Coffee is the most frequently used, highly popular stimulant and the main source of caffeine. It is known all over the world and served in many ways. Scientist are not completely unanimous on the matter of its origin, however several legends explaining its roots can be found. To the most reliable ones belongs the tale about an Ethiopian shepherd Kaldi who was herding his goats. Being a careful observer of his pack, some day he noticed a bizarre behaviour of one goat. It became very energetic and didn’t want to sleep at night. Kaldi was watching the animal discreetly and noticed that it behaved so after eating the berries from a certain tree. He tried those berries himself and he found out that they can really work wonders as he noticed his tiredness passing. Kaldi ripped one twig off and went to share his findings with the abbot of the local monastery. Unfortunately, he didn’t believe Kaldi and on his leaving he threw the twig into the fire. Leaves burned immediately however fruit didn’t. They began to give off very intense incredible smell. The abbot made a drink with the berries and found out that it really kept him alert through the long hours of evening prayer. He shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery and the knowledge of the energizing berries began to spread.

The beginning of the phenomenon of drinking coffee

That is one of the most popular legends but the facts remain a bit different. Cultivation and production of coffee has its roots in the 15th century on the Arabian Peninsula, while Syria, Egypt, and Turkey welcomed coffee in the 16th century. That beverage wasn’t drunk at homes but it was savoured at numerous qahveh khaneh – coffee houses which came out of the woodwork. All cities of the Middle East could boast about climatic places to relax and have a drink. They become more and more popular and clients came here not only to drink but also listen to music, admire dances, play chess, talk and listen to the latest news. Pilgrims who reached Mecca told people all over the world about such amazing places to relax. Moreover, Europeans travelling through the Middle East on their return home glorified those coffee rooms. It wasn’t earlier than 17th century when Europe admitted that beverage on its tables. However, here it was much more troublesome to introduce coffee. Some people reacted to this beverage with suspicion and fear, calling it ‘the bitter invention of Satan’. The local clergy condemned coffee when it came to Venice in 1615. The controversy arouse and eventually Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. Having tasted coffee he declared to be satisfied and announced that coffee gained papal approval. That was great success.

Coffee had gradually started to replace wine or beer for breakfast. It was figured out very soon that coffee was far much better for morning drink, as people became very energetic and work better, and were not so dulled as they used to be when drinking alcohol while breakfasting. Until mid-17th century there were about 300 coffee houses in London only. Even Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States said that ‘coffee become a favourite beverage of the civilised world.

In the second half of the 17th century the Dutch obtained first high quality coffee beans cultivated in India. The cultivation, however, failed and it was moved to, at that time, Batavia and now Jakarta located on Java, Indonesia. Here the harvests were successful and the Dutch chose to engage in trade at the same time. Plantations were transferred to the nearby Sumatra and Celebes and soon significant progress was reached.

That is the way coffee has spread all over the world. Nowadays, there is not a single person who cannot tell what coffee is. It seems that everything has already been said and put down about coffee, but there are still some facts that can surprise us all. In this article we are going to focus on two kinds of Indonesian coffee that still remain astonishing and not everyone is ready to drink it.

Kopi arang – local beverage from the Klaten region

Yogyakarta is a city located in the middle Java, down at the Merapi volcano. As one of the typical Indonesian towns it’s busy, noisy, full of mopeds and people. You can be well fed and watered on the street at any time of day, local warung, diners serve fresh meals right from the early morning. In one of such warungs, located in the north of railway station Tugu, not far from the Malioboro street, you can drink kopi arang or kopi joss. It means nothing more but ‘charcoal coffee.’ Arang means ‘charcoal’ and ‘joss’ is an another name for that coffee that imitates the sound of burning coal put in a cup of coffee. The price is very low, about IDR 5 000. Because of that, it can be easily judged that this is a regular kind of coffee brewed of common beans found in every single shop, not a sophisticated one. In reality, it is very often just a simple instant coffee. Why it is so special, then? Well, first of all it is a very local beverage, I would call it an ‘endemic’ one, made of beans cultivated in Klaten region. Hence, the unique taste. If the salesman is honest, he prepares fine dark beans. Next, the process of brewing is essential. Some boil water in a pot on a gas stove, others use kettle or a big teapot to boil it with charcoal. Javanese salesmen believe that boiling with charcoal ensures better taste. Such prepared coffee is served in a regular glass and a piece of charcoal is added to it. This piece is, let’s call it, ‘cleaned’ by the salesman who blows on it. Heated to 250 degrees, charcoal glows and it becomes a real good medicine for stomach. Its healing properties were discovered a long time ago, and charcoal is actually a popular component in many remedies for stomach ailments. However, not every type of charcoal is proper for being put into a glass of coffee, In Yogyokarta the one of a sambi tree is used.

Kopi arang or kopi joss was placed on the market by Lik Man in 1965. Her ran his warung till 2008 and then his son Kobar took it over. Warung is still very popular and has got its own legion of followers, although there are many people who think that coffee served with charcoal could be harmful. This place attracts many foreigners who take photos of burning charcoal.

Kopi luwak – the most expensive coffee in the world

Another Asian coffee, actually a complex and emotional topic, is kopi luwak. It can be seen all over Asia and despite the price that differs from the price of kopi arang, it’s about as popular. It is sold mainly in Japan and produced in Indonesia. Despite being known as the world’s most expensive coffee, there is no reliable, standardized method for determining its authenticity. That kind of coffee is unusual because of two aspects; not to state the obvious, but it is the most expensive coffee in the world, secondly it is processed by civets, called by locals luwak. That animal eats and partially digests coffee cherries defecating them eventually. Fermentation occurs as the cherries pass through a civet’s intestines and after being defecated with other fecal matter, they are collected. The coffee was discovered to taste much better. There are two obvious reasons this would be the case: selective picking and thorough “washing”. The civet cat, free to graze on these cherries, would naturally consistently eat only the ripe cherries, while coffee pickers back then were much less discriminating. This doesn’t work with breeding business. Civets kept in cages don’t eat and the process of producing kopi luwak is not possible. Only wildlife animals can cooperate. However nowadays many researches are done and there are some successful breeding which can produce the best quality kopi luwak. There is a chance that the price will lower with time. Anyway today there isn’t abundant harvest, some about few hundreds kilo a year what makes price incredibly high. Travelling Vietnam or Indonesia we face a lot of small local shops selling original kopi luwak, according to their owners. In reality it is not original coffee but just a cheap knockoff, which beans undergo special chemical treatment that resemble original taste. Nothing more but a fake. We have to be very careful unless we want to be cheated. It is essential to buy kopi luwak form reliable source. In Indonesia the best places to buy that coffee are in Sumatra and Bali. There are also some promising breeding.

Kopi arang and kopi luwak are unusual. They differ much, especially in price. The connoisseurs can for sure tell the difference but what about us? Well, we do tell the difference in our bank account but as long as our taste buds are concerned I am not so sure. The best you can do, is to visit Indonesia on your own, try those cups of coffee here and share with us your feelings. Can’t wait to read your opinion.

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Information technology architect, loving expeditions in the wilderness of Indonesia.

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