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.
Watermelon, apricot, & honeysuckle
Roasted for balance, not acidity
Origin - Timor Leste (East Timor)
Altitude - 1800 - 1900masl
The easiest way to understand how altitude affects a cup of coffee is this: The higher the altitude the harder the tree has to work to produce fruit. This lengthens the time between flowering and the ripening of the coffee cherries and it's this longer time that allows more complex flavours to develop.
Variety - Typica, Timor Hybrid
The Typica variety is one of the main four branches of the coffee family tree and is considered the original variety from which all others are derived. It originated in Yemen, from where it was spread out by the Dutch to Java, East Timor and the Caribbean. It is a tall coffee tree, reaching up to 5m in height and characterized by large beans and a low yield. Despite these factors it is still widely grown in different parts of the world due to being able to produce excellent results and, because of that, has many different names like sumatra, arabigo, criollo and many others.
Timor Hybrid 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. Classically this variety would display more herbaceous and earthy flavour notes in the cup, but other factors such as the altitude, shade-growth, care in harvest and processing have helped to produce something far more juicy and floral.
Processing method - Washed & Dried on African Beds
For many within the coffee world washed coffees are considered the gold standard.
Coffee cherries are first pulped in a machine called a pulper (creative, I know) which removes the outer layers of the fruit leaving behind the bean and mucilage. The coffee is then fermented in water for a time (usually one or two days at least) and then washed to remove the mucilage.
The washed process is regarded by many as producing a superior coffee compared with other processing methods, however the process requires a great deal of skill and water to produce, making it costly and also far less environmentally friendly than the Natural method.
As the fruit of the cherry is removed so early in this process the flavour profile is quite unaffected by the fruit meaning varietal, soil, weather, ripeness, processing skill, and drying are of the utmost importance in determining cup quality.
It is for these reasons washed coffee is considered so highly amongst coffee professionals - a good washed coffee displays a level of care and skill, an attention to detail, and a love of coffee that can't be ignored.
African beds, or African drying beds, keep the coffee raised off the grown, allowing air to circulate more easily around the coffee. This helps the coffee dry more evenly and results in a cleaner, more consistent coffee, with less defects. The added bonus of this method is it requires far less effort to produce the arguably better results.
Restricting the sunlight the coffee trees receive works in a similar way to growing coffee at higher altitudes. The lower level of sunlight slows the maturation of the coffee cherries, helping to concentrate the sugars and other complex flavonoids that contribute to the final cup quality.
This particular coffee is grown organically beneath the shade of the Paraserianthes falcataria trees, native to East Timor and used especially for their qualities as shade-providing trees for coffee farming.
Beyond the benefits to the cup, shade grown coffee also provides for a friendlier environment for birds and other wildlife, makes the coffee plants less susceptible to pests and provides a naturally enriched soil, eliminating the need for chemical fertilisers.
Eratoi is a cooperative made up of 15 farmers, led by David Soares. Together with the 14 other members: Abel de Oliveira Pinto, Abrao de Deus, Eduardo L. Pereira, Joao da Costa Soares, Domingos de Deus II, Miguel Lemos, Adolfo de Deus, Jose Mariano de Jesus, Agusto de Deus, Joao Felisberto de Deus, Manuel de Deus, Agostinho de Deus, Orlando de Deus, and Miguel da Graca, they work hard to ensure the best quality cherries are picked and then processed carefully.
After harvest the coffee is pulped by hand and fermented for 24-36 hours before being dried on African beds over a period of 10-14 days. African beds are still a fairly unique approach in East Timor, allowing better air circulation and more even drying of the bean than the more traditional method of being dried simply on patios or tarpaulin sheets.
Our partners in acquiring this coffee, Karst Organics is one of a small number of progressive, new-wave coffee buyers. Tightly integrated at origin, they deal exclusively with East Timorese coffees allowing them to narrowly focus on the exceptional potential they offer.
Karst Organics have invested heavily in the Letefoho region, building a new centralised processing facility, a new storage facility, and as touched on elsewhere new pulping machinery. They conduct training programs around quality coffee processing and introduced cupping to the farmers to give them a better understanding of what they produce and how the end consumers experience it – this insight going a long way to helping the growers understand why improving the quality of the produce is important.
New water infrastructure has provided constant and clean water for the coffee processing facility, while at the same time providing the local community to a clean water source they didn’t have before.
Not only paying a premium for coffee, in 2019 Karst employed four locals in the processing facility, paying them 40% above the national minimum wage (frankly this is better than most people working in cafes in the UK get) and in 2020 recruited two Project Managers from the Letefoho region with extensive coffee processing experience, paying them double the national minimum wage. In a country where unemployment is huge problem, Karst believes employing locally is of the utmost importance for the fledgling economy and growing speciality coffee industry in East Timor.
Karst have collaborated with an agronomist in East Timor to help educate farmers in regards to improving upon the sustainability of their farms, both in the sense of business and environmentally. Farmers are incentivised to improve their methods and quality, with schemes aimed at rewarding those who consistently supply high quality coffee achieving cupping scores above 85.
We hope to have a long-lasting relationship with Karst, their approach to business very much mirrors our own – transparency, fairness, quality, environmental respect. Together we hope to educate people as to what goes on “behind the scenes” of their cup, and to better understand the true scale and value of their favourite beverage.
Origin photographs provided by Karst Organics.