Java, brew, cuppa, joe – coffee has a lot of names. And each of these names has its own unique origin story. In this post, we’ll be discussing how coffee got the name "java."
So, why is coffee called Java? Coffee is called java because when the Dutch use to plant coffee beans on the island of Java. The workers labeled the bags containing the beans "Java." This labeling was most likely just the name of the coffee’s origin. However, it caught on with coffee drinkers and became a nickname for coffee.
The rest of this article will answer some key questions about how coffee came to be known as java.
- Why is coffee called java?
- Does the island of Java still grow coffee?
- How does java coffee taste?
- What is Kopi Luwak?
- What are some other coffee nicknames?
Why is coffee called java?
Getting to the bottom of this story requires a bit of a history lesson.
Coffee was introduced to the world back in 850. Oddly enough, we owe our thanks to a goat in Ethiopia who ate the red berries of a coffee plant and became very hyper. The goat’s owner, Kaldi, saw his animal’s reaction to the berries, tried some for himself, and had a similar reaction.
Eventually, the Arabs got their hands on these magical beans and turned them into a cash crop. At this point, the export was so profitable that it was illegal to take it out of the country. In fact, it was punishable by death.
This is how coffee was discovered. But to understand where the name java came from, we have to skip ahead to the seventeenth century, when the Dutch obtained some coffee beans and planted them en masse in Indonesia.
As mentioned above, when the workers were labeling the coffee bags for export from Indonesia, they labeled them "Java" to indicate where the bags were from. The name stuck when the bags arrived in port on the other side of the world.
Does the island of Java still grow coffee?
Absolutely! There are still coffee farmers on the island of Java to this day.
However, they have undergone a few challenges in the past 500 years, the worst of which was the late nineteenth-century plague.
In the 1880s, a plague of coffee leaf rust wiped out almost all of the crops on the Indonesian islands. At this time, Java was mainly producing Arabica beans, which are more known to be of premium quality. However, these beans are also quite susceptible to this plague.
When struck by coffee leaf rust, the leaves of the coffee plant slowly begin to yellow and brown. All the nutrients are stripped from the crop, and the beans cease to grow.
Soon after, in the 1900s, Robusta and Liberica beans were introduced to the Indonesian islands. These crops are less vulnerable to coffee leaf rust and thus grew rapidly. Unfortunately, these beans are of lower quality and are therefore less desirable.
It is still possible to find Arabica beans from the island of Java. However, they are more commonly grown in Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Bali.
What does coffee from Java taste like?
The taste of coffee from Java depends on the type of bean: Arabica or Robusta
We will start with Arabica beans, which are the highest-quality bean produced in Java.
After harvest, Arabica beans from Java are washed, removing the fruit and pulp. From there, they can be immediately roasted – or they can be “monsooned.”
Monsooning the beans is a process that produces a cup of coffee similar to what the Europeans would have enjoyed from Java hundreds of years ago.
To monsoon the beans, workers leave them out in the humidity for an entire rainy season. The taste of the beans after they are roasted has hardly any acidity and is sweeter.
This process produces coffee similar to what early European coffee drinkers had because it mimics the long journey across the ocean required to get the beans from Java to Europe.
Arabica beans that are not monsooned have an earthy and rustic flavor profile. They have medium acidity, sometimes smoky, medium body, and are easy to drink. Many of the Arabica beans from Java are still grown on the original Dutch settlements.
Nowadays, though, about 90% of coffee from Java is Robusta.
Robusta coffee has a more bitter and stronger flavor, with full body and low acidity. It is a commercial-grade coffee and is commonly used for instant coffee. There are some premium versions of a Java Robusta. These are smoother, harder to come by, and more expensive.
What is Kopi Luwak?
If you have ever been to Indonesia, you may have come across Kopi Luwak. It is popular in Java, Bali, East Timor, Sumatra, and Sulawesi.
In the Indonesian language, "kopi" means "coffee" and "luwak" is their name for the Asian Palm Civet. The civet is commonly referred to as a cat, though it is not a cat. It is a nocturnal creature that resembles a cat/money/raccoon.
So, what do coffee and this animal have in common?
Kopi luwak coffee is eaten by the civet, not fully digested, and then excreted. Afterward, farmers collect the feces, roast the beans, and sell it as a coffee.
The most common question asked of this process is probably the same one on your mind right now: why would they do that?
As the coffee bean fruit passes through the digestive system of the civet, the bean is "washed" by the digestive enzymes and stripped of the fruit and pulp. This process causes the coffee beans to be less acidic and have a more defined flavor profile: smooth, complex, and nutty.
Oddly enough, this is one of the most expensive coffees in the world. By the pound, kopi luwak can cost you anywhere from $100 to $600. For a single cup, you’re going to pay between $35 to $80.
Unfortunately, there is not much regulation surrounding this blend because it is very difficult to tell a fake kopi luwak bean from a real one. Only about 80% of kopi luwak coffee produced is genuine. However, the taste of the real product is supposedly better.
While a delicacy, this coffee is controversial due to the poor conditions civets are kept in to produce it.
In the past, when these animals roamed freely and ate the coffee bean fruit on their own terms, there was no issue. They were doing the farmers a favor.
However, nowadays, with the growing popularity and tourism of Indonesia, these animals are mistreated. Many are kept in small and uncomfortable cages for twenty-four hours a day and are force-fed the coffee bean fruit. The captivity and force-feeding leave them with a lot of energy in a little cage.
What are some other coffee nicknames?
Over its 500 years of existence, coffee has acquired many nicknames for itself.
Java, one of the most popular, has a great story behind it.
Some of the others reflect the way it makes you feel, while other nicknames are just plain odd.
Here are some of the most popular coffee nicknames:
- Cup of joe
- Bean juice
- Rocket or jet fuel
- Jitter juice
- Morning mud
- Liquid lightning
- Morning mojo
Here are the key points you should take away from this post:
- The name "Java" came from the late 1800s when the island of Java in Indonesia was one of the biggest exporters of coffee. The nickname caught on because the bags containing the beans were labeled "Java."
- Most coffee beans from Java today are Robusta beans. Robusta beans are more popular because they are less susceptible to coffee leaf rust than Arabica beans.
- Kopi Luwak is a popular specialty item around the world. However, it encourages animal cruelty. The civets are kept in cages for their entire lives and force-fed the coffee bean fruit.
- There are many different nicknames for coffee. However, Java and Joe seem to be the most mainstream.
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