Indonesia is not only home to an exciting culinary scene but also offers a range of unique beverages. After living in Indonesia for more than two years, I’ve been able to sample a range of traditional Indonesian drinks, all fresh and exciting. If you are visiting Indonesia and want to sip on some of the best drinks around, there is something for you here!
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Types of Drink in Indonesia
Cool, refreshing drinks are essential in Indonesia’s tropical climate. The locals love sweet drinks as they help combat fatigue from heat exhaustion. Be warned though, you will find yourself asking for ‘less sweet’ pretty quickly!
I will never forget the first time I ordered an ice tea in Indonesia. I think there must have been three spoonfuls of raw sugar at the bottom of the glass!
Aside from sugary drinks, you can also find thirst-quenching coconut water and a variety of fresh tropical fruits used in juices and smoothies. These fruity treats are bound to keep you hydrated on swelteringly hot days.
In more mild parts of the country, hot drinks such as coffee are enjoyed, however, they may not be quite as you are used to back home!
Finally, a number of drinks double up as natural remedies for ailments such as stomach flu or colds. These can help to keep you feeling fresh and healthy.
No matter what tantalises your tastebuds, you are bound to find a drink you love in Indonesia. From sweet to sour and coffee to tea, let’s dive into Indonesia’s best drinks.
12 Must-Try Indonesian Drinks
1. Coconut Water – Es Kelapa Muda
The humble roadside coconut water is precisely what you need to look for when you’re trying to stay hydrated in the tropical heat. Es Kelapa Muda refers to the young coconuts used to make the drink. The coconut water will usually be served with ice (‘es’ in Bahasa) and the white meat of the coconut.
In Indonesia, you can find Es Kelapa Muda stalls which offer additional syrups and juices to mix with the original coconut water. These can include lime juice, orange juice, mango juice and even avocado! The addition of sugar is a definite boost to the system if you have had too much fun in the sun.
Es Kelapa Muda is so tasty that it even made its way into CNN’s 50 most delicious drinks from around the world list!
2. Es Doger
If you wanted to level up Es Kelapa Muda, you would end up with Es Doger. The best way to describe this beverage is as a coconut milk drink cum dessert.
This bright pink bowl of shaved ice and sweet treats is widely served across major cities such as Bandung, Jakarta, Malang and Surabaya. However, if you have not travelled to the island of Java, then you may not have come across it.
The origin of this particular drink remains unknown, but it is said to have started life in the region of Cirebon, the only coastal city in West Java. The drink contains a beautiful mixture of different flavours and textures, including (but not limited to):
- Shaved ice
- Young coconut meat
- Sweetened condensed milk
- Fresh white bread
- Granulated sugar
- Coconut milk
- Tapioca pearls
- Black sticky rice
3. Es Cendol
Ice-cold sweet coconut milk with palm sugar, colourful jellies, fruit and red beans… Have you begun to see a theme with these Indonesian ingredients yet?!
Sweet, refreshing, and more like a dessert than a drink; the ingredients in es cendol help to fight the high temperatures and humidity that much of Indonesia deals with daily.
Es Cendol is essentially a bowl of shaved ice, coconut milk, palm sugar and pandan jellies that look like tiny worms (a little unappealing at first sight but the best way to describe them). Cendol is a popular dessert in Asia that is eaten in many different countries across the Southeast. Toppings vary depending on where you are but cendol can also be served with red beans, coconut, sweet corn or sticky rice.
Across most of Java, you will find this drink sold on the roadside during the month of Ramadan. It makes the perfect refreshing treat to break a day of fasting!
4. Jus Alpukat
This drink came as a surprise to me when I first arrived in Indonesia! As an Australian, I have enjoyed avocado on toast with salt and pepper, but here in Indonesia, avocado is used in drinks! It is served mixed with milo (a type of malted chocolate drinking powder), chocolate syrup, milk and can even be blended with coffee.
Although avocado is primarily a dessert ingredient, Jus (juice) Alpukat (avocado) is very popular.
Jus Apulkat may sound healthy but trust me when I say it is packed with sugar, primarily due to the addition of sweetened condensed milk. This gives it a thick and creamy texture.
If you want to try this type of avocado drink in Indonesia, I would suggest going for the ultimate avocado coffee shake. This caffeinated drink consists of avocado, milk, condensed milk, espresso coffee, and a drizzle of chocolate syrup.
5. Es Cincau
Although the main ingredient of this traditional Indonesian drink originated in China, it’s now commonly used in drinks and desserts across Asia, including in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Es Cincau is a surprisingly simple drink that features an ingredient you either love or hate; grass jelly.
Grass jelly or cincau in Indonesian is made using the Cyclea barbata plant, which gives the jelly a dark green, almost black appearance. The process of making grass jelly can be complex, so you can now find packets of grass jelly powder readily available in most supermarkets to speed up the preparation process.
To make Es Cincau, you will need a few spoonfuls of fresh grass jelly, coconut milk, ice and palm sugar. Each region in Indonesia has its own way of making Es Cincau, and in Bali, they call their version of the drink Es Daluman.
Regional variations can include the addition of fresh lime, lemongrass, and tapioca pearls. In my opinion, Es Cincau is best-served ice cold at a local warung (food stall) by the beach in Bali!
6. Kopi Jahe
If you like strong black coffee with an extra kick, then Kopi Jahe could be exactly what you didn’t know you were missing. In Bahasa, Kopi means coffee and Jahe means ginger. As the name would indicate, this drink is made with freshly cut ginger served in a hot cup of coffee.
