Rich cocoa and toasted almond on the nose introduce a cup characterized by a gentle green apple acidity, browning sugar sweetness, and flavors of mild citrus, red fruit, and creamy milk chocolate.
Indonesia was a hugely important stop on coffee’s original journey from the highlands of southwestern Ethiopia to the many regions of the world where it is cultivated today. This fully washed lot from the island of Java is impressively sweet and clean, offering a fitting retort to flawed, overly reductive notions regarding the quality potential of Indonesian specialty coffee.
The earliest substantiated evidence of coffee drinking dates to the Sufi monasteries of 15th century Yemen. While the birthplace of coffee is across the Arabian gulf, in the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia, Yemen is thought to be the place where coffee was first cultivated for consumption. The port town of Mocha dominated the nascent international coffee trade with such success that it was strictly illegal to transport unroasted or unboiled coffee out of Yemen. But around 1665, a Sufi monk named Baba Budan is thought to have initiated the end of this commercial monopoly, smuggling 7 coffee seeds out of the country on his chest. The seeds were eventually planted in southern India where they flourished. India quickly became the second significant commercial producer of coffee and its newly established coffee trees became the genetic source material for the next important stop on coffee’s initial spread around the world: Indonesia.
In the early 1700’s, the Dutch East India Company established the first coffee plantations on the Indonesian island of Java, starting with coffee seedlings brought by ship from India. Market demand for Indonesian coffee in Europe was extremely high and the newly established trade was hugely profitable for the Dutch. However, these profits were achieved at great cost to the Indonesian people, who labored to establish and maintain Java’s coffee plantations and suffered many cruel abuses under colonial rule. In 1860, the publication of a novel written by a colonial official named Eduard Douwes Dekker and titled Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company alerted Dutch society to the injustices of the Indonesian coffee trade and denounced the colonial policies that exploited the Indonesian people. Public outrage inspired by Max Havelaar triggered a number of reforms, and helped to fuel a nationalist movement in Indonesia, ultimately culminating with the official end of Dutch colonial rule in the 1940’s.
Today, Indonesia is the 4th largest producer of coffee in the world, following Brazil, Vietnam, and Colombia. While early coffee production in the country was wholly focused on Arabica varieties, the vast majority of the coffee cultivated today is of the hardier, more disease-resistant Robusta species that was widely planted following a devastating leaf rust epidemic that wiped out much of the original Arabica stock in 1876. In addition to the understandable emphasis on Robusta, a large percentage of Indonesian coffee production is characterized by an approach to processing that is locally referred to as giling basah. This processing method, often described in the West as “wet-hulled” processing, involves the removal of the parchment layer protecting the freshly pulped coffee seeds long before the drying stage is completed. In a traditional wet process, the parchment is generally dried to a moisture content of 9-12% before the coffee is hulled, but in this case, the parchment is removed prior to the completion of drying, when the coffee is still at a moisture content of 30-40%. Wet-hulled Indonesian coffees tend to have low acidity and a distinctively round, heavy-bodied mouthfeel - and these coffees do tend to be highly sought after by some coffee drinkers who love these flavor qualities. But many specialty buyers avoid wet-hulled coffees altogether due to the fact that this processing approach often contributes to the development of herbal, earthy, or “funky” flavors that are classified by some tasters as quality defects.
Earlier this year Passenger’s green buying team received a package of coffee samples from a new specialty importer, Cahaya Coffee, that was founded to connect roasting companies with high quality coffees from under-appreciated producing regions across Southeast Asia. The samples were all sourced from farms located on the Indonesian island of Java, the same island where coffee was first introduced by the Dutch. We were immediately intrigued by this particular set of Indonesian coffees due to the fact that they were Arabica selections and had undergone traditional wet or dry processing rather than the wet hulled process. The present addition to the Education Lot menu is a fully washed blend of the Sigararutang and Linie S varieties that was expertly processed by a producer named Pak Dudy Busyori near the small town of Ciwidey.
The coffee making up this lot was picked on Pak Dudy’s plantation in the mountainous highlands about an hour from the town. One of the significant challenges for quality-focused coffee production in the region is the necessity of transporting freshly picked coffee cherries on specially modified off-road motorbikes, from the remote farms where the coffee grows, to the towns where much of the processing takes place. Pak Dudy’s washing station, Kebun Bintoha, is located immediately behind his home and roastery. A true coffee fanatic, he loves to share his knowledge with other farmers and can often be found brewing fresh coffee with his V60 while enjoying off-road camping trips in the jungle with his family.
Passenger’s Education Lot menu was created as a special niche amidst our offerings list where we present coffees highlighting interesting plant genetics, unusual microclimates, unique processing methods, or producing regions of historical significance. This impressively clean, fully washed coffee from the island of Java, the first Indonesian coffee that Passenger has ever roasted, is not only a representation of one of the most significant producing regions in the history of coffee. Ciwidey also serves as a clear indication of the quality potential that we see in the diverse array of coffee producing regions throughout Southeast Asia. We feel very proud to share this coffee with you, and very excited to see how the Cahaya coffee project evolves.