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.
There is a story behind every cup of coffee – and it’s easy to lose it in the complexity of labels and terminology that are foreign to our ears. Washed process. (Okay?) Caturra variety. (What’s that?) Narino, 2100 meters above sea level. (Is that important?)
Yellow Caturra, a variety that matures to a bright yellow, is part of the varieties found in the Inga Aponte blend. Photo credit Ally Coffee Importers.
These are all facts about a coffee, but they don’t tell you the story behind it. If you knew a little more, you could start to have a personal relationship with a coffee. You could understand that a person grows it, processes it, and sells it. And understand how buying one specific bag of coffee can help change the lives of those who grew it.
So, I’d like to start out talking about a coffee we recently released: Colombia Inga Aponte. You could look at the name and rightfully be entirely clueless as to what that means. You may know where Colombia is (South America). You may or may not know that there has been recent civil unrests / guerilla activity / recent peace talks in country. You may also be familiar with the pop culture shows that are showcasing stories about the drug cartel and lore in the country. Little do you know that this coffee (and many coffees across the world) are a real example of what we see in those shows.
Parchment coffee drying on raised beds in a solar drier. Also, a perfect napping place for cats. Photo credit Ally Coffee Importers.
Imagine being afraid to go outside at any point except for broad daylight. Imagine fearing guerillas coming by, taking your entire harvest, and having no choice but to let them take it. Even worse, imagine being forced into a trade simply because you live in the wrong area.
This was the case with the Inga tribe living around Aponte, Nariño. The Inga, an indigenous people descended from the Incans of Peru, were forced directly into the drug trade simply because of where they lived. Rogue groups took control of their land. The people here really had little choice but to cooperate. As a farming community, they knew how to grow crops, so they were forced to grow poppies for opiates. Without much choice, they had to partake in the drug manufacturing business.
Ripe cherry (both red and yellow) waiting to be processed. Photo credit Ally Coffee Importers.
Thankfully, the political atmosphere has changed in the last few years. The Inga people have been able to work their way out of the drug trade and transition to another sustainable (and local) crop: Coffee. This area of Colombia has some of the best soil and growing conditions in the world, and quality coffee buyers search for cup quality and complexity like this. Our friends at Ally Coffee have been collaborating with farmers in Aponte, paying premium for their quality of cherry, and teaching them techniques to further improve their coffee (which then increases their price point, meaning they can make a more sustainable income).
Coffee farmer Bernardino Grijalba holding a certificate noting the score (Q 85.5) is Specialty Coffee Grade.Photo credit Ally Coffee Importers.
That is the case with the lot that we selected this year, which was an experiment in processing. We call this a “Cherry Washed Process.” Ripe coffee is picked off of the tree, and before the beans are pulped out of the cherry, the allow the whole fruit to rest for 12-24 hours. This resting starts a bit of fermentation and imparts a subtle fruitiness and mouthwatering sweetness. This coffee expresses the variety (Caturra) perfectly: Floral, nutty, chocolate, with subtle fruit notes.
In coming blogs, you will notice a theme of coffee and relationships. Coffee is not just a thing that we sell. It is a lifestyle that needs us to take care of and collaborate with our partners, both here in Columbus and across the world. It is important for us to express that relationship that we here have at Mission, as we continue to grow and improve the quality of coffees that we offer.