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Clearing The Java Confusion
By Simon Wu
The word Java has taken on several meanings in contemporary culture. In the computer world, it is a particular computer programming language that creates eye-catching applications used mostly on websites. In restaurants and bars, the word is often used interchangeably with coffee. The real Java on the other hand, is the most populous island in Indonesia, where the capital Jakarta is located.
Java island is mountainous with numerous active volcanoes. The climate is muggy year-round, often punctuated by monsoon rains. Along with the fertile soil that surround the volcanic areas, the early Dutch settlers found these conditions to be very conducive to growing coffee.
Arabica was introduced to Indonesia in the 17th century and this was planted vigorously by the Dutch colonial government. The Arabica was eventually wiped out for the most part by a plague known as coffee rust although coffee plants in other regions were not affected. Robusta was the logical alternative because of its resistance to diseases.
Later on in the early 20th century, the colonial government would build the infrastructure to confine the growth of coffee to East and Central Java. East Java would produce Arabica simply because of their more mountainous regions while Central Java primarily produced Robusta.
Today Indonesia is the biggest producer of coffee in Southeast Asia and third in the world. The coffees they export are from both the Arabica and Robusta stocks although gourmet coffee makes up only about ten percent of their export. This is due mainly to the roles that the plague along with World War II and internal political strife have played in forming the Indonesian coffee industry.
Arabica from Indonesia are primarily from the islands of Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi. Sumatra is also mountainous with active volcanoes. The highlands to the north and west of Sumatra produces very high quality Arabica beans. Sulawesi coffee is similar in character and appearance to the Sumatran.
Even though Java is the most well-known of Indonesian coffee exports, many experts agree that Sumatra coffee is the best of the lot owing to a fruity and syrupy taste. It is unclear why coffee drinkers today have equated the word java with coffee itself. One story tells us that because coffee from Java was so popular at the time, merchants would brand their coffee with that name in order to capitalize on its popularity as well as increase sales. As you can see, brand marketing was very much alive in the 18th century.
And because brand marketing is often mischievous and creates a lot of unnecessary hype. As a result, buying a bag of coffee can suddenly be confusing especially when the word "Java" is present in the packaging. Are you actually buying coffee of the gourmet variety from the island of Java or just some plain coffee using the term just to make it a more attractive, not to mention expensive, commodity? Adding to the mess, when looking up the word itself on the search engines can take you to pages of undecipherable computer programming language when all you wanted was a hot cup.
That being said, when looking specifically for Indonesian coffee, the most common is Java Estate. But if you want a treat, look beyond Java and let your taste buds feast on Sumatra Mandheling instead. It is sure to erase any confusion.
Coffee is consumed and enjoyed by millions worldwide regardless of culture or tradition. We try in our own simple way to see why the coffee bean can be so small yet so powerfully stimulating. Also discover flavorful gourmet and Sumatra Mandheling coffees that you can enjoy in the comfort of your own home.