The term “Java” derives from the island of Java in present-day Indonesia. This is historically the main growing area for Java coffee.
Until the mid-19th century, Java coffee was a designation of origin, which meant that only coffee from that region could be called Java coffee.
Today, however, the word Java is a generic term, widely used primarily in the United States, referring to everyday coffee.
Java coffee at a glance
True Java coffee is considered one of the best coffees in the world, the only problem is finding it. The reason is that in the past the production of this coffee has been affected by various factors such as pests, floods or droughts.
Indonesia, the country where this coffee comes from, is very prone to natural disasters due to its geographic location. It is therefore rare to find this coffee in its natural form, ie as 100% Arabica coffee, as these beans are often only available in a few specialty shops.
However, the coffee produced on the island of Java has a special taste and aroma.
In order to find out why the name “Java” is used, however, it is necessary to take a brief look back at the colonial history of the Netherlands.
A brief history of coffee in Java
After the first coffee beans were imported from Ethiopia, the cradle of coffee, in the 15th century, the people of Yemen were the first to cultivate coffee commercially.
For more than a century, Yemen was the only authorized distributor of the drink, which first spread throughout the Arab world and then came to Europe via Dutch traders.
The Netherlands and their colony in Indonesia
The history of coffee on Java begins in the late 17th century when Dutch merchants smuggled some coffee plants from Yemen to their colonies in Asia.
The most important Dutch colony on the Asian continent was thus the Indonesian archipelago. This is how coffee cultivation began to thrive on several of Indonesia’s main islands:
Sumatra, Celebes and of course Java.
Since Java was the country’s main island, most of the coffee in Indonesia was grown and extracted there.
In a short time, Indonesia became the world’s leading coffee producer. However, under a system based on the forced labor of the Indonesian population.
The name Java as a designation of origin
Over time, the Dutch settlers tightened control over the world coffee trade. In fact, it was they and the Italians who introduced coffee to Europe. However, the Dutch spread the drink to other parts of the European continent.
So most of the coffee that circulated on the European continent came from Indonesia, more precisely from the island of Java. Thus, most Europeans were used to seeing the inscription “Java” on the coffee sacks.
And so, the nickname Java came about to talk about coffee.
Plagues ended the Dutch coffee monopoly.
However, after almost two centuries of Dutch coffee domination, this all changed at the end of the 19th century, when a less favorable period for coffee cultivation in Indonesia began.
This was mainly due to the fact that many hectares of Arabica coffee grown on the island of Java had been infected by the fungus Hemilelia vastatrix.
This fungus causes a disease known as coffee rust, which is characterized by attacking the leaves of the coffee tree. The leaves fall off and the plant cannot carry out photosynthesis and therefore cannot produce fruit.
This situation hit the Indonesian coffee industry hard, so the Dutch increased the cultivation of the more pest-resistant Liberica and Robusta varieties to compensate for the unfavorable situation.
However, the coffee they produced was of inferior quality, especially the Robusta coffee, as its taste was not very pleasant. As a result, the perception of Java coffee has suffered greatly.
Brazil, a strong competitor to Indonesia in coffee production, was able to meet the growing demand for Arabica coffee from Europe and the United States. This environment has contributed to the sharp decline in trade in Indonesian coffee.
Characteristics of Java coffee
The term “Java coffee” or “Java” was used as a designation of origin, but today it has a much broader meaning.
That’s because there are different forms of coffee called “Java”. Therefore, below we will try to clarify this concept a bit.
First of all, it is important to know that the product that is now referred to as “Java” or “Java coffee” is not actually a type of coffee.
Rather, it is a blend of different types of beans grown throughout the Indonesian archipelago.
Because, as already mentioned, due to the scourge of coffee rust, the cultivation of Arabica coffee beans has been replaced by Robusta and Liberica coffee.
Therefore, almost none of the Java coffees commercially available today are made from 100% Arabica coffee beans, but blends are used, such as e.g.:
- 50% Arabica and 50% Robusta.
- 50% Arabica and 50% Liberica.
- 50% Robusta and 50% Liberica.
Most importantly, many “Java coffees” are not from the island of Java at all, as most Indonesian Robusta coffee today comes from the island of Sumatra.
A large part of Indonesia’s top coffee no longer comes from the island of Java, but from the islands of Sumatra and Sulawesi.
Taste and aroma of Java coffee
The classic flavor of Java coffee is strong, slightly spicy and tart.
Because of this, Javanese coffee producers often experiment with other blends and degrees of roasting, so one can also find coffees with a fruitier or even chocolaty taste.
In this way, Indonesian coffee stands out as a full-bodied and balanced drink. When it comes to aroma, floral notes are often the most distinctive characteristic of Javanese coffee.
Java’s coffee plantations are located at altitudes of over 1200 m above sea level and the coffee trees tend to grow quickly due to the archipelago’s fertile volcanic soils.
This saves Indonesian coffee farmers money on fertilizers, which reduces production costs.
