26th
May
2016

Posted in Kafevend Blog

Java tea


After our visit to Ecuador last week, we thought we might continue the geographical theme and leap across the Pacific to Indonesia. Here, the island of Java typically brings coffee to mind- it even serves as a colloquial name- but instead of coffee, we are going to look at Java's tea industry.

Colonial control


The Portuguese were the first Europeans to find Indonesia when they sailed there in the early 16th century on their mission to find the prized spice islands. They were the first to bring tea back to Europe, and subsequently developed a strong tea culture. We adopted this culture when Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess, married King Charles II and introduced tea to the Royal Court. It wasn't the Portuguese who established the tea industry in Indonesia however- that accolade goes to the Dutch and the monolithic Veerenigde Oostindische Compagnie- the Dutch East India Company.

At first, the VOC had little presence aside from a collection depot at Batavia. The tea and other goods bought from nearby China were taken here to be packed and then shipped home to Amsterdam. It didn't take long for them to start using the land and its people to further their profits, and soon coffee plantations were established. They attempted to grow tea aswell, but the China tea bush did not thrive there. With an eye on the British East India Company's tea plantations in India, the VOC started up their tea production again in the mid 19th century, this time using the India tea bush that the BEIC had been using with great success. This time tea took hold, and has been a feature of Indonesia ever since.

Volcano tea


Given its strong association with coffee, it may surprise you to learn that Indonesia is one of the world's top tea producers. Though it has dropped a few pegs in latter years, it still remains in the top ten, and Java has a lot to do with that. Java produces the lion's share of Indonesia's tea, with West Java in particular accounting for around sixty to seventy percent of the tea grown overall, which is quite impressive! The main reason for Java's prolific tea growth is the chain of (active!) volcanic mountains ranging from west to east along the spine of the island. The high altitude combined with the supremely rich volcanic soil makes for premium tea growing land.

Around half of the tea produced in Indonesia is destined for export, mainly to countries such as our own, Russia and Pakistan. This tea mainly comes from the big private and state owned plantations; with money and technology at their back, they are able to produce good quality tea that is popular abroad. The rest of the tea is grown by smallholders, who aren't capable of producing the same quality. A lower level of training combined with a lack of technology and infrastructure means that they can't really compete- instead, the tea they produce fuels the home grown demand for tea. Even this market hangs in the balance though, as some tea is being imported, and the developing middle class has seen the establishment of an increasingly popular coffee culture.

References:

The tea detective
Indonesian investments

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