In the early days, the prominent coffee under Dutch rule was Coffea arabica. The coffee was introduced to the archipelago via Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka). The Dutch Colonial Government initially planted coffee around Batavia (Jakarta), and as far south as Sukabumi and Bogor, in the 17th century. Coffee plantations were also established in East Java, Central Java, West Java and in parts of Sumatra and Sulawesi. Coffee at the time was also grown in East Indonesia- East Timor and Flores. Both of these islands were originally under Portuguese control and the coffee was also C. arabica, but from different root stocks. The coffee in Eastern Indonesia was not affected to the same degree by rust, and even today, some coffee in East Timor can be traced back to the 16th and 17th century.
A rust plague in the late 1880s killed off much of the plantation stocks in Sukabumi, before spreading to Central Java and parts of East Java. Around the turn of the century the C. arabica crops were devastated by coffee rust, wiping out the bulk of the Dutch root-stocks. The Dutch responded by replacing the C. arabica firstly with Coffea liberica (a tough, but somewhat unpalatable coffee) and later with Coffea canephora. The popularity of this species was short lived as it was also affected by disease. The C. liberica cherry can still be found throughout Java, but is seldom used as a commercial crop in Indonesia. The C. liberica bean is much larger than either C. arabica or the C. canephora cherry; however, it shares more in common cupping wise with C. canephora.
C. canephora replaced C. liberica and is still the stock crop today. It is not the coffee Indonesia is famous for, but makes up some 88% of exports from the country.
Disaster (disease and natural), World War II and the struggle for independence all played a big part in the changes that are seen in Indonesian coffee today. In the early part of the 20th century, the coffee industry was controlled by Dutch plantation owners and the colonial government. Infrastructure was developed in East and Central Java in particular to make the shipping of commodities such as coffee as easy as possible. Prior to World War II, Central Java in particular had a very strong rail transportation system that brought coffee, sugar, pepper, tea and tobacco out of the province to the port city of Semarang. Coffee in Central Java was primarily C. canephora, while the government estates (Kayu Mas, Blewan, Jampit) in East Java were C. arabica. The mountain area stretching from Jember in East Java through to the port of Banyuwangi was heavily planted in both C. arabica and C. canephora. C. arabica was farmed on plantations at higher elevations, while C. canephora was grown at lower elevations.
In January 2007, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) reported that land was illegally cleared for coffee farming in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park on the island of Sumatra. The protected park is home to endangered tigers, elephants and rhinos, and WWF predicts that these species will be extinct in a decade should the clearing and farming continue. WWF states that the illegal coffee is sold to Western companies such as Nestlé and Kraft Foods.
After independence, the plantations throughout Indonesia either came under the control of the new government or were abandoned. Today close to 92% of coffee production is in the hands of small farmers or cooperatives.
A small portion of the crop is harvested and processed more like C. arabica. Only ripe cherries are harvested and these are processed by washing. Prices for "fully washed" C. canephora are close to C. arabica prices.