Late last year I embarked on a whirlwind trip through Papua New Guinea, Java, Sulawesi, and Sumatra. Though the whole trip was memorable, my time in Sulawesi was magical. Besides the fact that it is a place of remarkable beauty, culture, and coffee, I also consider it home. Having spent most of my childhood in Sulawesi, I am always thrilled to return.
I arrived with an empty stomach on the first flight of the morning so I asked my host, Darwis, if we could head into Makassar for a bowl of coto before the 8 hour drive to Toraja. One of the awesome things about Indonesia is that practically every town has a unique dish (or two) that it is known for. Makassar – its coto. Here it is :
Satiated, we hit the road. First up the coast through Pare-Pare and then a turn inland and up through the ‘spine’ of South Sulawesi: passing through Enrekang, Makale, and finally arriving in Rantepao late in the night.
The following two days were spent traversing the windy steep hills north of Rantepao. We set out to meet some of the most respected farmers and producers in Toraja, observing the fascinating system of trade and processing. Coffee is mostly sold at the local markets, in a semi-processed state. Because this coffee hasn’t been completely dried yet, it is of the utmost importance that a close inspection verifies that the coffee is free of mold and fermentation – two common culprits in these humid highlands.
The remaining processing determines a great deal of the flavors in Toraja coffee. Traditionally, the parchment (the layer between seed and fruit) is removed while the coffee is wet and then dried on patios. This process, giling basah (wet-hulling), results in a heavy bodied, earthy, and spicy cup – such as is the case with our delicious Sumatra coffee.
There is one producer that has developed a different method of processing, drying the coffee completely before hulling. This is common practice for the washed coffees of Central America and East Africa, but relatively rare in Indonesia. In addition, a painstakingly thorough system of quality control ensures that only the very best coffee makes the grade.
This is one of the most elaborate systems of coffee process I have ever witnessed. Needless to say, the results are fascinating – a cup with some of the character you might expect for the region: spicy, complex, and heavy, but with a distinct sweetness, brightness, and clarity unusual for Indonesian coffees. We secured the purchase of a fantastic peaberry lot from the height of the harvest which is available now at all Vita locations and online.