I’d like to occasionally profile a coffee-growing country, where the current situation merits special attention from coffee consumers, whose purchase of sustainable coffee from the country can provide extra benefit. I’ll try to include these items: the current status, why your purchase will help, cultivation and characteristics of coffee in the country, and some links to sustainable coffees. You can usually expect the C&C tasting panel to follow up with a review of one or more coffees from the country.
I will start with East Timor, half of one of the easternmost coffee-growing islands in Indonesia.
Situation: Once a Portugese colony, which was invaded by Indonesia in 1975, only a few days after declaring independence. For over 20 years, conflict and clashes gripped the island as the Timorese resisted the Indonesians. East Timor joined the UN as an independent nation in 2002, but clashes continue, currently involving violence between eastern and western soldiers that is at a crisis stage requiring international intervention. Some background can be found at BBC News.
The role of coffee: East Timor’s economy has been crippled by the ongoing fighting, and its people are among the poorest in the world. Coffee is one of the most important mainstays of the East Timorese economy. In 1994, with help from USAID, the Cooperativa Cafe Timor was organized, and is now the largest single-source producer of organically certified coffee in the world. It has 20,000 farm families and employs another 3,000 local people during processing time, about 25% of the population! Starbucks has been a major customer of East Timor coffee; it was used
in their Arabian Mocha Timor blend, which is currently listed as out of stock. May and June are harvesting time for coffee in East Timor, and the current wave of violence has nearly stopped production, with coffee not making it to the processing mills, many of which are unmanned due to the fighting.
Coffee Review notes: “Buying a Timor coffee at this moment in history means making a small but valuable gesture of support for one of the many peoples of the world caught up in sectarian and political conflict.” Not only does buying specialty coffee from East Timor help the people, it will also help the environment, adding value to biodiverse farmland when so much forest and farmland was napalmed and destroyed in the war.
About East Timor coffee: There are two main growing regions in East Timor, Aifu and the higher altitude Maubesse. The bean grown most often in Timor is a natural hybrid between arabica and canephora (robusta), often called Hibrido Timor or some variation (it is also used to cross with the Caturra variety to make Catimor, which is higher yielding than either parent, but not as good as either one; more on botanical varieties here).
East Timor has some rugged terrain and a very hot climate. Coffee is always grown under shade, the only way the plants would survive. Coffee is grown on small plots, in a primitive and nearly wild state. Because the farmers have not been able to afford chemicals, East Timor coffee is organic.
Coffees are wet-processed in the new mills. However, the 2006 crop is in question due to the current civil unrest described above, and it may be that coffee that comes from East Timor from this season will be in limited supply and dry processed.
Variously described as sweet and nutty, medium-bodied, with a sweet cedar finish, cleaner than Sumatrans, with more acidity than Javas, and generally clean and mild. You can read some reviews of older crops at Coffee Review.
Map image: pbs.org.