While last year brought many changes, we’re glad to be able to continue relationships with producers and exporters; especially those we feel like we’re just getting to know. Cafe Brisa Serena Timor-Leste is one of our newest partners, but they’ve been doing some very impressive work around transparency and sustainability in one of the youngest nations on the planet. Not only that, their focus on technical assistance has helped producers achieve higher quality year over year. I contacted Armando de Araújo to get an update on their project with Peace Winds Japan, and to get more detail about the lots we received from them this year.
As an aside, we had planned to meet for SCA last year, as well as to host Jonia Leite Soares, their Business Development Manager as part of a program through the American Council for Education, but clearly COVID-19 had other things planned for us.. read on for more detail on her contributions to Cafe Brisa Serena as well!
If you’d like to learn more about the history of coffee and relatively current events in Timor-Leste, Armando suggested this article.
You can find all the coffees written about below here at this link: Timor-Leste Organic
— Evan Gilman
Last time we talked, you told me a little about how you first met Peace Winds Japan – how have you been working together in the past year?
Since I started to work with Peace Winds Japan, I have learned a great deal and also gained plenty experience on how to help our people, especially coffee farmers in Letefoho, to better their life through income generation. During my work with Peace Winds Japan concentrating on an agricultural program of coffee rehabilitation/maintenance and developing quality of coffee, I became motivated to promote and sell Letefoho coffee to the international market, to represent Timorese products, and to compete with other country’s coffees.
Are there any new projects you are collaborating on?
Yes, we have been working on the coffee maintenance project in Letefoho using the Biopori program to develop soil nutrition to the coffee farms after extreme climate change. Also, the Café Brisa Serena team established a coffee tour to promote Letefoho as a local tourism destination when the government of Timor-Leste declared a state of emergency after the advent of COVID-19 (C-19) cases. Since all the commercial flights have been restricted, all the guests are people who are staying in Timor-Leste. However, more than 100 groups have already visited us after we launched it last June! With this activity we create another income resource to farmers besides selling coffee.
Biopori is an Eco-friendly soil improvement method.
After digging holes between coffee trees in the plantation, the holes are filled up with fallen leaves, humus, and animal dung. This hole prevents the run-off and retains soil moisture very well. After few months, the organic matter turns into rich compost inside the holes and delivers nutrition to the coffee trees.
Cafe Brisa Serena also has a roaster and cafe – how has your cafe changed over the years, and can you tell us a little more about its operations?
Jonia Leite Soares:
Currently Cafe Brisa Serena owns two roasters which mainly serve local coffee consumption and supply roasted coffee beans to most supermarkets, hotels, and restaurants in Dili. The Cafe itself (Letefoho Specialty Coffee Roaster) is built with a small roaster where we are able to roast our beans, offer freshly roasted micro lot coffee, and serve coffee to our customers. Since its opening, Letefoho Specialty Coffee Roaster has served freshly roasted coffee sourced directly from smallholders coffee farmers from Ermera, boost promotion for high quality local coffee from Timor-Leste, offer job opportunities for youth to develop their career in the coffee and hospitality industry and attract demand for high quality local coffee. As the first Specialty Coffee Roaster in Timor-Leste, we have also assisted Timor-Leste Coffee Association on its first formation and support the Association with our coffee equipment for the first National Coffee Quality Competition, along with other coffee materials, offering free coffee education program during the National Coffee Festivals. We have local baristas, roasters and cafe assistants who work on daily operations.
We also provide roasting service for other Cafes around Dili to help our clients serve freshly roasted coffee at their Cafe and ensure the quality of their coffee beans. Currently, we are taking local training organized by Timor Leste Coffee Association to prepare our team members to take the upcoming CQI Course and Exam. As a leading specialty Cafe and Roaster, we are committed to provide our team with opportunities to develop essential skills and knowledge required to excel in the specialty coffee industry and hope to communicate better with our customers and clients in the future.
The majority of our customers are expats, tourists, and locals. Since the global pandemic, we do not receive tourists due to border restriction and mainly our customers are expats and locals who now live and work in Dili.
You recently visited Washington DC to get to know the coffee industry in the United States – can you tell us a little more about that trip and what you learned?
As I have mentioned earlier before my departure, the placement is sponsored by the U.S government and organized by the American Council on Education as part of the Young SouthEast Asian Leadership Professional Fellowship Program. I was selected to participate in this program under the economic empowerment cohort where I choose to focus on supporting our coffee development project and invest my time to learn more about the U.S coffee market.
My placement is at one of U.S Cafe Chain and Roaster, Compass Coffee in Washington D.C. for four weeks. I was placed with the production team, where I was able to work closely with Compass’s Roasters and the entire production team on daily basis, include distribution team and learned some practical experience about working in a Coffee Roastery and Cafe in U.S. and exposed to new knowledge in quality management, roasting, distribution and more importantly I was able to learn more about coffee supply chain.
During my placement, I was able to visit Counter Culture and attend its tasting session, and meet with other coffee importer and exporter from Guatemala which has helped me to develop my understanding about the U.S coffee market and learn more how to establish good long term relationships with coffee buyers and exporters.
