Sipping coffee in the Republic of Coffee

Coffee fruits from Ijen Plateau in Bondowoso in East Java, Indonesia.
Coffee fruits from Ijen Plateau in Bondowoso in East Java, Indonesia.PHOTOS: A. KURNIAWAN ULUNG
Selencak Mini Farm and Coffee Processing in Bondowoso.
Selencak Mini Farm and Coffee Processing in Bondowoso.
Bondowoso’s pride: Variants of Java Ijen Raung coffee.
Bondowoso’s pride: Variants of Java Ijen Raung coffee.

(THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - 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 sulphur 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, 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 you are 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, Sumberwringin district, you can not only taste Java Ijen Raung, an Arabica speciality coffee from Bondowoso, but also observe how it is processed from coffee fruit into coffee powder.

Coffee farmer Muali, 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.

He 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”.

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. 

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

For the past seven years, Mr Muali, who focuses on exports, has planted Arabica coffee, which is more in demand by foreigners. “Arabica coffee is better than Robusta coffee. It will not make you suffer stomachaches because it contains a lesser amount of caffeine,” he said. “This is organic coffee.”

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

Sorting coffee beans. PHOTO: A. KURNIAWAN ULUNG

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 more than 2,700m, a high elevation considered ideal for growing coffee trees. At such a height, the coffee fruit do not contain large amounts of water and this results in a further concentration of flavour.

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

According to him, 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.

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

Bondowoso, meanwhile, has 10,660ha of plantation with a production capacity of 3,427 tons. Some 64 per cent 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 (S$1.6 billion) in 2015, an increase of 15.21 per cent compared with the same period in 2014.

Mr 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 Sumberwringin 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 Sumberwringin 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.