Located in South East Asia, Indonesia is comprised of 14,000 islands spread over 3,100 miles. The country is one of the richest and most complex regions on earth and consists of mountains, beaches, volcanoes, forests and fertile terraced fields.
Although better known for its natural beauty, Indonesia ranks as the seventh largest tea producer in the world. Tea was introduced into Indonesia by Dutch traders in the 1700s at a time when it was a Dutch colony and known as the Dutch East Indies. The first tea bushes used seeds from Japan, however, this did not prove to be a success. Using a trial and error approach the Dutch planters discovered that the Assamica variety of camelia sinensis was more suited for the soil and climate of Indonesia. Seeds were bought from Assam in India and the tea bushes were healthy and flourishing in the steamy, tropical climate.
The main areas of tea cultivation in Indonesia are Java, Central Java and North Sumatra. The highland areas of West Java offer the best conditions for tea production due to their rich volcanic soil. Indonesia encourages year-round plucking, but the best tea is harvested from July through to September at elevations from 2500 to over 5000 feet. In the past, all teas were black orthodox but some estates now manufacture CTC teas to meet the growing demand for teabag blends. Green tea is also produced in Indonesia and most of it is consumed locally. Most tea plantations are run by state owned enterprises although private producers and smallholder contribute to a significant amount of the total output. A auction is held in Jakarta on the island of Java.
Indonesia proudly boasts an export of 70 million kg and its plainer type teas are normally blended with teas from East Africa and India for use in flavoured blends. Single estate, artisan teas, are amongst the finest orthodox teas produced and are comparable to high grown Ceylon teas.
One of the most renowned single estate orthodox teas from Indonesia is produced in Malabar tea estate on Java island. This tea which is commonly referred to as Java Malabar is a distinctive tea has a sweet, very smooth, slightly spicy taste with raisin undertones and an amber coloured liquor. Other estates which produce high quality, artisan, orthodox black leaf are Cibuni Cisaruni Kertasarie Santosa, Taloon, Bah Butong and Gunong Rosa.
Overall production of tea in Indonesia has declined in recent years since some tea plantations have been turned into palm oil plantations due to the lucrative business opportunities which palm oil production offers.