Instant Coffee, V60, and Capitalism

I don’t know if it’s just me or you’ve also had this question in your mind “Why are Indonesians are so fond of instant coffee?”. The answer is very simple, practical, and quick. It is well known that Indonesia is one of the largest coffee exporters in the world with a wide variety of coffee and specialty types. Every major island in Indonesia has its specialty. Did you know, 5 Indonesian coffees are highly rated on a world specialty scale, which are Gayo, Mandheling, Kintamani, Toraja, and Wamena. Coffees like this are often not even known by Indonesians. Isn’t it ironic?

Indonesian Coffee Exports

The Quality of Indonesian specialty is valued at high prices abroad, you could say that coffee is one of the commodities that supports Indonesia’s foreign exchange. According to the publication of the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), the export volume of Indonesian coffee until July 2020 reached 186.8 thousand tons. This number is increased to 10.69 percent compared to the previous year in the same period. The largest Indonesian coffee exports in 2020 are Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, and China.

Indonesia Coffee Export (Source: BPS; Graphic by Lokadata)

If you look at the table above, before the Covid-19 pandemic the average export of Indonesian coffee was very large, around 400 thousand tons per year. This is comparable to domestic coffee consumption. Indonesia’s coffee consumption in the 2018–2019 period reached 4,800 million bags of coffee (in thousand 60 kg). This consumption has continued to increase since 2010, amounting to 44 percent of the 2018/2019 consumption.

Indonesia Domestic Coffee Consumption (Source: BPS; Graphic by Lokadata)

Palm Sugar Coffee Trends

I believe the increase in coffee consumption is directly proportional to the growth of coffee shop businesses in every city in Indonesia. Especially in big cities, you can find various types of coffee shops in every corner of the city.

The coffee commodity is prioritized for export and we only get lower grade coffee. Of course, this is closely related to Indonesia’s economic policy. Based on the government’s quantitative involvement in the country’s economy, Indonesia is classified as a “capitalist” country. Economic activity is largely self-contained, without government interference. The capitalist economic system proves that it can move and encourage society to develop. I also do not deny that if I become a coffee bean entrepreneur, I will be export-oriented.

It is clear, why do we Indonesians only get umpteenth grade coffee beans. Indeed, many coffee shops provide specialty with various brewing techniques, but there are still few people who have access to them. The emergence of the coffee shop trend began when President Jokowi tasted Palm Sugar Coffee of Tuku Coffee shop. Since then, people have been competing to open coffee shops serving Palm Sugar Coffee.

Iced Coffee Latte (Photo By Thomas Vimare on Unsplash)

Iced milk coffee with palm sugar served in a plastic glass container priced at approximately 25 thousand rupiahs. If you compare it with manual brew specialty coffee, the price will be in the range of 35 thousand and above. Why is that? For milk coffee, the only coffee needed is a single shot espresso (30 ml), the use of regular-grade coffee beans with more than 12 defects will not be tasted by our tongue because it is covered in the sweet taste of palm sugar. Meanwhile, for manual brew v60, it takes 15 grams of specialty coffee selected from the best coffee beans with roasting techniques supervised by a certified roaster. The result is of course specialty coffee will be more expensive than a glass of latte, but is everyone willing to pay more than 35 thousand for a glass of coffee? Seeing the minimum wage in Indonesia, I don’t think so.

Capitalism In Instant Coffee

Consumer goods companies use limited access to quality coffee to provide coffee that is cheap, easy to make, and accessible to anyone. If you go to a convenience store or supermarket, you can find dozens of instant coffee or ready to brew coffee brands. You can even find the renowned civet coffee in ready-to-drink form.

If you look at the ingredients listed on the package, usually the contents are corn flour, coffee flavoring, and sugar, while the coffee content is only 1–3%. The coffee beans used are also the cheapest ones which are full of defects. If you consume sachet coffee, you don’t drink coffee but consume “coffee-flavored” drinks. I once asked a person who consumes instant coffee every day to drink manual brew specialty coffee, you can guess that his tongue is already used to instant coffee and did not like the specialty. For decades we have been “poisoned” by this instant coffee so that it can be said to be our coffee culture.

