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History of Coffee In Sumatra

History of Coffee In Sumatra

Coffee was not native to Indonesia until the 17th century when the country was under Dutch occupation when the Dutch East India Company brought coffee in to try and break the monopoly held by the Arabs Worldwide. The start of the history of Coffee in Sumatra began when coffee was originally planted near Batavia and as far south as Sukabumi and Bogor. A flood then destroyed the coffee planted near Batavia ( now Jakarta ). As the plants took hold, by 1711 the first green coffee exports were sent from Java to Europe by the Dutch East India Company. Within ten years, exports of coffee rose to 60 tons per year. By the mid 1870’s, large areas of land were created for plantations around Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi. From there, roads and railroads were created to transport the coffee beans for export. Outside of Ethiopia and Arabia, Indonesia was the largest cultivator of coffee and from 1725-1780, the V.O.C. (Vereeningde Oost-Indische Company) monopolized coffee trading.

The history of coffee in Sumatra as a growing region began around this time when the smaller shareholders worked to perfect their unique “giling basah” (wet hulling) processing technique they use. The green coffee from this area has a distinct blueish color said to be a result of the processing method and lack of iron in the soil.

Note the bluish color of the beans due to the lack of Iron in the soil

Near the turn of the 19th century, a coffee leaf rust epidemic had hit coffee plants in Indonesia, as well as Sri Lanka and Malaysia. These plantations were wiped out, leaving farmers to turn to other, less seemingly volatile crops such as rubber trees and tea. The Dutch Government responded  by importing and planting Liberica coffee, however this strain of coffee plants were also affected by the leaf rust  disease. The next step from there was to plant Robusta coffee, hoping it would be more resistant to the disease. Since Robusta makes up almost 90% of Indonesia’s Coffee exports today, it seems they were right in their assumption.

During World War Two, the history of coffee in Sumatra was at a standstill as many coffee plantations were taken over by the occupying Japanese enemy.  Even after independence, several plantations throughout Indonesia were taken over by the new government or abandoned.  Several of the original plantation owners fled the country to avoid being arrested. As with many coffee growing regions, today close to 92% of coffee production is in the hands of small farmers or cooperatives.

Today, the coffees from Sumatra are known for their smooth, sweet, intense and balanced body. Depending on the region, flavors of the Earth can be greatly pronounced with notes of cocoa, tobacco, cedar and smoke. Occasionally, Sumatran coffees will have a stronger acidity that balances the body with notes of tropical fruit, grapefruit, and lime. This coffee stand up best to a medium dark or dark roast.

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