Kopi: Coffee Every Which Way
When it comes to coffee, there are more than a thousand stories to tell.
Sipping from a cup of iced cappuccino handed by a waiter over the counter, I can feel the refreshing blend of coffee and milk working like magic to boost my mood. I’m obviously not alone. The humble cup of joe has a huge number of fans across cultures and nations – for the record, the top coffee-consuming nations are unsurprisingly in the cold countries of northern Europe – Finland drinks the most per person, followed by Norway, Iceland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Known in Indonesia as kopi, coffee is a significant part of the national economy. Indonesia is the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world; almost all regions have their own speciality product. Sumatra is well known for its kopi Aceh, kopi Gayo and kopi luwak; kopi Kintamani is popular in Bali; and East Nusa Tenggara is known for its kopi Flores. South Sulawesi is known for its kopi Toraja, and Papua is loved for its kopi Wamena. Java is so famous for its kopi Jawa that many people use the term java as a reference to coffee.
Coffee varieties across the world include Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, Excelsa and kopi luwak (Asian palm civet coffee). Yusup Yulyanto, the founder of ½ Ons Coffee (a roaster of Arabica, Robusta and kopi luwak), explains that Robusta beans account for around 85 per cent of Indonesia’s total coffee harvest. Describing the process of producing fine Robusta, he says: “I am collaborating with farmers as my partners to carry out selective harvesting, in which we only pick the red coffee cherries in order to get premium Robusta.”
Kopi luwak is a sought-after curiosity and one of the most expensive coffees in the world. The beans are collected from the droppings of forest animals called luwaks, or palm civets, which have a preference for nibbling on only the best ripe coffee cherries. The pulp is digested but the coffee beans are not; however, the natural enzymes in the civet’s intestines make the beans less acidic and therefore less bitter. The beans are then collected and thoroughly cleaned. Once brewed, kopi luwak has a strong, fruity flavour and a clean aftertaste. The costliness – it sells for around US$40 for 100g – reflects the difficulty of production, as a palm civet can only process around one to two ounces of beans per day.
Indonesia’s traditional brewing
While Indonesian coffee shops andcafés nowadays are typically familiar with the most popular brewing methods in the Western hemisphere – espresso, latte, cappuccino and macchiato as well as the Vietnamese drip method – Indonesia has long had its own traditional brewing methods that vary from region to region.
Aceh, on the tip of Sumatra, offers attractive manual brewing. The ground Robusta beans are placed inside a cotton strainer. Hot water is then poured through. The method is repeated many times, using two containers, to create coffee foam. At the end, the foamed coffee is added into a cup of granulated sugar and sweet condensed milk. The repeated pulling method is called tarik, hence coffee brewing is known in Aceh as kopi tarik.
Travelling to Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, you will find kopi talua. Egg yolk, sweetened condensed milk and cinnamon powder are stirred well to create froth in the mixture. The ground coffee and hot water are added in to finish.
If you do not mind the pungent smell of durian, Medan, North Sumatra, offers a brew known as kopi durian. The flesh of the distinctively wafty fruit is boiled together with ground coffee and sugar, then strained to drink. Kopi durian can also be enjoyed with ice cubes.
An alternative brewing method can be found in Pekalongan, Central Java. Here, ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, pandanus leaves, lemongrass and nutmeg are all boiled together and poured over the ground coffee, resulting in kopi tahlil. For extra taste, palm sugar or sweetened condensed milk can be added.
Similarly, kopi rarobang from Ambon also employs spices in its brewing process. The difference is that the ground coffee and spices are boiled together from the very beginning, and then served with a topping of chopped walnuts.
Finally, in Yogyakarta, you will find burning charcoal is plunged into a cup of black coffee (after being tapped to remove the dust), resulting in the popular kopi joss.
The versatile bean
Coffee is put to a multitude of culinary purposes in Indonesia: it is used for flavouring cakes, puddings, and Mexican buns (a butter-rich pastry with a crispy topping), and even for enhancing the taste of beef soup. Chef Yono Purnomo, the founder of Yono’s Restaurant, an Indonesian fine-dining establishment in Albany, New York, creatively adds Arabica and Robusta coffee to his twisted black nut beef stew (rawon), which he calls kopi rawon.
“I also use ground coffee for preparing steak. I dry-rub meat with coffee, and serve it with espresso sauce. The taste is awesome!” explains the Indonesian-born chef, adding that the beans provide a subtle, dark and earthy flavour to the rub.
Of course, since time immemorial, coffee has worked almost magically to bring people together. It is also believed to help weight loss – providing you stick to black coffee and skip the sugary lattes and frappuccinos! Some research even links coffee to a lower cancer risk. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the third American president of the United States, it’s the “favourite drink of the civilised world”. So, as I love to say, ”Coffee, anyone?”