Indonesian Coffee History And Culture

Written By Kevin Soewondo, Edited By Karrie Liang

Hello! I’m Kevin Soewondo from Indonesia. Together with my brother, Kenny Soewondo, we are partners of Belift Coffee in Indonesia. Thank you Belift coffee for the opportunity to share our thoughts and Indonesian coffee. In today’s post, we want to share a bit about the Indonesian coffee scene.

First of all, for those who are unfamiliar with Indonesia… It is a country in Southeast Asia, around 18-20 hour flight from SF, and we are located right beside Singapore. Indonesia is an archipelago with more than 17,000 islands. We have so many different local languages and cultures. I think the most famous tourist destination is Bali. Bali is an island in Indonesia, rumored to be a paradise on earth - where some places are very serene, and some places are well known to be the best beach clubs in the world. Anyway...near Bali, there is an island called Java - this is the center for the economy of Indonesia. We are located in Surabaya, a city in East Java.

Indonesia is located in the equator, an area called Coffee belt, bringing it to be the fourth biggest producer of coffee in the world. Coffee is grown all throughout Indonesia, the famous ones being in these islands - Sumatra, Java, Celebes / Sulawesi, Papua, and many more islands scattered around Bali. Each area has its own unique characteristics, yet they remain to have the characteristics of Indonesian coffee.

Coffee was brought in by the Dutch who colonized Indonesia for 350 years. In 1616, the Netherlands East India Company (VOC) first traded coffee in Batavia, now called Jakarta - the capital city of Indonesia. They brought coffee from the Yemen area. In 1696, the first seedlings were brought for planting in Indonesia.

Coffee plantation has had its ups and downs in Indonesia, from experiencing flood to coffee leaf rust disease. All in all, since Indonesia’s coffee was popular and in the Netherlands, the VOC had imposed the growing of coffee in Indonesia under the Tanam Paksa system - which literally means “forced planting.” This has contributed to Indonesia being one of the biggest producers of coffee in the world.

We, as Indonesians, are trying to bring Indonesian coffee to the world. From our visit to San Francisco in 2019, a lot of people said that they have never had Indonesian coffee that tastes fruity and complex like some of the beans that we brought. A lot of the problems lie in the supply chain - especially quality, logistics and pricing. A lot of the farmers prefer selling to the local Indonesian market since they can sell it for more - a lot of the international buyers tend to ask for a really low price.

We have been working with Belift coffee and the local farmers to improve the quality and pricing of the coffee and help them to sell the coffee in the international market. We are happy to say that we and Belift have the same vision, that is to make social impact to the community around us.

I will continue our story about the Indonesian coffee industry in the next post - the fourth coffee wave in Indonesia, so keep checking the blog posts!