Many fans of Indonesian coffee revel in the deep and earthy characteristics found in the coffee of the famous production regions of this island nation. Wet hulled Gayo and Lintong coffees from Sumatra are the first that come to mind for most people in the industry when they are seeking out a fitting Indonesian coffee. We’ll get to those in a moment, because there are some hidden jewels amongst the coffees from this alluring archipelago, and not all of them are wet hulled. What’s more, these washed coffees (that’s right, washed Indonesian coffee!) eschew the usual flavor characteristics of the wet hulling process, and reveal an unexpected and enjoyable dimension. They might even win over the hearts and minds of naysayers, but don’t take my word for it; read more about pelangi kopi Indonesia (the rainbow of Indonesian coffee) below.
One of our most consistently high scored and delicious coffees from Indonesia comes from the famed Tana Toraja area. PT Toarco Jaya is one of the foremost suppliers from this area, and sources coffee from the mountains that surround a large bowl-shaped valley with the city of Rantepao at its center.
The typical path for the coffee in this region is to be sold by volume at a regional market and resold by weight (or sometimes by volume again) at the giant Pasar Bolu market in Rantepao. This confers benefit to each person in the supply chain, but doesn’t usually add too much value. Some resellers perform a cursory hand selection of defects, but this isn’t always as thorough as specialty coffee lovers would prefer.
Toarco Jaya circumvents this process not only by growing coffee on their own Pedamaran Plantation which surrounds their processing facility, but also by sourcing coffee from trusted producers throughout the region. While most of their coffee comes from these surrounding farms, their quality control is so stringent that they have made a name for themselves in specialty coffee by upholding these standards over the course of more than 40 years.
This year’s arrivals are no less stellar, displaying the expected heavy sweetness at darker roast levels, and curious tropical fruit and ethereal aromatics at lighter roast levels. Truly a crowd pleaser in a cup.
This coffee is named for Rante Karua (Mount Karua) in the Bittuang district of Tana Toraja Regency, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Sulotco Jaya Abadi’s major processing facility resides in the valley of Bolokan, roughly translated as the type of runny nose one gets on a very cold day. Bolokan certainly gets its fair share of cold days (from the tropical perspective at least), as it resides at 1500 meters above sea level. Sulotco, the company responsible for managing the production of this coffee, also produces Robusta, Jember, and other varieties of coffee alongside the usual S-795 Arabica. The road to this processing facility is extremely rough and rocky with the nearest major city being Rantepao, about 4 hours distant due to unpaved roads and obstructions in the rainy season. The trip is worth it, however, as this coffee is higher grown than most Toraja coffee. Rante Karua rests at 2700 meters above sea level, and its surrounding productions areas are at roughly 1700 meters above sea level.
Our notes on the preshipment of this coffee marked it as particularly resplendent. Clean, sweet, floral, spicy… this coffee left us thinking “why can’t they all be like this?!” This coffee is delicious, and easily one of the better coffees available from Sulawesi. For those willing to go beyond the cup and make the trip, it’s also an incredible view from the top of Rante Karua, If you can’t make the trip halfway around the world, worry not; sitting with a cup of this fine coffee is a trip unto itself.
Though Flores is a lesser-known coffee origin, it was one of the earliest contacted islands in the Indonesian archipelago for colonists. The Portuguese came to Flores as early as the 16th century, and mixed with the local population. They did this so thoroughly that by the 18th century, the population was almost completely trilingual. By this time, the inhabitants of Flores were speaking their native tongues as well as the previously introduced Malay trade language and fluent Portuguese. Aside from the Portuguese colonists, early hominids known as Homo floresiensis occupied the island as early as 100,000 years ago. They were displaced around 12,000 years ago due either to the arrival of modern humans, a catastrophic volcanic eruption, or a complete absence of coffee until the mid-19th century. Most likely it was a combination of the three.
Flores is still changing quickly, along with the rest of Indonesia. More attention is being given to the development of infrastructure, and better roads have improved the reliability of transportation for the people and the goods they produce. Speaking of which, the Flores Famasa Washed is an example of some of the new coffee being brought to market from Flores, and is the result of increased attention to detail during processing.
