Coffee grows and evolves differently all around the world. We know this, just like we know that a coffee variety that grows well in Ethiopia might well not thrive in Indonesia, for instance. Different factors, such as humidity, rainfall, sunlight, altitude, and soil characteristics all have an impact on a coffee plant’s yield and quality, which will vary tremendously based on the variety that is planted.
This is why it’s important to learn about the different varieties that grow in a certain country or growing region. For producers, the wrong decision can be costly, and it can affect the profitability of their farm for years to come. Further along the supply chain, for traders, understanding the variety of a coffee lets them know about the flavour profiles they can expect, and allows them to accurately forecast prices.
To learn more about some of the coffee varieties that are popular in Indonesia, I spoke to Dr. Retno Hulupi, the Senior Researcher in Plant Coffee Breeding from the Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute. Retno has worked in the coffee sector for more than 35 years, and during that time, she has helped to develop and release a number of varieties that are now prominent in Indonesian specialty coffee. Read on to learn more about what she has to say about some of Indonesia’s most popular varieties.
S795 is one of the most common coffee varieties in Indonesia. The general consensus is that it has distinct flavour notes of maple syrup and brown sugar when brewed. The variety was introduced to the Indonesian coffee sector in the 1970s from India. It is commonly found in both Bali and Toraja (where locals also call it Jember).
One of the reasons why S795 has been so popular for so long is because it can be very easily cultivated. Retno says: “S795 is our recommended coffee variety for those who are new to farming coffee. It’s not hard to grow, it doesn’t demand a lot of compost, and it can grow at varying levels.” However, while it does have distinctive flavour notes, it is often regarded as not producing as high-quality a cup as the Catuai variety, for instance.
S795 is a hybrid between Kent (a natural mutation of Typica that originates in India) and the liberica species, which grows at much lower altitudes than the arabica plant. “It’s the Liberica DNA that gives S795 a strong root system,” Retno says.
She says that this is also why S795 is a good option in Indonesia’s broad range of microclimates. “It’s also liberica that gives this coffee less acidity. It’s more mellow.” However, farmers should be aware that despite S795’s reliability, it does not have a particularly high yield.
In Indonesia, Tim Tim stands for Timor Timur, a region in the southern reaches of Indonesia that used to be part of the country (now East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste).
Tim Tim, also known as Hibrido de Timor, is a natural cross between arabica and robusta that was first found in the early 20th century. It became popular in the 1950s because of its high resistance to coffee leaf rust and other diseases.
“As part of the government’s attempt to integrate [Tim Tim] in Indonesia, they have decided to spread it throughout arabica growing regions in the country,” Retno says. However, she adds that as a result, natural adaptations then started to emerge in each region.
For example, in the Gayo regions of Sumatra and Indonesia, for instance, Tim Tim became Gayo 1, which is now well-known across the country. Conversely, in Bali, Tim Tim adapted to consequently become a different variety called Kopyol.
As it is an arabica-robusta cross, some traits of both species are present in the cup. For instance, it has a thick, bold body which is very reminiscent of robusta flavours.
Tim Tim has also been used as a genetic source in breeding projects around the world, as it is a very resilient variety which is resistant to both pests and diseases. Some of the varieties that have emerged from Tim Tim being bred with other cultivars include Catimor and Sarchimor, among many others.
Abundant today in Java and Sumatra, USDA 762 was introduced to the Indonesian coffee sector in the 1950s as a selected variety from Ethiopia. It was first found in the Mizan Tafari region, not far from where Geisha was originally discovered. As a result, in some coffee growing regions in Indonesia, USDA 762 has been mistaken for Geisha.
According to Retno: “Both USDA 762 and Geisha indeed came from the same region in Ethiopia. But both adapted differently over time.
“USDA 762 underwent natural selection in Indonesia, while Geisha’s took place in Panama. Both are two distinct plants with different flavours and morphology.”
In the 20th century, USDA 762 was particularly abundant in Ijen, East Java, a major volcanic growing region in Indonesia. It was originally introduced in Indonesia thanks to its moderate resistance to coffee leaf rust.
However, today, its use as a variety that is resistant to coffee leaf rust has been made largely redundant by the emergence of hardier robusta hybrids. As such, today, USDA 762 is generally only grown at higher altitudes in Indonesia where coffee leaf rust resistance is not as much of a priority.
Ultimately, however, USDA 762 is just not as popular as it once was among coffee farmers. “Compared to other coffee varieties, it [also] actually lacks a [distinct] flavour profile,” Retno tells me.
To learn more about whether or not USDA 762 has some potential through processing, I spoke to Cahya Ismayadi, a researcher who works in post-harvest techniques at the Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute.
Unfortunately, he’s not confident that experimental processing could do much for USDA 762, however: “Processing definitely affects the final flavour profiles. But generally, [there aren’t] different end results, no matter their processing method. [This is especially true in Indonesia], because the varieties we develop tend to share very similar genetic profiles.”
However, while USDA 762 might be less popular than other varieties on this list, it is still grown in some regions of Indonesia, and it is a significant part of the history of coffee production in the country.
In Indonesia, Kartika stands for Kopi Arabika Tipe Katai (which translates as Catuai arabica coffee). A localised version of the Catuai variety, Kartika is similarly extremely susceptible to coffee rust and other pests and diseases.
Kartika was first grown in Indonesia in of a mass variety test conducted by the Portuguese Centro de Investigacao das Ferrugens do Cafeirro in 1987. It was initially very popular because of its high-quality flavour profile.
“However, when we introduced it to farmers, it turned out that Kartika needed a lot of fertilisers…. far more than the farmers would usually provide,” Retno says. “[Indonesian] farmers were not ready. Over time, it became infected with pests and nematodes. Today, we don’t often recommend Kartika to farmers.”
But with better agronomic practices on the farm, has Kartika become popular again? Unfortunately, Retno says this isn’t the case: “Coffee leaf rust is still prevalent in Indonesia, which prevents most farmers from growing Kartika.”
However, she adds that some farmers in Wonosobo, a mountainous coffee-producing region in Central Java, swear by this variety. “Kartika trees grow well there. And [it seems] there is a steady local market, too. Kartika has small [cherries], but they mature uniformly. Even so, in Wonosobo, they are often roasted traditionally [in a terracotta pan].”
“After Kartika, there is Andungsari. Andungsari is the most exciting coffee variety in Indonesia at the moment,” Retno says.
Similar to Kartika, Andungsari (also known as Andung Sari and Andong Sari) is a dwarf coffee plant. It was initially developed through a selection of Catimor plants by the Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute. Andungsari grows best above 1,250 m.a.s.l.
It has high productivity (2.5 tonnes per hectare) and an excellent cup profile. “However, just like Kartika, it needs extremely high maintenance,” Retno says. “Out of all coffee varieties in Indonesia that we have developed and released… Andungsari is the winner.” Today, this variety is grown widely in Kayo Aro in the province of Jambi, Sumatra.
While these are some of the coffee varieties you might find in Indonesia, it’s important to note that producers in the country often plant multiple varieties on the same farm.
This allows them to spread their risk; after harvesting, the varieties are then often mixed together, then summarily processed and sold all together. “Unless the coffee beans are distinctively different in their physiques, there is actually no need to sell them as single varieties,” Cahya tells me.
However, even if varieties are often mixed together in Indonesia, understanding their history and the genetic profile of these popular varieties might help producers discern what the final taste of a batch or lot might be. In turn, this can help farmers label and market their coffee, and provide buyers with more information when selecting a lot.
Photo credit: Budi Priatna, Karana Spesialis Kopi
Perfect Daily Grind
All quotes have been translated from Indonesian.