History Of Kretek

The story of kretek begins in the city of Kudus, Central Java, Indonesia. It was here in the 1880s that Haji Jamhari, a local resident, first invented the kretek cigarette, mixing locally-grown cloves with tobacco to invent a cigarette to ease his chest pains.

Kretek—which named after the ‘kemeretek’ sound that the cloves made as they burned, later grown into what presently renowned as a mass industry product and support the livelihood of many families from the centers of cigarette industry, like Kudus, Kediri, and Malang.

Kretek, From Time To Time

Kretek is a unique-one of a kind Indonesian creation. Despite of various kinds of cigarettes invented nationally and internationally, kretek still has its special place in the heart of the enthusiast. For some people, the ritual of “newspaper-coffee-kretek” is still relied as a mood booster to start a busy day.

The Invention of Kretek

Essentially, kretek is a special blend of tobacco and cloves. Although tobacco was introduced to Indonesia in the 17th century by European explorers, it was not until hundreds of year later, that the crucial ingredient of cloves was added.

Kretek production, which started only as a home industry was turned into a massive industry by an entrepreneur called Nitisemito, whom later be known as the “father of kretek industry”. Since that, kretek industry has continually grown bigger from time to time.

The Kretek Revolution

Post-world war, kretek began to decline in the face of foreign influence. By the 1960s, kretek was a dying breed, eclipsed by the popularity of Western cigarettes, especially prestigious international brands.

A fortuitous government intervention saved the fortunes of kretek industry during that time. The government decided to invest some of the money into the development of indigenous industries including kretek makers. The loans significantly saved the life of kretek industry.

Meanwhile, licenses were issued to companies for the automated production of kretek. The uniform size, shape and sleek packaging of this new breed of kretek cigarettes appealed to the upper classes and by the ‘70s kretek was competing directly with foreign brands. The clove cigarette, once a peasant’s pleasure, had been successfully reinvented as a sophisticated smoke, a middle and upper class luxury.

Kretek Today

Outwardly, the kretek of today is a far cry from the crude hand-rolled products wrapped by dried corn leaves of the 1800s. But behind the enhancement of attractive modern packaging and new, innovative flavors, the essential enjoyment of a kretek smoke remains unchanged. This classic experience continues to appeal to new generations of customers both domestically and internationally.

The kretek industry is presently the largest employer in Indonesia, with over 500 active kretek manufacturers employing an estimated 180,000 people to produce some 2,000 brands. New flavors and tastes are constantly coming onto the market as modern research and development methods are employed to create new kretek products. More recently, European food-flavoring companies have developed a range of flavors especially for the kretek industry.

As such, kretek products are widely consumed through the Indonesian archipelago as an everyday indulgence. With so many brand and flavors available, kretek is consumed by consumers of all classes. Some brands are aimed at the lower classes, while others have cultivated a distinctly high-end image.

Additionally, a growing international audience has come to know and appreciate the delights of kretek. For international smokers in particular, kretek is likely to be a select indulgence, one reserved for special occasions. Another demographic shift has been the emergence of female kretek smokers, a phenomenon unthinkable a hundred years ago.

In short, kretek has successfully evolved and changed to keep with the times, without losing touch with its traditional roots.

Source : adapted from Hanusz, Mark. Kretek: The Culture and Heritage of Indonesia's Clove Cigarettes, Singapore: Equinox Publishing (Asia) Pte. Ltd. (2000)