The deep sweetness in this coffee reminded us of brownie batter, and nearly everyone commented on the zesty citrus quality that this coffee displayed. Orange marmalade, lime, orange juice, and orange zest were all in our notes. Perhaps not common for an Indonesian coffee, but maybe this style will prove to be common in the new generation of Flores coffees… We’re all eager to see what the future brings for this origin!
While actually a part of Micronesia region, and not the country of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea is home to some amazing and underrepresented coffees. It is for this reason that we have included these two splendid PNG offerings.
Kimel Estate is located above 1500 meters, situated between the two highest peaks in the country of Papua New Guinea, Mount Wilhelm and Mount Giluwe. Kimel Estate produces fully washed coffee, which is sun dried on patios and immaculately graded. Though a full range of flavors can come from these coffees, a fair majority of them have a curious herbal streak running through them which is totally unlike their wet hulled neighbors to the West. Tamarind and lemon are some of the more common notes, but the rare coffee will have a distinct green tea flavor, or even a chive-like spiciness.
Lime, basil and sage herbal notes are ever-present, and bright lemongrass, tamarind, and orange acidity shine in this particular coffee. This lot can be compared favorably to an East African coffee at moments, as zesty marmalade and ripe peach come through clearly. What sets it apart is the unique herbal flavor; I kept coming back for sips, trying to put my finger on that flavor. Curious and delicious; I may or may not have taken the rest of the sample roast home with me after the cupping…
Another interesting and perhaps even more accessible coffee from Papua New Guinea, the Timuza A/X is rife with sweet and spicy notes that just happen to be seasonally appropriate. Sticky sweet maple, vanilla, and pecan bring to mind a pecan pie. Raisin, spice and sweet herbs give an impression not unlike a good mincemeat pie. This coffee isn’t savory in the least, however. Look for plenty of nectarine and citrus acidity that provides a nice counterpoint to all the sweet spiciness. And this is only a small slice of the pie; keep checking back for more lots, as we get them all year round due to the prolific production of Papua New Guinea.
As promised, we have included a few wet hulled lots for the traditionalists out there. The three coffees below were the most outstanding of the wet hulled preshipments we have received in the last two months.
It wouldn’t hurt to have another special Sulawesi selection on this list! This especially sweet wet hulled Sapan blew us away as a preshipment, and we are looking forward to having it be one of our better arrivals from this part of the world.
Sapan is one of the favored regions for Toraja coffee, as it is a direct shot North from Rantepao, the major regional trading post for coffee. While it isn’t quite as high as the Rantekarua area, there seems to be a bit more rainfall here, as much of the coffee production is on the windward side of a valley that overlooks the greater Rantepao area. Abundant rainfall also makes the danau kecil (small lake) near this location possible. Torajaland is generally quite arid, and coniferous trees dominate the landscape.
This tart, sweet, and floral coffee is quite different from the Rantekarua in flavor as well. Very typical caramelized sugar flavors are graced with topnotes of grape and hard candy. If we were to recommend a truly sweet coffee from this region, this would be the one.
Not every coffee needs to be a surprise; sometimes consistency and a healthy regard for convention can be refreshing. The Lintong Wahana Estate is just such a coffee, does what you’d expect of a Lintong coffee, and does it very well indeed. Lintong coffees can leave a dry sensation on the palate, but this lot is clean, herbal, and has a nice baker’s chocolate finish. So for those of you who made it this far and were still looking for something a bit more accessible, this is your coffee! A classic Indonesian coffee fan’s Lintong.
Some lots get all the luck. When we tasted this coffee as a preshipment, we noted all the expected characteristics of a wet hulled Sumatran coffee: heavy, herbal, sweet, and thick. One thing set this lot apart, however. Everyone thought it was almost too clean. Too clean, you ask? This new school Indonesian coffee offers more than the expected, and sacrifices the earthy undertones for sweet tropical fruit. Ripe yellow mango sweetness lurks in the background. It might be sparkling clean, but it’s certainly not minimalist.
The Ketiara Coop is known for having some of the cleanest wet hulled Gayo coffees, and has built upon this reputation for the past few years. Their processing station rests at 1350 meters above sea level, with most production areas surrounding it at even higher elevations.