Arabica coffee is also known as mountain coffee and is by far the most cultivated coffee with a market share of around 70%.
Most Arabica growing areas are between 1,200 and 1,500 metres above sea level. Occasionally, plants are cultivated up to an altitude of 2,800 metres above sea level.
Arabica has slightly more acidity and is less bitter than Robusta coffee and therefore tastes nobler and finer.
As I have travelled Indonesia several times since 1988 and lived on Bali between 1996 and 2006, it is obvious that I am mainly interested in Indonesian coffee.
Arabica plants have been cultivated in Indonesia since the 17th century. The varieties cultivated on the volcanic soil of Java and Sumatra are characterized by their extremely rich body and low acidity. This is why they are very popular with big roasters for blends with South American varieties.
Today, around 90% of the coffee produced in Indonesia is cultivated by small farmers. More than 20 different varieties of Coffea arabica are commercially grown in Indonesia. These are divided into six main categories. Among them are the following:
- Typica -> is the plant first cultivated by the Dutch. The original coffee plant, so to speak. A large part of the Typica fell victim to the coffee rust that was rampant in the 1880s. Nevertheless, the varieties Bergandal and Sidikalang can still be found in the hills of Sumatra.
- Hibrido de Timor (HDT) -> This variety, also known as "Tim Tim", is a natural cross between an Arabica and a Robusta plant.
- Linie S -> This group of varieties have been developed in India and descend from a Bourbon variety. S-288 and S-795 are mainly grown in Lintong, Aceh, Flores and other areas of Indonesia.
There are two main growing areas on Bali island. One is around Kintamani, the other in the Banyuatis area.
Over the last few years Kopi Banyuatis has become a brand name and is exported all over the world. And the tendency is rising.
The Kopi Luwak Scam
As long as I am not guaranteed to get raw beans of the wild spotted civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), I stay away from this coffee.
Since Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson enjoyed a cup of Kopi Luwak in the 2007 film "The Bucket List", the demand for this exclusive coffee has grown dramatically.
Needless to say, this has brought unscrupulous coffee producers onto the scene. Where the global harvest used to be around 500 tonnes, 7,000 tonnes and more are now being produced. Of course not from wild living Civets! These poor critters are kept in cages that are far too small. Once again, man's greed for profit goes over dead bodies.
Along the road from Bangli to Kintamani one Kopi Luwak plantation after the other is springing up. There are no (and never have been) wild civets on Bali.
However, I do not want to blame these gold-digging coffee farmers alone for this misery. The animal cruelty behind Kopi Luwak has been known for quite some time. As long as there are people willing to pay an exorbitant price for coffee grown in captivity, the hamster will turn the wheel.
Coffee has always been cultivated on the 350 km stretched island of Flores. Arabica plants find ideal climatic conditions, especially around the cities of Ruteng and Bajawa, which are situated at around 1,200 metres above sea level. The volcanic earth does its part for full-bodied, chocolate- and vanilla-flavoured coffee.
On Flores the plants are kept under shady trees. On lower areas Robusta is cultivated. A hybrid, a cross between Arabica and Robusta, has also been experimented with for some time. The idea is to obtain the aroma of Arabica and the resistance of a Robusta plant.
I regularly travel to Flores. Why don't you come with me? More information on organised coffee cruises...
Initially, under the auspices of the VOC (Dutch East India Company), experiments were conducted in western Java with coffee plants from India.
After some early failures, the plant has finally been successfully cultivated. Already in the 17th century the Dutch colonial masters exported coffee in rough quantities to Europe until in the late 1880s the dreaded coffee rust carried off a large part of the coffee plants.
The Dutch then replaced the more susceptible Arabica plants with more resistant Robusta.
Today the main growing area for excellent Arabica is on the Ijen Plateau in the eastern part of Java. A rarity is the so-called "Old Brown" or "Old Java". Some plantations store the raw coffee for up to five years. The beans change their color from initial green to a shade of brown. This of course has its influence on the coffee in the cup.
There are only a few coffees in the world that cannot hide their origin with an unmistakable aroma in the cup. Among them is certainly the Arabica from the northern part of Sumatra.
Apart from the volcanic soil, it is mainly the processing of the harvested cherries that influences the aroma. The locals call this unique process "Giling Basah", which means wet peeling.
Mandheling and Gayo enjoy an excellent reputation among coffee connoisseurs worldwide.
Coffee is mainly cultivated in two areas. Both are very remote and not accessible on the road.
High-quality organic Arabica is cultivated in the Baliem Valley, in the highlands of Jayawijaya near the city of Wamena at up to 2,000 meters above sea level.
The other coffee production area is located in the Kamu Valley in the region of Nabire at an altitude of 1'400 to 2'000 meters.