffee. In his role at Olam, he works to further the nation’s specialty coffee industry while simultaneously promoting sustainable practices. If anyone knows what sets this country apart, it’s him.
Eko works with this Indonesian farm, which uses a biological filter for wastewater. Credit: Eko Purnomowidi
A Distinctive Flavor
Most Indonesian coffees originated from outside the country, but they’re no longer the same plants as those that entered the island chain, Eko informs me. He goes on to explain that the essence of the bean has changed. This is thanks to Indonesia’s uncommon microclimate, caused in part by its sea winds and humidity.
This results in flavor profiles, body, and aromas that can no longer be attributed to anywhere else in the world. They are distinctly Indonesian. And they are appreciated both in and outside of the country.
Indonesian coffee cherries about to be processed. Credit: Olam Specialty Coffee
The Origins of Specialty in Indonesia
According to Eko, the specialty industry gained its first foothold in Indonesia in 2010. This date marks the moment when Philocoffee Project, a specialty shop, moved its headquarters to Jakarta, he continues. Philocoffee Project began to introduce the tools for manual brewing, as well as providing information on the people, culture, and anthropology behind Indonesia’s coffee history.
Since then, Indonesian consumers have begun to develop a palate for sweet and acidic tones, as well as the varying depths of body, flavor, and aroma offered by the Indonesian industry.
Specialty coffee has gained a following among many locals, Eko tells me, particularly as farmers have grown their connections with micro roasters and cafés. The influx of local interest is now leading to both education and opportunities for the next generation of coffee farmers. AeroPress competitions and cafés promote interest and accelerate the exchange of knowledge to the far corners of the country.
Yet while Indonesian specialty coffee has grown steadily, it’s not been without its challenges.
Specialty-grade Indonesian coffee being processed. Credit: Olam Specialty Coffee
The Challenges Facing Indonesian Coffee
Almost all of Indonesia’s coffee is grown by producers with an average farm size of 1 hectare or less, Eko says. This can create difficulties with consistency – and also with communication.
Within the archipelago there are 10 main languages, but as many as 748 mother languages are in use. In order to maintain high-quality production, it’s necessary for stakeholders to communicate across both languages and cultures.
And with 922 permanently inhabited islands, the Indonesian coffee trade also suffers from transportation issues. Moving and shipping across a chain of islands can be a logistics nightmare.
Then there’s the issue of pricing. Most farmers price their crops consistently, but as more and more middle players get added to the chain the cost can increase. Eko adds that, although this is rarely the fault of the farmer, they are often left with the blame for it. He hopes that as the system develops and relationships improve, these misunderstandings will develop into consistent deals for all those involved in the process.
An Indonesian producer gathers up his coffee. Credit:Olam Specialty Coffee
Eko remains optimistic, because with these challenges come new opportunities. He believes that the newfound connections between farmers and consumers, all appearing as a result of specialty coffee, are developing into strong relationships. These allow for a cultural exchange between the different groups. In turn, they also lead to higher-quality production and more aware consumers.
2016 has been an important year for the Indonesian specialty coffee scene. The country was named SCAA’s Portrait Country, and so attention from overseas has increased. While the effects remain to be seen, the international response has been positive.
These changes allow both the producing and consuming sides of the coffee chain to gain a greater understanding of each other’s work and culture. And as these relationships continue to grow across the country, Eko hopes that the family of Indonesian specialty coffees will grow as well.
Written by D. Haas, with thanks to Eko Purnomowidi for the interview.
Olam Specialty Coffee is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind. This interview was conducted in accordance with our editorial policies, and Olam Specialty Coffee has had no greater influence on the final copy than any of our other interviewees.