Sulawesi is one of the four Greater Sunda Islands and forms part of Indonesia which consists of more than seventeen thousand islands including Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and New Guinea.
Sulawesi was formerly known as Celebes, it was under Dutch control from the early 1600s, along with the rest of Indonesia, until WWII. The name ‘Sulawesi’ possibly comes from the words sula meaning ‘island’ and besi meaning ‘iron’ and they say it may refer to the historical exporting of iron from the iron rich Lake Matano. The name ‘Celebes’ on the other hand, was apparently given to the island by the Portuguese explorers. The name Sulawesi came into common use following Indonesian independence.
COFFEE PRODUCTION IN INDONESIA
Coffee production was first introduced by and dictated by the Dutch and the Dutch East India Company, but it was back in 1750 when the first Typica Arabica seedling plants arrived from the surrounding islands of Java and Sumatra.
By the mid1870s the Dutch East India Company expanded arabica coffee-growing areas in Bali, Sulawesi, and Timor.
Today, most (90%) of Indonesia’s coffee is still grown by smallholders on farms which average one hectare. Many farmers’ cooperatives and exporters are internationally certified to market organic coffee and there are more than 20 varieties of Coffea arabica being grown commercially in Indonesia.
I also think it is really important to note that all arabica coffee in Indonesia is picked by hand whether it’s grown by smallholders or medium sized estates. After harvest, the coffee is processed in a variety of ways. One of the most famous processes takes place in Sumatra and is called Gilin Basah.
THE ORIGIN OF SULAWESI COFFEE
As mentioned above, it was the Dutch who first brought coffee to Indonesia and it is believed that they brought coffee to Sulawesi in around 1850. As the Dutch experimented with trying to grow coffee in various regions of Indonesia, they seemed to hit the jackpot when it came to Sulawesi.
Their undertaking here paid off; the mountainous regions of Sulawesi were uncommon to other Indonesian islands and thus the land lent itself to coffee growing. Both settlers and locals took advantage of these higher altitudes – as we well know, coffee and altitude are best friends!
THE COFFEE GROWING REGIONS OF SULAWESI
There are two main coffee growing regions in Sulawesi. These are the Toraja and Kalossi regions. Both these regions are known for their particularly high-quality beans and what makes these areas appealing to Sulawesi’s coffee farmers is of course the high altitude which ranges from 1300 to 1800+ masl.
The most famous Indonesian coffees are those that come from Sumatra and these have a unique way of being processed. The process is Wet-hulled and is called the Giling Basah process which also lends them their characteristic earthy flavours. On the other hand, Sulawesi, produces primarily washed coffees for export.
The first region, the Kalossi region is located in the south-eastern highlands of the island and coffee here is also grown on small pieces of land. Plot owners grow coffee in their backyards. This ensures that coffee pickers only choose the best coffee cherries, and this gives the coffee a unique taste. Kalossi is a small village, covered in fertile volcanic soil at high altitudes.
I wanted to go into this region in a bit more detail, mainly because our Sulawesi coffee comes from this region and also because this is actually is the most distinguished out of the two regions. Toraja is located in the northern part of South Sulawesi, towards the West of Sulawesi. Basically, near the top of the left leg of the island!
‘Toraja’ means ‘people of the upland’ and refers to the indigenous people that live in the mountains in and around Rante Karua, a volcanic mountain range. Here, the Toraja people are known for their unusually - peak roofed - shaped houses full of elaborate wood carvings. These are called ‘tongkonan’ and the name derives form the word ‘tongkon’ meaning ‘to sit’.
As with many regions of Indonesia, here too, production of coffee is most successful when grown in small plots. It is only around 5% of Sulawesi’s overall production that comes from larger estates and Toraja produces a vast majority of Sulawesi’s coffee.
Our coffee from the Toraja region comes, yes you guessed well, from small holder farmers and is a washed process coffee. The way things work here, is slightly different. How? In 1976 TOARCO, a Japanese-Indonesian joint-venture, introduced the traditional washed process. The water mill and export venture, works perfectly with the small holder farmers in helping them process their coffee, sustain quality and in turn export their coffee.
Toarco owns the Pedamaran Plantation located at 900-1250 masl and basically purchases wet parchment (at 40% moisture) coffees from the small producers at various collection points. These collection points are Perangian, Pango Pango, Minanga and Perindingan. Once the coffee has been collected, it is trucked to the plantation immediately after purchase where the drying process begins. This is done using vertical dryers as well as guardiolas or horizontal dryers – like the ones found and used in Colombia. These mechanical dryers help in maintaining uniform drying and aids a more efficient and clean process. The drying process typically takes 72 hours.
So, if a producer wants to sell their parchment coffee to Toarco, they will need to get certified to the quality standards as far as selective picking, storage, transportation, moisture levels, etc. The farmers are then issued ID cards that allow them to sell their coffee at various purchasing points in the Tana Toraja region during the market week. This is how PT Toarco is able to guarantee quality.
At the same time Toarco is dedicated and focused on providing education and support to its producer partners aka the farmers. In order to receive their ID, the producers receive yearly classes provided by Toarco. Toarco is currently hoping to expand this education to twice yearly and include further education on cherry selection, planting, picking techniques and fermentation.
They also give out awards to producers such as depulpers and other necessary tools at the end of the harvest cycle when they also throw a big huge party to celebrate harvest ending. It is said that 150-200 producers attend the party every year!
In conclusion, Sulawesi coffee can be thought of as Sumatra’s cousin. Part of the same ‘family’, so has the same lovely characteristics including full bodied smoothness. But….it features vibrant flavours and becomes quite complex. And that’s what we love about it! It holds its own!