February 3, 2015 by beanerbar
We’re always on the lookout for new coffees with potential for greatness. So, despite having not purchased coffee from the tiny nation of East Timor in the past eight years, we were eager to try coffees from Lacau and Huapu after hearing an importer rave about them. At once vibrant and syrupy, these coffees are like nothing we’ve ever tasted from East Timor. In Huapu, look for notes of maple syrup, ripe fruit, and white pepper.Had you asked us a year ago to describe coffee from East Timor, the answer would probably have begun with vague references to muted acidity and heavy body and ended with the caveat that we haven’t tasted much coffee from the island since Counter Culture stopped buying what long-time customers of ours might remember as Maubesse in 2006.Back then, coffee from Timor was an alternative to Sumatran coffee—the two islands are close geographically and until East Timor’s independence in 2001, they belonged to the same country, Indonesia. Though Sumatra was by far our best-selling single-origin coffee, we never developed much of a market for coffees from East Timor, and, eventually, lackluster sales combined with inconsistencies in quality, complex logistics and distance, led us to stop buying the coffee.
Eight years later, we are happy to re-introduce East Timor to our list of origins in a completely different context: This coffee won’t compete with Sumatra because we don’t currently source coffee from Sumatra, and, while the body is still creamy, its undeniable acidity and stone-fruit flavors couldn’t be further from the flat, muted character of the olden days. It comes from smallholder farmers who grow coffee organically between 1,350 and 1,800 meters, which is higher elevation than most island coffees and undoubtedly contributes to the coffee’s tangy brightness.
We bought a container of coffee from these producers this year and would have bought more but for the fact that they’ve never sold to the United States before and their organic certificate is for the Japanese market, not ours. Next year we’ll be able to sell it as certified organic, which will allow us to buy more and use it in more products—and we can’t wait to start developing this potential.
Letefoho, East Timor
Coffee has likely existed and been cultivated in Timor since the 17th century. The island was first colonized and split up by the Dutch—controlling West Timor—and the Portuguese—controlling East Timor. East and West Timor continue to be sovereign states. East Timor was actually the first sovereign state of the 21st century, gaining independence in 2001. There are six major coffee growing regions in East Timor, and estimates have their coffee production currently at 160,000 bags or 550 containers of coffee.
The road from colonization to independence was tricky for East Timor, and the country continues to face a lot of socio-economic and political challenges. As East Timor finds its bearings, it is particularly aware of its need to provide for the large percentage of young people living there—50% of whom are under 30 years old.
Residents speak Portuguese; the native language, “Tetum;” and Indonesian. Language divisions mirror wealth divisions—there are few wealthier folks who speak Portuguese while the majority speak Tetum or Indonesian.
No one from Counter Culture has ever been to East Timor, so our connection to and knowledge of this coffee arrives by way of the coffee’s exporter, MTC Group. We have MTC to thank for introducing us to the Colbran family of Papua New Guinea, and the company’s record for sourcing great coffees from Oceania is unsurpassed. In East Timor, MTC has teamed up with a non-governmental organization that has been working to build infrastructure in Letefoho and the Ermera region since the country achieved independence in 2001. The current goal of this public-private partnership is to expand the export markets for coffee farmers.
Elevation: 1,350 – 1,600 meters
Post-Harvest Process: Washed
Harvest Time: June 2014 – October 2014