Not many countries produce coffee on Indonesia’s level. The Southeast Asian island chain is one of the top coffee producers in the world for many reasons, and you can’t beat the rich flavors of Indonesian coffees.
In this guide to Indonesian coffee, I'll cover everything there is to know about specialty coffee beans from islands like Sulawesi, Sumatra, Java, and more.
So, if you're ready to learn more about some of the best coffee in the world, let's jump in!
What Does Indonesian Coffee Actually Taste Like?
While the specific taste of Indonesian coffee comes down to the coffee plants, specific island, and processing method, most high-quality coffees from this region of the world share a similar flavor profile.
I’ve tried dozens of different coffee beans from Indonesia, and they pretty much all feature dark, bold earthy flavors, heavy syrupy body, and less acidity.
I’ve even detected hints of spice, like nutmeg and clove, and some taste of dark chocolate and caramel.
Overall, Indonesian coffees are all about complex flavors. The deep, rich, earthy flavor hits your taste buds immediately, followed by the subtle sweetness of chocolate and caramel.
Needless to say, this is a pleasant experience for coffee lovers.
Indonesian Coffee Tasting Notes Of Specialty Beans
As I said before, most coffees from Indonesia share similar flavor profiles. Still, the exact tasting notes ultimately come down to the type of bean and growing location.
Depending on these factors, you could taste earth and spice or even flowers and fruit.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the different specialty beans, also called Kopi, of the Indonesian islands and their common tasting notes:
One of the world’s most expensive and exclusive coffees, Kopi Luwak is definitely not for everyone.
These coffee beans are partially digested by Indonesian civets and then pooped out, cleaned, and sent to the local roaster.
Because these beans go through the civet’s digestive system, they are fermented within the animal by the stomach acids and enzymes. This creates a unique flavor profile that only Kopi Luwak is known for.
Kopi Joss is coffee made using a traditional Java brewing method, specifically in the city of Yogyakarta.
With this method, the loose grounds are mixed with sugar and combined with hot water. From there, the concoction is topped with a burning piece of charcoal.
Adding charcoal to coffee has a few benefits. First off, activated charcoal is great for digestive health, and secondly, the heat essentially carmelizes the sugar within the drink.
Kopi Ginseng, or Ginseng coffee, is essentially just a combination of coffee and the ginseng root.
This has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, and the Indonesians are a big fan.
Kopi Terbalik, also called Kopi Khop, is an Indonesian type of coffee known for its abnormal serving style.
After brewing the coffee and pouring it into a glass, the glass is turned upside down on a plate.
As the coffee slowly seeps out onto the plate, the drinker takes a straw and slowly circles around the rim of the glass to sip on the beverage.
Kopi Tubruk is probably the most well-known style of drinking coffee across Indonesia.
It’s similar to the pour-over technique, but there’s no screen or filter.
Boiling water is simply poured into the ground coffee, and once the grounds dissolve, you simply start sipping.
Dive Into The Rich History Of Coffee In Indonesia
Coffee first arrived in Indonesia in the early 1600s when spies from the Dutch East India Trading Company stole a viable coffee plant from a port city in Yemen.
These spies believed that Indonesia would be the perfect location for coffee cultivation, and they were right.
Because of this, the Dutch colonial government saw some major profits from coffee revenue.
Throughout the 1600s and into the 17000s, coffee plantations started popping up all over Central Java and quickly spread throughout the islands.
Unfortunately, the local farmers didn’t reap the benefits of their hard work, even though their products were Europe’s preferred source of beans.
The majority of profits went directly into the pockets of the Dutch government and traders.
As the industry for green coffee beans grew, so did Indonesia’s infrastructure.
Over the years, roads and railways were set in place, and commercial coffee trade became the country’s main industry.
In the late 1800s, much of Southeast Asia was hit with a disease called "coffee rust," which took a major toll on the industry.
However, Indonesia was able to quickly bounce back. After the Dutch were forced out of the islands in 1942, coffee farmers began benefiting from their own coffee plants.
Take A Journey Through Indonesian Growing Regions!
Indonesia is made up of more than 17,000 islands. Out of these islands, just 3 different regions produce the majority of the country’s coffee beans: Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi.
Some of the neighboring islands also produce coffee, like Bali, Flores, and Papua, but it’s much more likely that your Indonesian coffee comes from either Sumatra, Java, or Sulawesi.
