The best Indonesian coffees come from the prime coffee-growing region of Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Java Arabica. 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, a quality loved by some people but disagreeable to others.
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 Mandheling Coffee
Though Mandheling is dry processed, the method includes washing the dried husk of the coffee cherry (fruit) in hot water which provides a more uniform appearance of the coffee beans than the typical dry processed coffee, 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 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 coffee is quite sweet and with a medium body, low acidity, and an earthy, complex aroma. Sumatra Lintong is grown in north central region of the island of Sumatra near Lake Toba in the Lintong region.
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.
Lintong coffee has a medium body, low acidity, and an earthy, complex aroma. Sumatra Lintong is grown in north central region of the island of Sumatra near Lake Toba in the Lintong region—Lintong is a market name.
Java Arabica Coffee
Indonesian Java Arabica coffee is a wet-processed (washed) coffee grown on the island of Java mostly on the east side in the Ijen volcano complex on the Ijen Plateau at elevations around 1,400 meters.
A good Java coffee exhibits a relatively heavy body, though lighter than some other Indonesian coffees and also less acidic. Java coffee is somewhat rustic in its overall flavor profile with a lingering finish and herbaceous subtleties in the aftertaste.
A good Java coffee has a low-toned richness that is typical of Indonesian and New Guinea coffees, but with a full body that is clean and thick, and a medium acidity that is brighter than New Guinea coffee along with earthy qualities, but less earthy than some other Indonesian coffees such as Sumatra and Sulawesi.
While the aftertaste of Java may be a bit quicker than some other Indonesian coffees, it often contains a slightly spicy or smoky twist. Java coffee leaves a sweet impression overall, very smooth and supple.
Dutch Coffee Estates
The finest coffee grown in Java come from plantations on the five largest estates established by the Dutch government in the 18th century when Java was part of the Dutch East Indies.
The largest coffee estates on Java, encompassing more than 4,000 hectares of coffee plantings, are Blawan, Pancoer, Kayumas, and Djampit, (the biggest producer).
Coffee has been growing in this area since the 17th century and has historically been enjoyed by people all around the world.
Java Coffee Growing and Processing
During the 1880s when the island of Java was leading the world in coffee production, Java’s coffee crops were devastated by a rust plague. This plague occurred first in Sukabumi and then throughout Central Java and areas of East Java. Many plantation stocks were lost.
Java’s coffee plants were mostly of the varietal Arabica (Coffea arabica var. Arabica) at the time of the rust plague. After the plague the Dutch first planted Liberica (Coffea liberica) and then Robusta (Coffea robusta), a species highly favored for its ability to resist coffee diseases, though considered inferior to the finer Arabica coffee beans when it comes to producing a fine cup of brewed coffee with a wide range of flavors and aromas.
The old colonial era plantations on Java now grow just a small percentage of the Java’s coffee, though these revived old estates grow most of the island’s premium gourmet Arabica varietal coffee. Only about ten percent of Indonesia’s coffee production is Arabica, but this ten percent includes some of the world’s finest premium coffees.
Monsooned Indonesian Coffees
Some of the coffee beans from Java’s old estates are aged, or monsooned, a process that exposes the green coffee beans (milled but not yet roasted) to moist, warm air throughout the rainy season. These monsooned coffee beans are labeled as Old Java, Old Government, or Old Brown.
The monsooning of the coffee beans may continue for as long as three years, resulting in a strengthening of the coffee’s body and taste, increasing the sweetness and weakening the acidity. The coffee beans also undergo a distinct color change from their original green tint to a light brown color and may display intense woody roast tastes along with a heavy body and almost no acidity.
Mocha Java Coffee
Sulawesi Toraja 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 Farming and Processing
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.