Kopi Joss | Indonesia’s unique, sizzling charcoal coffee

The idea of a piping-hot coffee to start your day might not be all that unusual. But the Indonesian drink called ‘kopi joss’ takes things to a new extreme. 

This is a charcoal-infused coffee, made by, quite literally, dropping a piece of steaming charcoal into your glass. Add sugar and you’re good to go.

kopi joss Indonesia’s unique, sizzling charcoal coffee
Kopi Joss. (Getty Images)

The name kopi joss is a direct translation of ‘charcoal coffee’, but it also sometimes goes by the nickname java’. This is the island where it comes from, specifically the city of Yogyakarta (or Jogja). 

Coffee first arrived in Indonesia back in the 17th century, when Dutch colonists began growing the plant on the islands. It was incredibly profitable, and the country was soon a prominent global coffee producer, a fact that remains true about Indonesia to this day, particularly on the island of Java.

kopi joss Indonesia’s unique, sizzling charcoal coffee yogyakarta
Yogyakarta, Indonesia (Getty Images)

When charcoal became added to coffee in Yogyakarta is less clear, but the general consensus seems to be around the 1960s. Tourism was beginning to take off on Java, and coffee stands were competing for a slice of the business. One such entrepreneur, known simply as “Mr. Man”, found a way to distinguish his product from the rest. There remain competing accounts as to whether this was a marketing ploy, an accident, a medical cure, or a last-minute moment of improvisation, as he couldn’t heat his coffee regularly. Whatever the case, Mr Man added sugar and charcoal to the glass of coffee, watched it bubble away, and kopi Joss was born. 

The medical idea behind it has remained, and kopi joss has been heralded as having medical benefits as well. There doesn’t appear to be much evidence for it, but the charcoal is rumored to neutralize the acidity of coffee, supposedly preventing any ensuing acid reflux.

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Unsurprisingly, nowadays plenty of coffee stands in Yogyakarta now sell kopi joss. It is still sold under the pretense of health, but in reality, most of the sales are driven by a curiosity over this unique drink. You need to wait for the charcoal to cool slightly, and then you remove it, but don’t wait too long or the drink could be burned.

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