I used to go out of my way to avoid coffees from Southeast Asia. There was something about the flavor profile that just didn’t appeal to me. The notes were grassy, earthy, complex, and something my palate couldn’t quite discern. There were reasons for this—for example, the typical coffee processing style used in Southeast Asia (called “wet hull process”) is what gives these coffees their unique character. It’s like trying Scotch for the first time when you’re a die-hard Bourbon drinker. It’s not sweet, round, or floral. It’s harsh, gamey, woodsy, even. And I didn’t like it.
But when I was searching for new coffees a while ago, a few of my coworkers raved about one from Sulawesi.
“Dude, it’s like blackberries and chocolate. It’s fully washed, so it doesn’t have that funk,” they said.
Skeptical, I ordered a sample. Turns out, this coffee tastes just as advertised. Here’s the story behind this super-clean coffee from Asia.
A small mill used to remove the fruit of the coffee cherry. This one is human powered. Photo credit: Cafe Imports
Pulped and "washed" coffee dries on a patio in parchment. Photo credit: Cafe Imports
Sulawesi is an island in the archipelago country of Indonesia. It’s home to the better-known islands of Sumatra, Bali, and Java. Sulawesi houses highlands that are 1400+masl, which is perfect growing altitude for coffee. These highlands are known as Tana Toraja, or “land of the Toraja,” named for the indigenous people who live there. Most of the coffee farms in this region are small. And while these farmers can certainly grow coffee well, they don’t grow enough to export themselves. Yet, the variety that’s cultivated there—S-795 (commonly known as “Jember”)—has ideal genetics for disease resistance, good yield, and quality cup profile.
. One of the many producers who delivers coffee to the PT Toarco mill. Photo credit: Cafe Imports
That’s where the PT Toarco mill comes into play. This mill, a Japanese-Indonesian venture, creates a coffee that has one of the highest-quality standards in Indonesia. Their mill focuses on drying coffee to low moisture, fully washing, and then hulling the coffee. It’s a process that’s nearly identical to the style we see out of super-clean tasting coffees, like those from Central and South America.
Coffee producer delivering parchment coffee to the dry mill. . Photo credit: Cafe Imports
I think this will be one of our most approachable coffees of the year. It has notes that will appeal to earthy Sumatra/PNG drinkers, as well as those who enjoy bright and bold Colombia and Central Americas. The body of this coffee is rich and creamy, like milk chocolate, and drinks with the mouthwatering texture of a ripe melon. The acidity is soft and floral, similar to a grape. Overall, this will be one of our most balanced coffees. If you’ve never had a Sulawesi coffee before, we highly recommend checking this one out.