Coffee Origin: Timor-Leste (History, Farmers, Varietals & Production)
In the July 2020 issue, we featured a coffee from Propeller Coffee Co. out of Toronto Ontario, sourced from the origin of Timor-Leste. It was our first time ever featuring a coffee from the region – but it wasn’t just new to us.
“I was pleasantly surprised when we found it,” shared Jonathan Cox, Head Roaster at Propeller Coffee Co., on the Kailitlau from Timor-Leste.
“Timor is a new origin for us, so this is the first one I've gotten to roast myself and cup extensively.”
“Obviously, Timor has a very long history of coffee cultivation and even plays an important part in the history of specialty coffee, but like many of those very early coffee origins (Sumatra, Java, Yemen), it hasn't yet developed a reputation in specialty circles for high-quality lots. So, it was a nice surprise and will definitely have me looking out for more great coffees from Timor in the future.”
Some of the doubts surrounding this coffee origin are due to the varietal. The Timor varietal has roots tied to the Robusta coffee species.
“Honestly, I was worried about it because it's a hybrid varietal, but if there's any trace of a negative impact from it on the flavour profile, I'm not tasting it. Just goes to show that almost any varietal of coffee can produce a delicious product if it's well-suited to where it's planted and properly treated by the producers.”
“Coffees like this are what make coffee roasting fun.”
With our feature of the coffee, we included this deep dive into the origin, in case this was your first time experiencing coffee from the origin too.
History with Coffee
Through most of the country’s modern history, coffee has played a large role in the development of Timor-Leste’s economy and position as a colonized entity. Portuguese colonizers began taking an interest in growing coffee in the region in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This was met with resistance from the people of Timor-Leste (known at the time as Portuguese-Timor), as the profits of farming were seen only by the landowners and colonizers, while native harvesters were paid almost nothing for their work. This was a structure that did not end until the country won its independence for the first time in 1975.
Accounting for approximately 80% of Timor-Leste’s annual exports, the country produces more than 6 million kg of coffee a year. It is also the single largest grower of organic coffee in the world. As the country never introduced pesticides and opted for a wilder style of growing, 100% of the coffee from Timor-Leste is shade-grown and certified organic.
While specialty coffee in Timor-Leste is still young, farmers and enthusiasts alike have worked together to strengthen and grow the community. Formed in 2016, the Timor-Leste Coffee Association (ACTL) held their first coffee festival that year centred around the country's first-ever cup quality competition. It has since returned annually.
The Timor Varietal
Timor is the name of a varietal of coffee that was originally discovered on the island of Timor.
It is a hybrid of Arabica and Robusta and very special for that reason. Taking on the best features of both of its parents, the Timor varietal has the more delicate and sweet flavours of an Arabica coffee, while it is resistant to coffee leaf rust thanks to its genetics inherited from Robusta.
While coffee grown in Timor-Leste is almost exclusively processed with the washed method, as production becomes easier, more efficient and the overall amount of coffee produced increases, farmers will have more resources and coffee than ever to experiment with.
Like many coffees grown in Southeast Asia, coffees from Timor-Leste can have a more classical earthy taste, but with proper care and processing, the very best coffees the country has to offer are sweet, smooth, full-bodied and chocolatey. As the next decade progresses, the quality of coffee that Timor-Leste is set to produce is only looking to get better and better.