Sunday, 22 August 2010

Coffee History - Indonesia

The history of coffee goes at least as far back as the thirteenth century, though coffee's origin remains unclear.

It has been believed that Ethiopia anestry of today's Oromo people were the first to have discovered and recognized the energizing effect of the coffee bean plant. However no direct evidence has been found indicating where in Africa coffee grew or who among the natives might have used it as a stimulant or even known about it, earlier than the 17th century.[The story of Kaldi, the 9th-century Ethiopian goatherd who discovered coffee, did not appear in writing until 1671 and is probably apocryphal. From Ethiopia, coffee was said to have spread to Egypt and Yemen. The earliest credible evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree appears in the middle of the fifteenth century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. It was here in Arabia that coffee beans were first roasted and brewed, in a similar way to how it is now prepared. By the 16th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa. Coffee then spread to Italy, and to the rest of Europe, to Indonesia, and to the Americas.

In Indonesia, The coffee was shipped to Europe from the port of Batavia. There has been a port at the mouth of Ciliwung River since 397 AD, when King Purnawarman established the city he called Sunda Kelapa. Today, in the Kota area of Jakarta, one can find echoes of the sea-going legacy that built the city. Sail driven ships still load cargo in the old port. The Bahari museum occupies a former warehouse of the VOC, which was used to store spices and coffee. Menara Syahbandar (or Lookout Tower) was built in 1839 to replace the flag pole that stood at the head of wharves, where the VOC ships docked to load their cargos.

In the 1700s, coffee shipped from Batavia sold for 3 Guilders per kilogram in Amsterdam. Since annual incomes in Holland in the 1700s were between 200 to 400 Guilders, this was equivalent of several hundred dollars per kilogram today. By the end of the 18th century, the price had dropped to 0.6 Guilders per kilogram and coffee drinking spread from the elite to the general population.

The coffee trade was very profitable for the VOC, but less so for the Indonesian farmers who were forced to grow it by the colonial government. In theory, production of export crops was meant to provide cash for Javanese villagers to pay their taxes. This was in Dutch known as the Cultuurstelsel (Cultivation system), and it covered spices and a wide range of other tropical cash crops. Cultuur stelsel was initiated for coffee in the Preanger region of West Java. In practice however, the prices set for the cash crops by the government were too low and they diverted labor from rice production, causing great hardship for farmers.

By mid of 1970s the VOC expanded Arabica coffee growing areas in Sumatra, Bali, Sulawesi and Timor. In Sulawesi the coffee was first planted in 1750. In North Suamatra highlands coffee was first grown near Toba Lake in 1888, followed by the Gayo highlands (Aceh) near Laut Tawar Lake in 1924.

In 1860, a Dutch colonial official, Eduard Douwes Dekker, wrote a book called “Max Havelaar and the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company”, which exposed the oppression of villagers by corrupt and greedy officials. This book helped to change Dutch public opinion about the “Cultivation System” and colonialism in general. More recently, the name Max Havelaar was adopted by one of the first fair trade organizations.

In the late eighteen hundreds, Dutch colonialists established large coffee plantations on the Ijen Plateau in eastern Java. 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.

In the 1920s, smallholders throughout Indonesia began to grow coffee as a cash crop. The plantations on Java were nationalized at independence and revitalized with new varieties of Coffea 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 Arabica coffee is grown by smallholders mainly in Northern Sumatra, on farms of one hectare or less in average. Annual Arabica production is about 75,000 tons and 90 % of which for export. Arabica coffee from the country mostly goes to specialty market segment.


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