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Origin Stories: Timor-Leste


For many years, when asked about typical origins of speciality coffee, one would usually think of East African and South and Central American countries. It’s hard to count the number of times I’ve had a conversation about how delicate and floral an Ethiopian can be; how juicy and mouth-watering Kenyans are, or how a Colombian is an everyday sure shot. It always left me wondering about the Asian continent however, surely a big place like that would have something to brag about? As time went on, it seemed that wasn’t the case with Asian coffees continuing to be a rare sight on speciality cafes’ shelves and in their hoppers.

Fortunately, this seems to no longer be the case, with more beans from interesting and unique origins finding their way to our neck of woods. It’s become more common for a local cafe to offer a great tasting coffee from Papua New Guinea; another roastery that a friend works for used to have a Taiwanese Gesha on offer and I’m sure some of you might be familiar with our fantastic Yiwu from China, seeing how exceptionally popular it’s been and how the sack grows smaller every day. It pleases me to say that pretty soon we’ll be able to include another solid player from that part of the world in our lineup.

Timor-Leste or East Timor is a Southeast Asian island country located between Australia and Indonesia with an interesting history of growing coffee that dates back to the 19th century when the plant got introduced by Portuguese colonists. However, the local population had little to do with it apart from harvesting until the country regained independence in 2002. Since then the industry has been steadily growing to become 24% of the Timor-Leste economy with coffee beans accounting for about 80% of the country’s total exports.

Several factors make Timorese coffee stand out from the crowd. One of them is the unique way in which it’s grown, in almost wild-like plantations where the coffee trees are allowed to grow freely without much intervention from the farmers. That includes the lack of use of fertilisers and pesticides, as they’ve never been introduced which makes the coffee passively organic. Another one is the variety cultivated on the island, the Timor Hybrid which is a naturally occurring, spontaneous hybrid of Arabica and Robusta. Taking the best qualities of its parents, the hybrid gives high yields of high-quality coffee beans while benefiting from disease resistance, which led to its popularity outside of Timor-Leste too, for example as a basis for the Colombian Catimor variety. These factors coupled with the fact that all coffee is shade-grown at high altitudes lead to Timorese coffee being amongst the 1% of highest quality coffees grown in the world, despite the country’s low-quality volcanic soil and short rain season. Further investment from the government and outside sources in recent years brings a promise of Timor-Leste becoming a solid producer of outstanding coffees and that makes us only more excited to bring some of them to you soon. Stay tuned!