It is nice to learn about different market preferences as it will help us to craft our product based on market needs. As I get to taste more coffee from different countries and be exposed to different coffee markets, it helps me to better understand how the market operates and also be aware of the competition.
I have read that Timor-Leste as a nation is now not quite as dependent on coffee as a source of income due to new oil and gas exploration. How has this new development changed life for an average person in Timor-Leste? For a coffee grower?
Yes. Timor-Leste has oil and gas exploration. It is true that the revenue from the oil and gas exploration remains one of the primary sources of revenue for Timor-Leste, which makes the nation more dependent on the natural resource, however Timor-Leste government has the intention of diversifying its economy including coffee export, although it will take some time to realize.
As Timor-Leste is one of the youngest countries in the world, having achieved independence in 2002, most sectors are in need of investment and the government has been putting its highest priority on infrastructure such as building roads and port rather than education, health, tourism and agriculture. In my opinion, the government also needs to put high investment on education, health, tourism especially agriculture to see impacts for the average Timorese who is almost 70% of the total population profession as a farmer.
This led to less support to the agriculture sector which includes coffee production and accordingly most of the coffee farmers are in need of support in terms of enhancing both quality and quantity of the product. Currently international organizations such Peace Winds Japan have been filling this gap and supporting farmers by providing training for quality control as well as buying coffee with fair price.
Although the coffee farmers have not been getting enough support, I still see the future of Timor-Leste is bright due to the presence of many international organizations that have been supporting coffee growers with programs such as rejuvenation and rehabilitation programs for the coffee trees which were planted during Portuguese colonization. Several years ago, we established an association named Timor Coffee Association (Associação Café Timor/ACT) who organizes all coffee producers and farmers in Timor-Leste for supporting many aspects of the coffee sector such as coffee farm maintenance, capacity building for youth, and promoting Timorese coffee to the international market.”
You sent some heartbreaking pictures of the effects of drought and coffee leaf rust there this year – how has the recovery progressed?
Yes, it was very extreme long dry and hot weather in 2019, so that affected most coffee trees in all coffee production areas including Letefoho. In the 2020 harvest, the productivity in all areas of Letefoho decreased after this happened. Fortunately, most of coffee trees have been recovering by themselves but approximately 50% could produce flowers and 50% are still in resting period. As we expect in accordance with past experience, perhaps the coffee trees will produce as normal after two years of resting period.
Meanwhile, we have been doing number of workshops for the coffee farmers about preparing terracing in all coffee farms to catch and reserve the water inside the soil if the same situation happens in the future. Also, we demonstrate the Biopori program of supplying nutrition to coffee trees by adding dried leaves, grass, and cow dung as natural compost. Then, we suggest all farmers observe and remove their coffee trees which have bad branches in order to avoid low productivity and to provide more air circulation to the other trees.
Has there been much change to everyday life with the advent of COVID-19? It sounds like your country has done an amazing job controlling its spread.
Yes, it has. When the first COVID-19 case was confirmed on March 21st, the government immediately declared the state of emergency, and most activities have been restricted. Many companies had to stop their operations, and suspended many workers’ contracts during the lock down, especially hotels, restaurants, taxis, and travel agencies. However, Timor-Leste’s government made an effort to help all communities with subsidiary income such as USD100 cash per family for two months (April and May), and the food distribution to the families who have less than USD500 income per month. Also, international agencies and organizations support us to prevent the virus by installing water tanks in the towns for hand washing, distribution of posters that explain the importance of hygiene practices in 14 different local languages and other measures.
At the same time, the government restricts all international flights since the first case was identified until the present. However, the government gives discretion to Timorese and the people who hold business visas in Timor to enter Timor-Leste, but the government obligates that they must comply with self-quarantine for 14 days. Another thing: Timor-Leste government also obligates all people follow the protocol of C-19 prevention which Timor-Leste Health Ministry announced, which has prevented local transmission in Timor so far.
Can you tell us a little more about the people and the places your coffee comes from, specifically Eratoi, Hatuhei, Lacau, and Lebudu Kraik?
Eratoi, Hatuhei, Lacau, and Lebudu Kraik are located in a village of Ducurai, a part of Letefoho sub-district, Ermera district. The peoples of Letefoho are Mambai ethnicity which is the second largest ethnic group in the larger Austronesian ethnic group (Malayo-Polynesian) in Timor-Leste. Mambai is the second biggest of fourteen mother tongues that exist in Timor-Leste.
16.6% of the total Timor-Leste population speak Mambai, which is spoken throughout the central Timor-Leste territory.
Below is description of each community of the Eratoi, Hatuhei, Lacau, and Lebudu Kraik:
Eratoi (Era: praying, Toi: water in Mambai Language) is an “Aldeia” (sub-village according to the administrative areas specified by the local government) and is divided in three farmers’ groups by PWJ when the coffee project was started in Eratoi. These farmers’ groups are Eratoi 1, 2, and 3. The first generation is indigenous Eratoi people. Most of the coffee trees grown in Eratoi come from Pahata sub-village (a part of Darulete village, Liquiça sub-district, Liquiça district) by their ancestors who were forced to cultivate the coffee trees by Portuguese during colonization. The coffee trees in Eratoi are shaded by naturally growing Ironwood/Casuarina Equisetifolia trees. Eratoi has a mountain named Usululi and the local people there believe it’s a Holy Mountain since it has a water source which supplies the people in Ducurai village for daily use since ages ago.
