The history of coffee in Indonesia

Imagine a world without coffee! Even if you don't drink coffee, imagine shopping malls and high streets without the ubiquitous coffee shops, cafes, coffee houses and other outlets that specialize in selling espresso, cappuccino, latte, café noir, mocha, café macchiato or just java. But a few centuries ago, coffee was banned in a number of countries.

Even in its country of origin, Ethiopia, coffee was banned by the Orthodox Christians there until 1889, as it was considered a Muslim drink. In Europe, King Charles II banned coffee houses in 1676 because of their association with resistance political activists, but backed down two days before the ban took effect because of the uproar that followed his decree. And for nationalistic and economic reasons, Frederick the Great banned it in Prussia to force people back to beer. Prussia, with no colonies where coffee was produced, had to import all its coffee at great expense.

Coffee (Coffea arabica), originally from Kaffa, a kingdom in medieval Ethiopia, was brought to Arabia, more specifically to present-day Yemen, where it was grown and exported via the port of Mocha. From 1616, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) bought their coffee there and transported it to Batavia (today's Jakarta). Coffee soon became a valuable and very profitable trade commodity and in 1696 the first seedlings were brought to Batavia for planting in Java.

This first batch, planted on the land of Governor-General Willem van Outshoorn, was lost in floods shortly afterwards. However, the experiment was repeated and in 1706 the first initial sample of locally grown coffee could be exported to Amsterdam together with a coffee plant. And believe it or not, this seedling, nurtured and propagated in the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens, became the grandparent of the Arabica coffee plants in Brazil and the Caribbean. At least that's the story according to the Encyclopedia van Nederlandsch-Indië. Wikipedia tells a different story and credits the French with bringing coffee seedlings to Martinique, from where they spread to Mexico, Haiti and other Caribbean islands; while Brazil received Santos coffee from the Bourbon Islands (present-day Réunion).

Around 1878 disaster struck as the Arabica variety became susceptible to coffee leaf rust in the coastal areas of Java and had to be abandoned. Around 1900, the Robusta variety (Coffea canephora), which was resistant to the disease, was imported from the Congo and could be cultivated again at lower altitudes.

Before 1800, the VOC introduced coffee cultivation to the population in the area around Batavia and in the mountainous region of West Java. District leaders were contracted to supply a certain amount of coffee beans each year. The VOC was not involved in the cultivation, but the regents had to ensure that the population grew coffee, maintained gardens, and supplied the required quantity of quality coffee. In the second half of the 18th century, coffee cultivation spread to Central Java, but only on a limited scale. A major onslaught on the rest of Java and the other islands was launched by Governor-General Daendels (1808-1811) and subsequent administrators.

In the Batavia area, coffee was most successfully grown in Rijswijk and Meester Cornelis . The population did not seem to object to forced cultivation. The same was true in West Java, where the required volumes and quality were delivered on time. However, in other parts of Java and the outer islands - particularly West Sumatra and Maluku - the population was not so keen on the system of compulsory cultivation.The lure of additional income initially encouraged the population to grow coffee.

In 1724 about one million pounds of coffee could be shipped to Amsterdam. But when the carrot became the stick and the required volume increased to four million pounds (1727) and six million pounds in 1736, the enthusiasm of the people declined considerably. The Regents were given six stuivers (five-cent pieces) per pound, which had to cover the purchase, and the transportation of the coffee to the VOC warehouse. The actual purchase (at the gate) was made by the village heads. One can thus imagine that the price paid to the farmers was a fraction of the price received by the regent.

Not only coffee was a forced crop, but also sugar and indigo. This system of forced cultivation, the cultivation system, was introduced in 1830 and forced farmers to grow export crops on 20 percent of their land or, alternatively, to provide 60 days of unpaid labor on public projects for the general welfare instead of growing rice and other staple foods. At the same time, tax collection was handed over to tax collectors who were paid from commissions.

Unsurprisingly, the systems were widely abused: prices paid to farmers were minimal, the weight of produce purchased was manipulated, and 60 days of unpaid work was often extended or spent on the private projects of regional colonial officers or regents. And tax collectors ruthlessly squeezed farmers dry to increase their commission. Not surprisingly, the system created widespread hunger and discontent.

He was repudiated and discredited by his superiors in the colonial administration, and is now listed as a hero in the Indonesian canals for the Dutch East Indies period, 1800-1945 - along with Prince Diponegore, the initiator and commander of Diponegore's war against the Dutch in Jogjakarta/Central Java, and Teuku Umar, a guerrilla leader in Aceh.

He resigned before his release and returned to the Netherlands. There he continued his protests in newspaper articles, pamphlets, and in 1860 published his book Max Havelaar; or under the title Multatuli, The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company.

The rise of more liberal prospects and parliamentary questions about poverty and famine in Java, and the desire to allow private commercial interests to be involved in the production of export crops, led to the abolition of the Cultuurstelsel in 1870. Due to its profitability, however, coffee cultivation continued to take hold until the early 20th century.

Among the individuals who contributed most passionately (and effectively) to the growing liberal and self-doubting mood was Edward Douwes Dekker. A colonial civil servant since 1838, he was appointed assistant resident in Lebak, West Java, in 1857, where he began to speak out against the exploitation and mistreatment of natives by the regents and against the misconduct of the colonial authorities

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