Aged Java Coffee
In some regions of Indonesia, the coffee beans are stored in a humid room for up to 3 years. In this way, the beans swell, which changes their natural flavor and reveals new nuances.
This gives coffee from beans that have undergone this aging process a sweeter taste and more body, while having less acidity compared to coffee made from unripened beans.
However, quite a few people claim that Java coffee has gone down in quality. It is also said that the coffee tastes strange due to the aging process. It is best to taste it and draw your own conclusions.
The most famous commercial varieties of Java coffee
Indonesian West Blue Java coffee
This coffee comes from the Sunda region, the area where the cultivation of Java coffee began in Indonesia.
The coffee is 100% hand selected, which is one of the reasons it is considered a full-bodied coffee with an earthy or dry taste.
It is also a coffee with low acidity, a sweet taste with hints of chocolate.
Kopi Luwak coffee from Java
The Kopi Luwak is considered the most expensive coffee in the world and is famous for its production method. Once the fruit is harvested, the beans are extracted and fed to the civet cat, a mammal common in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Then the animal eats the coffee beans, digests them and finally excretes them. Producers then collect the animals’ feces with the partially digested beans and process them into coffee.
Thus, the distributors of this coffee claim that while the coffee beans are in the animal’s intestines, they undergo a fermentation process.
This supposedly makes the coffee very balanced, with little acidity and bitterness, which also has a caramel note.
Java moka coffee
For many, this is the most popular coffee in Indonesia and is characterized by a strong acidic taste with a full-bodied and slightly sweet aroma.
Java mocha coffee is made by blending Robusta and Arabica beans. However, some dislike the somewhat viscous texture this variant can have.
The aroma is characterized by herbal notes.
Why the name Moka?
Mocha Java, also known as Moka, is the oldest known coffee blend. But don’t confuse it with mocaccino, because they are unrelated.
Do you remember Yemen and its coffee cultivation? Once the coffee harvest was brought in, the harvest was exported through the port of Mocha.
So, the coffee was called “mocha” especially in Arabic countries. Although the climatic conditions in Yemen and Ethiopia were different, the coffee grown in the Asian country was quite similar in taste to its African counterpart.
Therefore, the coffee tasted sweet and fruity. However, after the Dutch brought the coffee to Indonesia, the coffee started to taste different.
The climate in Indonesia was wetter, so the drink made from the beans grown on the island became richer and had a drier consistency.
Then the coffee farmers of the time realized that by blending the new Java coffee with beans imported from Yemen, that is, with mocha coffee, they would get a drink that was much more balanced in body and aroma.
And so, the Mocha Java coffee was born. Today, however, mocha Java coffee rarely contains beans from Yemen, but is rather a blend of Java coffee with beans from Ethiopia.
In other words, the Java Mocha blend still exists today, but it’s more of a sort of homage to the original product than a true denomination of origin, as it was centuries ago.
Note: Mocha coffee is the same Arabica coffee.
The island of Java and coffee cultivation today
Indonesia is an archipelago of 17,508 islands, of which fewer than 1,000 are inhabited. Additionally, this island nation is made up of 5 main islands, which are home to most of the country’s 272 million residents.
These islands are:
- Java (the main island where the capital Jakarta is located)
- New Guinea
Java coffee is now grown in 5 regions of Indonesia: Belawan, Jampit, Pancoer, Kayumas and Tugosari.
In addition, all of the country’s islands are covered with lush vegetation and although the tropical climate prevails, the islands of Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi have higher elevation areas with more temperate climates that are ideal for coffee growing.
In addition, the country’s soils are particularly fertile due to the high level of volcanic activity in the region.
Indonesia has prioritized quantity over quality
In 2016, Indonesia produced around 600,000 tons of coffee, making it the world’s fourth largest producer of this crop after Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia.
The Southeast Asian country has preferred to focus on the production of Robusta coffee as this variety grows more easily on the country’s soils.
However, the penchant for growing Robusta coffee has meant the archipelago lags far behind in producing the Arabica variety, which has a much higher commercial value.
However, due to its proximity to the equator and the many mountainous regions, the archipelago has enormous potential for coffee cultivation.
There are currently more than 1 million hectares of coffee-growing areas in the archipelago. These acreages are scattered across the country and are managed by small-scale growers who are now focusing on meeting the growing domestic demand for this crop.
The term “Java” has had a variety of meanings over the past 300 years. Initially, it was used as a designation of origin for all coffees from Indonesia.
Later, the word “Java” only referred to coffee from the island of Java. Later, the term was used as a nickname for any type of coffee, and today it denotes a combination of the above meanings.
Nowadays, the term “Java coffee” refers both to coffee originating from any part of the Indonesian archipelago and to the various forms it is traded in, whether it is Arabica coffee or not.
However, in countries like the United States, “Java” is synonymous with “coffee” regardless of its origin or variety.
And only true connoisseurs understand the historical value of the word “Java” as the name of coffee, which sparked the fascination with this drink in all parts of the world.