Sumatran coffees are well-known for being rich, smooth, and balanced.
The flavors tend to be earthy with a hint of spice, as well as a heavy aftertaste of chocolate and cocoa.
Sumatra produces several types of coffees with harvest season between November and March, including:
This 100% Arabica coffee comes from the high altitudes of Aceh in the northern region of the island. The name “Mandheling” coffee comes from the local population in that area.
This type of Sumatran coffee is from the southwest side of Lake Toba, one of the deepest lakes in the world. It’s best known for its earthy spiciness.
These Indonesian coffee beans are also found in the Aceh regions along the hillsides of Lake Tawar. Gayo coffee is considered to be the cleanest with the least complexity and lightest body.
Aside from the ideal growing conditions for coffee grown in Sumatra, the wet hull processing method is attributed to the unique flavor of these beans.
This is different from the more common wet processing, which is why Indonesian coffees from Sumatra are often more complex.
The wet-hulled method involves peeling the skin from the ripe fruit coffee cherries before a quick fermentation in a polypropylene bag, concrete tank, or plastic tub.
After fermentation, the broken-down fruit pulp is washed off, and each coffee cherry is dried and roasted before being sold by the farmer.
Java coffee is extremely well-known for its clean body and slightly spicy notes. It's less earthy than most Indonesian coffees from Northern Sumatra, but it still has a full body and smooth texture.
The biggest difference between Java coffees and those from up North is that this is typically wet-processed coffee.
Unlike Sumatra, which produces wet-hulled coffee, the cherries are simply fermented, washed, and dried before being shipped to coffee roasters.
When the coffee trade first started back in the 1600s, most plants were of the Arabica coffee species.
It wasn’t until the 1880s that Robusta coffee took over, but Arabica is starting to make a comeback.
Sulawesi coffee is mostly grown in the highlands of Toraja near the town of Kalosi.
In addition to Toraja coffee, you’ll also hear it called Celebes coffee; the island was originally named Celebes by Dutch settlers in the 1600s.
This coffee is grown at extremely high elevations, so it's some of the cleanest and smoothest in all of Indonesia, with typical flavors of nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon.
It has the same syrupy body and smooth texture, but it doesn’t feature the same complex earthiness that you’ll find in ground coffee from Sumatra or Java.
New Guinea is divided into several regions, and the western portion, called Papua, belongs to Indonesia.
This region is broken up into 2 main coffee-growing areas, Kamu Valley and Baliem Valley.
Even though they’re called valleys, both locations have elevations that range from 1,400 to 2,000 meters.
This is perfect for growing coffee, and the wet hulling process brings out a potent earthiness that many coffee lovers enjoy.
Balinese coffee is grown in the volcanic soil of the Kintamani region.
This region is located between 2 different volcanoes, Batukaru and Gunung Agung, so you’re sure to get a good cup of Joe if you choose an organic, fair-trade blend from Bali.
Bali coffee is wet-processed, so it’s not quite as earthy as coffee from Papua.
It has a fruity layer of depth and the typical smooth and clean Indonesian coffee flavor profile that you’d expect from this part of the world.
Common Indonesian Coffee Questions
Why is Indonesian coffee so expensive?
The most expensive beans in the world, Kopi Luwak, come from Indonesia, but the high price tag is only because of the unique coffee production methods used. Also called civet coffee, the coffee cherries are partially digested by Indonesian civets. While being digested, the beans are fermented by the stomach acids and enzymes, creating amazing coffee flavors.
How acidic is Sumatra coffee?
Sumatra coffees are some of the least acidic options compared to similar coffees from other regions of the world. The island’s growing conditions and altitudes are a big reason for this; high-altitude beans tend to mature slower, which leads to lower acidity as well as complex flavors.
Does Indonesian coffee have a high caffeine content?
The caffeine content in a cup of coffee from Indonesia can range anywhere from 12mg to 160mg. That’s a huge discrepancy, so it really depends on the specific coffee bean you’re sipping on.
What is the difference between Arabica and Sumatra coffee?
The term Sumatra refers to the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. On the other hand, Arabica is a broad term that refers to different coffee varieties originating from the Arabica species, or Coffea Arabica. Sumatran coffee is made from 100% Arabica coffee beans.
Indonesian coffee beans are some of the most coveted worldwide.
Whether you're looking for something adventurous like Kopi Luwak or a hot cup of java from Java, this region is one to experience within your coffee journey.