Tea growing got off to one false start after another in the Dutch East Indies, present-day Indonesia, where it had been attempted sporadically since 1690.  Java and Sumatra, the most important islands in this archipelago, finally developed successful tea plantations in the early twentieth century following the introduction of Assam plants – after centuries of proving the nigh-impossibility of growing China plants outside their habitat.  (All the same, the Java tea marketed in Amsterdam in 1835 was Europe’s first grown anywhere outside China.)  Today Indonesia has considerably more tea acreage than Japan and accounts for well over 10 percent of the world’s black tea exports.  Can such sheer tonnage contain no tea of note?

Alas, that the answer cannot be different but the truth is this tea is indifferent at best.  Java is home to fifty volcanoes, some well over six thousand feet high.  Altitude combined with volcanic soil and tropical rainfall should surely yield better teas than the unastringent and distinctly plain produce of Java’s premier tea district, Goalpara.  Indonesia’s black teas are used all but exclusively for blending, and teas distinctive enough to be “self-drinking” – that is, enjoyed for their own qualities without blending with other tea – are all but unknown.

Taloon is the garden said to produce Java’s best self-drinking Orthodox tea; on Sumatra, Bah Butong produces a darker, stronger cup.  Neither compares with average quality Ceylon.  More and more of Indonesia’s black tea is CTC and thankfully more and more of her total production is green tea for domestic consumption, mainly by Indonesia’s large Chinese minority.

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Photo “Java Tea | Misai Kucing” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License to the photographer Wizan Zaini and is being posted unaltered (source)