Indeed, instant coffee offers convenience, practicality, and speed in serving. You don’t have to bother being a barista who has to master all kinds of coffee brewing techniques, knowledge of coffee beans, roasting techniques, grading, and various other troublesome things. Simply by pouring hot water you can drink coffee. The advantages of this instant coffee are exploited by companies as a result hundreds of instant coffee brands can be found with a variety of flavors. And most importantly, apart from cheap ingredients, instant coffee is mass-produced so the selling price is also cheap, with a thousand rupiah you can enjoy coffee. This allows anyone to have access to instant coffee, compared to specialty coffee which costs ten folds.

Indeed, in the capitalist economy, it’s a matter of how to get maximum profit with the smallest amount of capital.

But it is deemed unethical to brand products as coffee even though the coffee content was very small.

Indonesian Coffee Culture

I don’t want to say instant coffee is Indonesia’s coffee culture. Indonesia has a very rich coffee culture. With all due respect without being condescending, Swedish Fika will be tiny in the face of Indonesia’s rich coffee culture. Like the Kopitiam in Medan which is a forum for social interaction for traders, especially the Chinese-descendant community, the Kopitiam relies on the use of traditional tools in the form of a long teapot, equipped with a traditional filter to filter coffee grounds. Then, in Jogja, which is famous for its coffee joss, dunked with charcoal on fire as a symbol to collect back the lost bones, the term of maintaining kinship.

Typical Coffee Served in Kopitiam (Photo by Alfred on Unsplash)

In Acehnese society, there is a habit of drinking half a glass of coffee, or in Acehnese culture, it is called Bi Kupi Pancung Saboh. Bi Kupi Pancong Saboh is a way of ordering a coffee pancong with a portion of only half a glass. The people of Aceh are very comfortable chatting for a long time in the shop until there is the term “Kupi sikhan glah, peh bereukah lua nanggroe.” that means drinking coffee is only half a glass, but the conversation can go overseas. On the other side, in traditional Balinese society, coffee has a meaning. The first cup treat is a welcome greeting. Then the second cup is a marker where the guest has been sent home because their business are considered over.

Drinking coffee can be associated with social activities, we can easily see people discussing in a coffee shop sipping coffee and munching banana fritters while talking about political dynamics or favorite football team. Or have you ever heard of a businessman making transactions worth billions or even trillions in a coffee shop? Try to imagine the value of business transactions that can be done in one coffee shop in a day. These things show that coffee is no longer just a drink but has become a part of social life, coffee becomes a catalyst in socializing and a symbol of social status in society.

In contrast, coffee has also become a symbol of an open and egalitarian society, there are no restrictions for someone to enjoy coffee.

Brewing Your Own Coffee

Therefore it is very unfortunate, Indonesia is a country that produces specialty coffee with first-grade beans and has rich cultural diversity of coffee, but the people enjoy “junk coffee”. I invite you to appreciate real coffee by brewing your coffee. The price is of course still affordable

With 250 grams of coffee, you can enjoy coffee once a day for 2 weeks by the assumption of using 15 grams of coffee for one brew. If you buy Arabica coffee with a price range of 32 thousand rupiahs for 1 kilogram, then for one cup you will pay 410 rupiahs. Cheaper than instant coffee, right?

Brewing your coffee means that you can experiment with coffee techniques and blends, and explore different types of Indonesian coffee. Isn’t it fun for a coffee connoisseur? Of course, you will also get special satisfaction if the your experiments give delicious taste.

By brewing your coffee you are also helping farmers and distributors. Over the past year access to coffee, products have been disrupted due to transportation restrictions that impact coffee consumption. Arabica coffee price has also declined due to many canceled orders because of closed coffee shops or restrictions on operating hours during large-scale social restrictions (PSBB).

Coffee Farmer (Photo by Delightin Dee on Unsplash)

As consumers involved in the coffee market and industry, we will create a market demand which will affect the increase in the selling price from the hands of the farmers. Alongside the increase in coffee prices, the welfare of coffee farmers will also increase. It is only after coffee farmers are prosperous that the coffee industry can be better developed such as replanting gardens, training and mentoring farmers to encourage changes in farmer’s mindsets and habits in post-harvest processing, branding, market access, or even creating new markets. It is true that in the end there will be new capitalism in the coffee farming industry, but in your opinion, which one you should help, the coffee farmers or the big companies?

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