After 130 years in darkness and uncertainty, region’s beans catch experts attention.
In Pandeglang, Indonesia, Wildan Mustofa had a very successful potato farming business in the highlands of Bandung when he first tried to enter the coffee market. He told that he wasn’t very successful at first, but as he was standing 1,300 meters above sea level on Mount Riunggunung, his coffee trees grow and in 2015 he already sold coffee through an exporter for a low grade price.
A lot of people are not familiar with coffee from West Java even though it is very related to the world of coffee. Like how people say they want a cup of Java, it seems like long ago this was popular enough but not anymore at the time. Most people demands coffee from Sumatra and is like the center of coffee in Indonesia, because it’s a huge source for Starbucks.
Indonesia is not the only exporters of coffee in the world, remember Brazil, Columbia and Vietnam is still leading by the volume of their coffee production. Almost 90% of its production in 2016 was Robusta beans that’s half the price of Arabica. The reason is because Arabica is more common and loved because it doesn’t taste too strong as Robusta.
Enthusiastic farmers like Mustofa will be making his fourth harvest and might assist Indonesia to become a serious competitor. At first, his buyers would substitute Java for Sumatra when the harvest ended, but once they tried it, it tastes even better!
Awaking the world
In specialty coffee world, from sorting, washing or drying the coffee cherries and beans are very concerned and growing techniques have limited the segment, resulting with small plantations. However, Mustofa is highly ranked at cupping competition in Australia and fetch a high price in US auction for his reputation. He has some foreign buyers up to Norway and his beans made it to Camel Coffee, and in to a specialty store chain Kaldi Coffee Farm located in Japan.
One describes his coffee very soft, floral aroma, rich of flavor with chocolate aftertaste and foreign buyers took half of his harvest last year, his plantation expanded from 15 hecatres to 60 hectares in Bandung.
He’s not the only one. However, Ayi Sutedja plantations are nearby from Mustofa’s and the highest bid was $55 per kilogram at an Indonesian coffee auction in Atlanta 2016. It started challenge other brands. Their rise is a new breakthrough, for the first time in 130 years.
It was a long time ago when The Dutch brought coffee seeds to Indonesia in early 1700s and as Indonesia’s land is remarkable and as if everything can grow there, Java had become the largest supplier for Arabica beans for the markets in Europe and eventually became a synonym of the coffee world.
But there was a harsh rust plague around the crop in 1880s, the Arabica trees were replaced to Robustas because they’re more resistant to pests, disease or anything harmful. At the time, tea plantations were also rising and spreading.
“The most popular coffee in the world, the traces of West Java coffee, were almost forgotten. But recently people began to remember that there’s coffee here.” told Prawoto Indarto, an author of books about tea and coffee.
Both domestically and internationally the demand of gourmet coffee is rising, helping the revival take root. About 60% of Americans consume a specialty grade coffee, the best Arabica beans, with a distinct and consistent flavour, according to the country’s Specialty Coffee Association. The ratio is up from 40% in 2010.
A cup of instant coffee could goes for 3,000 rupiah (22 cents) at food stalls in Indonesia. Most high end cafes are popping up in major cities too. One customer of Mustofa’s benas is a 26 year old barista Stefan Setiadi in Bandung, opened a coffee shop named Two Hands Full. He told that at first they couldn’t find any Indonesian coffee, and now there are more and more farmers who are willing to do whatever they need to improve quality.” He started roasting coffee inside his cafe in 2015 and wanted to open a bigger roasting facility nearby.
Owners like Setiadi would face more challenges and competitions from global players as the Indonesian market arise. A unit of Italy’s Massimo Zanetti Beverage Group, which runs the Segafredo cafe chain, bought a major stake in Jakarta distributor Caswell’s Indonesia for a confidential sum. They want to combine Caswell’s rich experience of single origin coffee as well as their certified training facility, will create a one-stop shop for people. The examples would be cafes, hotels and restaurants.
Japanese coffee company UCC Ueshima Coffee bought into the Indonesian distributor of Italian coffee brand Illy, as well as its roasting factory back in 2017. UCC have a thought of delivering its chain over. However, Starbucks started in Indonesia in 2002 and now there are more than 300 cafes and only recently open several high-end Reserve stores where the professional baristas could prepare the coffee manually.
There is still a long way to go. Despite the country’s coffee heritage, the average Indonesian consumes 0.98kg per year, compared with 4.5kg for Americans and 3.5kg for Japanese. The figure is “growing quickly but still from a small base,” said Peter Slack, Caswell’s managing director. “It’s nowhere in the volumes of Singapore and Australia’s 4kg.”
The higher the elevations, the higher the stakes are
In Java highlands, cultivating premium coffee is not easy at low cost.
High quality Arabica beans need to be grown at high elevations, above 1,000m to avoid insects, pests and heat. A spokesperson in one of the largest coffee traders in the beverage world, Marubeni noted that Indonesia has very reassuring conditions for growing coffee with its 17,000 islands and more than 120 active volcanoes.
Reassuring geography is not enough
Mustofa developed one of the methods to process coffee. He developed wet hulling, it’s a method that use water to separate and wash the beans. It’s conducted near the plantation in case of higher logistics costs. A centralized mill for drying and picking was also built. All his coffee trees were planted under the shadows of taller trees to block rain and help enrich the soil.
Over time, Mustofa thought about expanding his model across Indonesia. He saw regions that have good quality coffee and he tried to modified their technique because the farmers incomes are low. He tried to work with 50 farmers, using his methods and sell the produce to him. But the demand is increasing and so does the need to meet the targets. The harvest in 2017 was about 30 tons, half of the previous years because of heavy rains. This makes buyers rush to secure supplies.
Meanwhile, some international players with power are planning to educate farmers about the art of growing Arabicas. SCOPI, Sustainable Coffee Platform of Indonesia, a nonprofit group that assists growers are backed up with Nestle, Singaporean commodities trader Olam International and Swiss coffee trader Ecom Agroindustrial.
The group holded trade fairs in Jakarta, bringing all coffee farmers together across the country. According to Veronica Herlina, the SCOPI’s executive director, the biggest challenge would be having access between the farmers and buyers. We want buyers to feel and understand the stories, not just enjoying and taking pictures. The group aims to train 18,000 Arabica farmers by 2020.
Setiadi, Two Hands Full owner who likes to travel to discover more of coffee, also told that for the moment, good Indonesian coffee is still rare. The light at the end of the tunnel is expected in 5 to 10 years.