The aroma of freshly brewed coffee and ginger is now one of my favourite combinations. The addition of cardamom, cloves, lemongrass, pandan, palm sugar and cinnamon is also common, but the final flavour of each cup ultimately depends on the seller.
The best kopi jahe I had was in Maluku at a stall where they used slightly charred ginger. It was the perfect drink before a long travel day.
If you don’t drink coffee, ask for teh jahe, and enjoy ginger tea instead.
This hot and sweet beverage is commonly found in West Java, where the mountain ranges make for cooler weather. Bajigur is made using coconut milk, palm sugar, pandan leaves and ginger and is originally from Sunda.
Similar to other traditional Indonesian drinks which use various herbs and spices, Bajigur is the ideal choice for when you are feeling unwell, thanks to the addition of fresh ginger.
Bandrek is a comforting hot drink served in the highlands of Java. The region benefits from a cooler climate, making warm drinks like Bandrek more prevalent than in other areas. Lightly spiced with ginger and cinnamon, the drink gets its sweetness from the addition of palm sugar.
Bandrek is commonly prepared with milk, coconut milk or condensed milk so be sure to ask the seller if you have a preference for one over the others.
There are many variations of Bandrek available across Indonesia, but the essential ingredients include:
- Palm sugar
- Cinnamon sticks
Also sometimes included are chilli peppers, coriander seeds, young coconut milk and meat, pandan leaves, black peppercorns and cardamom pods.
This drink is one of the best discoveries that I made for my health and wellbeing in Indonesia. Jamu is traditionally sold in the early morning and is a medicinal drink that helps treat a wide variety of ailments in the body.
The island of Java is where Jamu is most popular, but it’s a drink that is now more widespread than ever before.
Thanks to the herbs, leaves, spices, bark, and fruit incorporated into the mix, it is claimed the beverage has many healing and restorative benefits. A common cold is the main ailment that makes someone reach for Jamu, but it also works when you feel tired, lethargic, and weak. In addition, the tonic is well known for treating digestive issues such as stomach upsets, wind, nausea, bloating, and cramps.
Traditional ingredients of Jamu include turmeric, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, honey, galangal, nutmeg, tamarind paste, palm sugar, kaffir lime, lemongrass, and rice.
To prepare Jamu, the selected ingredients are blended, then cooked on the stove in a saucepan. Water is then added to transform the paste into a liquid before it is strained and bottled.
The seller always asks you about your health condition and if you prefer sweet or bitter tasting Jamu. My favourite version of this drink is called Beras Kencur, made with rice and sweetened with palm sugar.
Travel Tip: If you are not sure what ingredients are in a beverage, it is advisable to purchase drinks from a store where they will label the ingredients. This is a safer choice if you have specific dietary requirements as many drinks can contain allergens.
10. Bir Pletok
Despite its name, Bir Pletok does not contain any Bir (beer). On the contrary, it is well known for being a herbal tonic that is believed to treat various health conditions. It gets its red colour from sappan bark which is widely used in homoeopathic medicine as a blood purifier.
Before you drink this beverage, you should shake it so that a foam appears when you pour it into the glass. This gives it an appearance similar to beer. It is said the inspiration for this comes from when the Betawi people of Jakarta would watch the Dutch drink homemade brewed beer. Interestingly, the word Pletok comes from the sound the beer bottle would make when the lid was popped!
Try Bir Pletok when you are next in Jakarta. You can find it widely served at celebrations and events in place of alcohol.
After more than two years in Indonesia, I’ll confess that I have still not tried this beverage. Indonesia has over 17,500 islands, and with so many options, it may take me a lifetime to try them all! Sara’ba is originally from South Sulawesi and is native to Makassar.
It is a hot beverage that makes for an ideal choice during the cooler months. This is when you are most likely to find vendors making it.
The drink is a blend of warm coconut milk, sugar, and ginger which is then topped with peanuts, sliced white bread and tapioca pearls.
12. Luwak Kopi
We’ll finish the list with something a bit different; Luwak Coffee. You may know it as cat poop coffee or civet cat coffee.
To start the coffee-making process, Indonesian farmers grow arabica coffee plants. Next, the Asian Palm Civet Cat eats the wild fruit (coffee cherries) and ingests the coffee beans. Finally, once the Civat has passed the now fermented coffee bean, the farmer removes it from the waste and begins the coffee process; washing, drying and roasting.
So, should you try this distinctive coffee beverage if you are in Indonesia? Well, that depends on two things; both the price and your stance on animal welfare.
The cost of this speciality coffee may surprise you. Expect to pay between $35 and $100USD per cup. That is 20 to 60 times more expensive than the average cup of coffee!
Beware! Due to the high value of this coffee, you will likely come across many fake versions. Vendors selling fake civet coffee charge exorbitant amounts for what is essentially a standard cup of coffee.
Animal welfare is another potential concern for tourists who are considering trying civet coffee. Because the free-range farming of this coffee bean is labour intensive, it has been replaced by an easier method. In many places, civets are kept in captivity so that they can be used in the coffee production process.
If you are planning on visiting a coffee Luwak plantation or cafe, I highly recommend doing your research on the animal welfare policies and request to see a certificate of authentication.
I also suggest avoiding any company that cages their civets and uses them to make coffee. If they are not free-roaming, wild civets, please reconsider supporting the business.
Which traditional drink are you excited to try first? Let us know in the comments!