Thursday, June 10, 2010

Indonesian Coffee Update

Since so many of you have become big fans of our Indonesian coffee offerings from Sumatra and Sulawesi I wanted to give everyone an update to this year's supply. It's sort of a good news, bad news, good news, maybe not so good news kind of thing.

First, a little background. The coffee's we are buying are the result of some serious pulling of strings by long term relationships with our producing partners. It started with our importing partner developing a relationship with an old exporting partner friend of ours. Our importing partner had been bringing in some organic, fair trade certified coffee from the Aceh region of Sumatra. There are two principal suppliers of coffee from this area, one called Gayoland Coffee and the other called Gayo Mountain Coffee. When the importer began working with the folks at Gayo Mountain I remembered that they (Gayo Mountain) had one of the only wet processing mills in Sumatra. It was a project from a number of years ago in an attempt to add quality to the coffee in Sumatra by adopting methods from neighboring Java. For the first time, clean quality coffee could be produced from Sumatra. Trouble was, most coffee roasters here in the States preferred the old, dirty dry processed coffees so they stopped offering the wet processed coffees here. Well, we asked if we could have a run of wet processed coffee and they agreed. This has proven to be a customer favorite: a medium to full bodied coffee with a soft mouthfeel and delicious clove-like aroma notes.

The success of this coffee prompted me to ask about another old favorite of mine, Toraja coffee from Sulawesi. This coffee could fairly be called my first love in coffee. It was rare, it was exotic, it was rare and exotic! It was also confusing. Sometimes I would see it labeled Sulawesi Toraja, other times Celebes Kalossi, and sometimes a combination of both, i.e, Toraja/Kalossi. Another confusing thing about it was the sheer inconsistency of any given lot, sometimes even within a bag the coffee could be wildly different. My first visit there cleared all this up. Celebes is the old Dutch name for the island that has since been changed (back) to Sulawesi with Indonesia's independence. The Celebes name had still had some cachet in the market so many roaster's continued using that name. As for Toraja and Kalossi, these were the two early production areas that had developed a reputation for fine coffees. But the two areas are dramatically different. Toraja, or Torajaland as the locals know it, was an area that the Dutch had introduced coffee to but later abandoned and left the coffee to grow wild in the jungles. The Toraja people began picking and drying this coffee to sell in small quantities. Kalossi, on the other hand, is characterized by small to medium sized coffee farms. While often more consistent than that of the Toraja coffee, there was something quite amazing about Toraja coffee when it was right.

As the fame of Toraja coffee grew the area that could identify itself as Toraja expanded to include many traditional style coffee farms and consequently the coffee lost it's wild character. That is, until our exporting partner decided to do something about it. Having a deep historical knowledge of the area he ventured out and sourced some of the original coffee trees. There are no roads in this region, the coffee must make a four day journey on muleback along twisting, mountain trails. The trees themselves are 150 years old or older, some dating back to the original trees the Dutch brought over nearly 400 years ago. The coffee was branded "White Eagle" after the sacred symbol of the Toraja people. This coffee was offered a few years ago to the American market but unfortunately since there was many cheaper coffees designated Toraja few were willing to step up and pay the price for this exclusive coffee. So, like the Wet Processed coffee we get from Sumatra, the exporter sets up a special shipment for us each year.

Okay, with that behind us, here is the mixed news: The good news first, we have received and approved the pre-shipment sample for this years supply of the Sulawesi Toraja White Eagle. Now it is in the proverbial liminal state of "on the water." This is where the coffee awaits a container to be shipped to the US. Once it arrives and clears customs we will receive an arrival sample and as long as everything is fine we will begin taking delivery. This process may take sixty days or more so we will be out of this coffee for the better part of the summer.

Now the Sumatra. As of this writing we have about a thousand pounds left. That's the sort of good news. But . . . the first sample was rejected and we are awaiting a sample from the second run. So this one's a bit up in the air. I feel fairly confident that the next sample will be fine but who can say what the future holds. When this thousand pounds runs out, and with Sulawesi already out putting more pressure on Sumatra sales, we will be out for easily ninety days. At this point it is a big unknown with a lot of variables out of our control.

Many may ask, why don't you just get another Sumatra/Sulawesi? Well, for the Sumatra's, there is no other Wet Processed, and we really dislike the taste of Dry Processed coffees. As for the Sulawesi, there are other Toraja's available but none with the flavor we have come to expect. So, in either case it would be selling something we don't feel good about and we didn't get into this business to sell stuff we don't like. I would like to say just be patient and all will be fine, but in this case, not only is the fat lady not singing, she isn't even on stage yet.