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History of Indonesian Coffee

In 1699 when Indonesia was still under Dutch colony, VOC (Verininging Oogst-Indies Company) brought in Arabica coffee plants to break the worldwide Arab monopoly in coffee trade. The Dutch Colonial Government initially planted coffee around Batavia (today Jakarta).

More coffee plantations were established in East Java, Central Java, West Java and parts of Sumatera and Sulawesi. Indonesia was the first place outside of Arabia and Ethiopia where coffee was widely cultivated. VOC monopolised coffee trading in 1725 to 1780.

By mid of 17th century VOC expanded arabica coffee growing areas in Sumatra, Bali, Sulawesi and Timor. In Sulawesi the coffee was first planted in 1750. In North Sumatra highlands coffee was first grown near Lake Toba in 1888, followed in Gayo highland (Aceh) near Lake Laut Tawar in 1924. In the late eighteen hundreds, Dutch colonialists established large coffee plantations on the Ijen Plateau in eastern Java.

In the 1920s smallholders throughout Indonesia began to grow coffee as a cash crop. However, disaster struck in the 1876, when the coffee rust disease swept through Indonesia, wiping out most of typica cultivar. Robusta coffee (C. canephor var. robusta) was introduced to East Java in 1900 as a substitute, especially at lower altitudes, where the rust was particularly devastating.

The plantations on Java were nationalised at independence and revitalised with new varieties of coffee arabica in the 1950s. These varieties were also adopted by smallholders through the government and various development programs. Today, more than 90% of Indonesia’s coffee is grown by smallholders on farms averaging one hectare or less. Much of the production is organic and at least 19 farmers’ cooperatives and exporters are internationally certified to market organic coffee.