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Sipping coffee in the Republic of Coffee

A. Kurniawan Ulung

The Jakarta Post

Bondowoso  /  Thu, August 3, 2017  /  09:28 am
Sipping coffee in the Republic of Coffee

Organic: Coffee fruits from Ijen Plateau in Bondowoso in East Java. (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

Widely known as Kota Tape (The City of Fermented Cassava), Bondowoso in East Java has proven that it deserves a new title: the Republic of Coffee.

It takes almost an hour by car from downtown Bondowoso to its main tourist attraction, Kawah Ijen, known for its magnificent turquoise-green sulfur crater lake.

If you make a trip to the location, you will be fascinated by the beautiful mountain views around you. Do not forget to bring a jacket because it is cold when you reach the foot of Ijen Mountain.

If your jacket cannot warm you up, just get out of your car and try to sip a cup of hot coffee at the coffee shops you will find along the way. If lucky, they will serve you tape goreng (fried fermented cassava), a typical dish in Bondowoso.

At Selencak Mini Farm and Coffee Processing in Sukorejo village, Sumber Wringin district, you can not only taste Java Ijen Raung, an Arabica specialty coffee from Bondowoso, but also observe how it is processed from coffee fruit into coffee powder.

Selencak Mini Farm and Coffee Processing in BondowosoSelencak Mini Farm and Coffee Processing in Bondowoso (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

Coffee farmer Muali, the owner of Selencak Mini Farm, is over the moon as more people are becoming familiar with Java Ijen Raung, especially after the local government named the city the Republic of Coffee in May 2016.

“This is a ‘republic’ within the Republic [of Indonesia],” the 57-year-old said, laughing.

Muali said Bondowoso Regent Amin Said Husni created the “republic” label as a marketing strategy to show that the city also produces high quality coffee. 

In 1711, high-quality beans cultivated from Javanese land, including the Ijen Plateau, were first exported to Europe by VOC. There, they were famous as a “cup of Java.”

Bondowoso’s pride: Muali holds two variants of Bondowoso’s Java Ijen Raung coffee.Bondowoso’s pride: Muali holds two variants of Bondowoso’s Java Ijen Raung coffee. (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

He understands that Java Ijen Raung might not be as famous as other brands today, such as Gayo Organic from Aceh and Toraja Sapan from South Sulawesi in Indonesia, home to almost 100 variants of Arabica coffee that have been known since 1699. 

Muali believes that someday, Java Ijen Raung will steal the world’s attention like West Java’s Gunung Puntang specialty coffee, which gained recognition from the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) as Indonesia’s most recommended specialty coffee in an expo in Georgia, US, in April 2016.

For the past seven years, Muali, who focuses on exports, has planted Arabica coffee, which is more in demand by foreigners.

“Arabica coffee is better than Robusta coffee. It [Arabica] will not make you suffer stomachaches because it contains a lesser amount of caffeine,” he said.

“This is organic coffee.”

Muali, who became a coffee farmer in 1985 and has 3 hectares of coffee plantation, is upbeat that the quality of taste of Java Ijen Raung will not be left behind.

The quality of his coffee, he said, is assured because it comes from trees planted at the foot of Ijen Mountain, which has an elevation of over 9,000 feet, a high elevation considered ideal for growing coffee trees.

Quality control: Coffee beans are sorted.Quality control: Coffee beans are sorted. (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

At such a height, the coffee fruits do not contain large amounts of water and this results in a further concentration of flavor.

The cool temperature of the mountain is a challenge. It prolongs bean development because it creates a slower growth cycle for the coffee trees, according to Muali, who mastered coffee processing at the Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute in Jember, East Java, in 2012.

However, their patience pays dividends because the longer maturation process creates coffee beans with a more interesting flavor.

“The cooler the temperature, the better the taste,” Muali said.

According to Muali, coffee farmers do not use chemical substances such as pesticides at the Ijen Plateau because it is an active volcano that provides them with fertile soil.

Work in progress: A woman processes Arabica coffee beans at the Selencak Mini Farm in Sumber Wringin, Bondowoso.Work in progress: A woman processes Arabica coffee beans at the Selencak Mini Farm in Sumber Wringin, Bondowoso. (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) reported that Sumber Wringin had 2,794 ha of coffee plantations with a production capacity of 1,402 tons in 2015.

Bondowoso, meanwhile, has 10,660 ha of plantation with a production capacity of 3,427 tons. Some 64 percent of the plantations are Robusta plantations.  

In Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest coffee producing country, the production of coffee increased from 643,900 tons in 2014 to 664,500 tons in 2015.

According to the Trade Ministry, the value of the country’s global coffee exports reached US$ 1.19 billion in 2015, an increase of 15.21 percent compared to the same period in 2014.

Muali said Java Ijen Raung had been exported, but this was carried out by agents from big cities, such as Medan in North Sumatra and Bandung in West Java.

When the harvest season arrived, they flocked to Sumber Wringin to buy coffee beans in bulk, which were later repackaged and exported.

He said if the people of Bondowoso could export coffee on their own, they would be more prosperous.

He and other farmers in Sumber Wringin actually want to export coffee, but they do not know how to do it.

He expects the government to give local farmers training about exports and imports.

He is also concerned about another problem that local farmers hope the government can solve.

“Bondowoso is the Republic of Coffee, but it doesn’t have a coffee barn,” he said.