Still known as a premiere producer of coffee (as in “a cup of java,” since Java is one of the coffee growing islands there), Indonesia (formerly the Dutch East Indies) also had a reputation for the quality of its black teas. They have grown tea for over 200 years, with those teas having a reputation for producing a light and slightly sweet infusion, mainly used in mixes.
Indonesia, made up of more than 14,000 islands spread over 3,100 miles along what is known as the ring of fire, is a country of diversity with numerous languages, ethnicities, cultures, and customs. However, instead of an Indonesian tea culture, they have a mixture of different tea cultures and tea ceremonies. You can find a Japanese tea culture, a Chinese tea culture, or watch a tea ceremony obviously influenced by India. Even influences from the Netherlands and England are around.
According to various records, the first tea was planted in 1684 on Java by the Dutch, in control of the islands since 1602 under the Dutch East Indies Company banner. They used seeds from Japan for the China tea bush cultivar called Camellia Sinensis var. sinensis. The gardens didn’t flourish since the Dutch government who were in control of the islands for around 300 years didn’t have experienced staff. In 1835, they tried again, turning the gardens over to experienced private planters. The gardens thrived this time.
Sumatra, one of the main islands for tea growing with its rich volcanic soil, produces black teas known by their garden marks. They are generally the same quality year round, are good for blending, and produce a soft to medium strength cup of tea.
Some Sumatran Teas:
- Light Roast Sumatra Oolong — This tea has a unique aroma and flavor of passion fruit, and the light roasting brings out notes of roasted chestnuts and honey.
- Black Pearl — A beautiful black tea that is naturally sweet with a taste said to be like Washington Red apples.
- Sumatra Oolong Barisan — Delicate, high quality, comparable to the best Green Oolongs from Taiwan. Grown at high altitude and processed by skilled tea workers. Steeps up a fragrantly floral liquid with a jade-green color and a mild grassy flavor that turns to lush, buttery floral and vanilla notes.
- Sumatra BOP — A medium to strong brew with a great smooth finish and an orange liquid.
- Indonesia Gunung Dempo — The liquor tends to be light with a hint of body and maltiness and is considered one of the world’s great teas.
A specialty in some Sumatran coffee huts is teh telur (tea with egg). It’s pretty basic and easy to make:
- Crack a raw egg into a tall glass. [see disclaimer below]
- Add 2 heaping spoonfuls of sugar.
- Whip into a thick froth.
- In a separate pot steep some strong Sumatran tea.
- Pour (through a strainer, if you steep loose leaves) into the glass with the egg/sugar froth.
- Whisk tea and froth together.
- Add a generous pour of sweetened condensed milk.
To enjoy this tea the way the locals do, pour some into a saucer to cool it and then sip from the saucer. This also avoids egg froth moustaches.
Try a Sumatran tea or a blend containing some of the black tea version for a very enjoyable taste. As for that raw egg concoction, try at your own risk.
Disclaimer: Eating raw or undercooked eggs carries a risk of salmonella poisoning.
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