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As one of the oldest coffee-producing countries - Indonesia maintains a unique array of islands producing complex coffees.

Indonesia has been exporting coffee since 1711, when the Dutch East India Company sent its first shipment from Java to Europe. The crop was profitable for many exporters and importers: less so for the country’s producers. In 1960, the novel ‘Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company’ was published, outlining the abuses endorsed by the Colonial Dutch system. The novel transformed the labour system and even provided inspiration for the first Fair Trade label.

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  • Place In World For Coffee Exporter
  • Sacks (60kg) exported annually
  • Percentage of world coffee market
    Approx. 4.8%
  • Other major agricultural exports
    Palm products
  • Typical varieties produced
    25% Arabica: Typica, Caturra, Bourbon, Catimor, Tim Tim & S-Hybrids
  • Key coffee regions
    Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, Flores & Bali
  • Typical harvest times
    Varies by location
  • Typically available
    From March

Coffee History

Indonesia’s production was originally nearly 100% Arabica until, in the 1870s, coffee leaf rust decimated production. Farmers slowly replaced Arabica with robusta, and today, although Indonesia is a significant coffee producing country – the fifth largest in the world behind Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, and Vietnam – only around 25% of production is Arabica.

Many coffees from Indonesia are today processed using the fully washed method. However, traditionally the post-harvest process of ‘Giling Basah’ (‘wet hulling’) is used. Growers hand-pulp their coffee at their farm, briefly dry it, and then offer it for sale at the local village market or deliver it very wet (around 30-50 percent humidity) to a collection station nearby. Unlike in most countries, where the coffee remains in parchment until it is milled just before export, the coffee is then hulled and re-dried until it is dry enough to store without rotting. The result is a unique cup profile that many people find delicious.


The Selling Process

The mills have a network of local representatives in the growing areas that buy partially dried parchment, fully dried parchment, and part and fully dried green to varying degrees of preparation. Uniquely, Indonesia has developed hulling machinery to mill even 18% wet parchment – a likely cause of the unique blue/green colour that can be found in some lots. It is also the likely cause of the huge quality variance between the best and worst lots – not least because some coffee will be fermented if the hulling process is too slow.

Indeed, Indonesia has a great deal to offer the specialty market, with distinct and unique profiles depending on region and processing. Most notably, Mercanta offers specialty coffees from Sumatra and Java; however, the country’s other islands of Sulawesi, Flores and Bali also produce coffee.

Indonesia square

Diverse Array of Growing Regions


For many years, the coffees from this largest island in the Indonesian archipelago were known simply as either ‘Mandheling’ or ‘Lintong.’ This told little of their provenance and even less of their rich and complex characteristics. Many buyers have become completely accustomed to an old, dull, musty character from their Sumatran coffees. Indeed, at their worst Sumatra’s coffees can be earthy, mushroomy, and inconsistent. Yet, the finest and freshest examples can display complex herbal characteristics, a clean, bright cup and interesting flavour characteristics. Like Colombia and Kenya, Sumatra produces two crops a year. These are typically in May/June (fly crop) and Sept/Oct (main crop). Some well-known areas within Sumatra are Aceh, Lintong, and Mandheling.

There are few coffee estates or cooperatives in Sumatra. Instead, a huge number of smallholders (most farms average two hectares or less) sell small quantities of coffee at their local village market or to local collectors. On these small-holdings, coffee is rarely the sole crop but provides the main cash income for about 5 million people.


The island of Java – the name now almost synonymous with coffee – is also capable of producing some excellent specialty coffee. The island lies between Sumatra to the west and Bali to the east. Most of the island’s Arabica coffee is grown on five government owned estates, which together cover over 4,000 hectares – Blawan (alt. Belawan, Blauan), Jampit (alt. Djampit), Kayumas, Tugosari and Pancoer.

These vast plantations are clustered on the volcanic Ijen Plateau in the east of the island, at around 1,370 metres (4,500 feet). They were established over 100 years ago by Dutch colonialists and then reactivated by the Indonesian government in the late 1950s, post-independence. Arabica coffee has a long history in Java – it was first introduced on the island back in the late 17th century by the Dutch East India Company, which sent its first shipment from Java to Europe in 1711.


Most of Sulawesi’s coffee is produced by smallholders, who are responsible for around 95% of the island’s production.  Although some coffees are fully washed, the vast majority are still produced using the semi-washed, Giling Basah method.