Hatuhei’ (Hatu: rock and Hei: ravine in Mambai language) The first generation came from Lacuda, one of the sub-villages in Haupu village in Letefoho sub-district. During Portuguese colonization, their ancestors were forced to cultivate coffee trees in Ermera district. The coffee trees come from two places: Pahata sub-village and Fatubessi sub-village located in Hatulia village, Ermera sub-district. In Hatuhei, most of coffee trees are shaded by naturally growing Ironwood.
Lacau is also in Aldeia, where PWJ started the coffee project in 2003. Since the aera is too large to be managed, PWJ separated Lacau to 2 farmers groups, called Lacau 1 and Lacau 2 so that all farmers could access technical assistance on coffee processing. Lacau is composed of two words of Mambai language (La: goes, Cau: pulling). There is a mountain called Assui Lau (Assui: rich, Lau: on the top) that local people in Lacau believe to be a Holy Mountain.
Similar to Usululi, Assui Lau also has a water source that Lacau people use for their daily necessities. The first generation of Lacau came from Letefoho town. They moved to Lacau for growing coffee and farming vegetables, and then they decided to live permanently there until the present. The coffee trees in Lacau were also brought from the same place as Hatuhei by their ancestors during Portuguese colonization. These are shaded by Ironwood as well.
Lebudu Kraik or Leubudu Craik (Leubudu: sitting in a circle, Craik: below/under [easy definition: a discussion under the hill] in Mambai) is a part of Aldeia, Ducurai sub-village, in Letefoho. In Lebudu Kraik, there is a water source on the hill called “Bee Hale” (Bee: water and Hale: Banyan tree in Mambai). The seeds of their coffee trees were brought by their ancestors from Fatubesi village when they were oppressed by Portuguese to cultivate coffee trees. There is another shade tree which is a Giant Albizia tree/Hawaii’s Majestic tree that was brought with the coffee trees at the same time. Also, Lebudu Kraik people have a Holy Mountain called “Kailiti Lau” where the Cristo-Rei (The King of Christ Holly Statue) statue was built. It’s a famous icon and tourism destination in Letefoho sub-district.
Are they known locally for any cultural practices? Perhaps you can tell us more about the Chefe Suco from each location?
As the same with the some Austronesian ethnicities in Timor-Leste, the cultural practices of Mambai peoples are that building an “Uma Lulik” (the sacred tradition house) is completed with an “Ai-Tosa,” which is the wood installed in front of “Uma Lulik.” This includes an offering of alcohol, beef, chicken, and the horn of a buffalo/cow before starting the cultural ceremony. This represents the origin of the Mambai people. The dowry gifts for a fiancée are “Belak,” a traditional gold necklace in the form of a round plate, and cows given to the bride’s family, called “Uma Mane.” The bridegroom’s family is called “Mane Foun.” The bride’s family then returns the gift with a pig and “Tais” (the traditional shawl of Timorese) in accordance with how many gifts were presented by Mane Foun.
For the bereavement tradition, all sons and daughters (in this case called Mane Foun as well) have to arrange two buffalos. One buffalo will be killed to entertain the participants during the funeral and another one will be given as a gift for the members of Uma Mane/origin family. The Uma Mane then present a pig and Tais as a symbolic condolence, and a Belak when his/her parent pass away.
Each Aldeias have the biggest size of Uma Lulik at the place where the community originated from. In Eratoi, the biggest of Uma Lulik is “Leobessi” (Leo: name of the first man who was living in Eratoi and Bessi: iron or strength person). Hatuhei also has a biggest Uma Lulik called “Lokormata” (Lokor: showing self, Mata: eye). In Lacau, the biggest Uma Lulik is called Biur Dimtete which means Biur: the first inhabitant of Lacau, and Dimtete: the house which was built on the top of mountain). Then, for Lebudu Kraik, the biggest Uma Lulik is Nualaka (the name of the first ancestor in Lebudu Kraik).
The Chefe Suco (Chief of Village) or locally called “Xefi Suku,” is the village leader of a government specified administrative area. Chefe Suco candidates are people who gain credence of the people from that area and elected once every five years, in conjunction with the Presidential elections.
In Ducurai, the Chefe Suco is Rafael Soares (a member of PWJ who domiciled in Goulala sub-village). He cooperates with Chefe Aldeia (the chief of sub-village) for leading the communities.
Chefe Aldeia of Eratoi: Julio Pinto (a PWJ coffee member of Eratoi 2 group)
Chefe Aldeia of Hatuhei: Armindo de Deus Maia (a PWJ member and as leader of Hatuhei farmers group),
Chefe Aldeia of Lacau: Rui dos Santos
Lebudu: Celestino Tavares.
These are the people who coordinate between PWJ and coffee farmers in each Aldeia since the program began!