Why is Coffee Called Java?
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Why is Coffee Called Java?

Coffee has many nicknames. In this article, I explain why our black favorite drink is often referred to as ‘Java.’

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Asser Christensen

Licensed Q Arabica Grader, M.A. Journalism

Coffee has plenty of nicknames, but ‘Java’ is one of the most common ones. How did this come to be?

The reason for this name is obvious when we take a close look at the history of the plant.

You see, back in the days coffee only grew wild in Ethiopia.

After finding out how amazing coffee is, Arabian traders took it with them to Yemen. Here it was grown commercially with huge success.

The Yemenites wanted to retain their monopoly on the international coffee trade, since it was so profitable. For that reason it was made punishable by death to export coffee seedlings or viable beans outside the country.

Java facts

  • Java is an Indonesian island about the same size as England
  • Today, it’s home to 145 million people, making it the most populous island in the world
  • Java has fertile Volcanic Soil

This didn’t deter a group of Dutch merchants. They were able to steal a few plants and bring them to Indonesia in 1696, which was a Dutch colony back then.

Coffee flourished on islands such as Sumatra, Sulawesi, and – you guessed it – Java.

Since Java was the main island where the capital Batavia (today called Jakarta) was located, the majority of coffee was exported from here. Rapidly, Indonesia became the world’s largest exporter of coffee. So most of the bags arriving in Europe said ‘Java,’ and this is how the nickname came to be.

Mocca-Java is named after origins

In earlier times, there weren’t as many exciting single origin coffees as there is today. In fact, only a handful of countries exported coffee. As mentioned above, one of the other early coffee producing countries was Yemen.

The main port in Yemen was known as al-Mukha, or in English ‘Mocca.’

The coffee from Yemen was known for being more delicate and fruity in flavor, while the Java coffee was full-bodied and earthy. For that reason, it became fashionable to blend the two coffees to market them under the name ‘mocca-java.’

This name is used today even though modern blends rarely use any beans from Yemen.

Is Java coffee worth it today?

It’s still pretty easy to get coffee from Java today. But the island is no longer the top coffee producer in the world –actually it’s not even the leading coffee region in Indonesia. Leaf rust (a nasty disease often targetting coffee) ruined a lot of traditional coffee farms at the end of the 19th century.

The Dutch responded by planting the more disease resistant coffee varieties Liberica and Robusta, but none of these quite have the same appeal as arabica.

For that reason, the islands of Sumatra and Sulawesi have taken over as the leading coffee producing islands.

Bali; a popular tourist destination, has also started to produce a lot of exciting coffees in recent years. 

There are still five large estates from the colonial era producing the vast majorities of Java beans:

  • Blawan
  • Jampit
  • Pancoer
  • Kayumas
  • Tugosari

Why a cup of java isn’t always good

As we have seen the history of Java and coffee are closely intertwined. Does that mean that Javanese coffee is excellent today? Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

The coffee industry in Indonesia struggles with quality issues, and unfortunately, we see a lot of ‘gimmick’ coffee being produced in this country.

Kopi Luwak is one such gimmick coffee. I have written about it elsewhere so I won’t leave it much space here, but basically, this is the coffee that is fed to cat-like animals called palm civets, and then collected as dung and roasted and sold at absurd prices. Kopi luwak not only tastes pretty bland, but it’s also animal abuse.

Java also produces so-called ‘aged’ and monsooned coffee. These ways of processing also alter the flavor profile in a way that most people in the mainstream coffee industry would object to.

If you’re lucky, however, you can still find a delicious cup of pure java but just realize that coffee from this island doesn’t quite live up to the past.

If you want to know which coffee indeed is the best in the world, then check out my article on the topic.

FAQ

Does Java mean coffee?

Indeed, the term alludes to cup of coffee. In the seventeenth century, the Dutch colonized the island of Java, which is currently part of Indonesia. They planted bunches of espresso there and started sending out it to the rest of the world. It was effective enough to have become a generic word for coffee.

What does Java taste like?

Java is actually a huge island with many different types of coffee. It’s hard to define a specific flavor to coffee from Java, since it can be produced in so many ways.

Is Java another word for coffee?

Java is slang for coffee. Actually Java is one the main islands in Indonesia. Back in the days so much cofee was being produced there that it ended up becoming a slang for coffee.

Photo of author
Asser Christensen

Hello, and welcome! I'm the editor & founder of this site.
I have been a coffee geek since I started home roasting more than a decade ago. Since then, coffee has taken me on countless adventures: From ancient coffee ceremonies in Ethiopia to the volcanos of Sumatra.
My background is in journalism, and today I'm also a licensed Q Grader under the Coffee Quality Institute.