Timor No Leste: Talking to Timor Leste Coffee Farmers

A post from the road while traveling to coffee farms in East Timor (Timor Leste)

East Timor is the independent nation of a mere 1.25 million people that kindly shares its landmass with Indonesia, split down the middle. The separation did not come easy or without violence.

While Timor Leste has matured, there’s something about this place that always seems things are being made up as they go along. And they are open to suggestions. A video loop running in the airport invites you to come to Timor, get free land from the government and build a shipyard. Please, just think about it.

Coffee was mandated by the Portuguese colonial masters to be planted by the rural Timorese. There were some large plantations but generally it was a form of tax on the poor to provide coffee to the large central mills.

Something about coffee here still feels sad in that way. Prices paid for cherry or parchment are not that bad, but if you only have a few hundred trees, what does that amount to? Small farm sizes are just part of the problem; the yield per tree of coffee cherry is incredibly low. A tree produces 500 to 800 grams of cherry per harvest. That’s about 20 cents of fruit!

What’s needed here is new plantings or better-yielding coffee, more organic inputs to the soils, which are very depleted, farmer training for pruning and replanting. It happens on a small scale by coops and private companies but a real political program for the countries coffee farmed is what’s really needed. And that’s not in the works.

I made a quick trip to a new washing station in operation this year in Haupa, near Letefoho town, were we have focused buying in the past. Based on the cupping we did, interrupted by soccer games on the drying patio with the local kids, this crop has some nice cup quality.

Timor coffees aren’t full of crazy top notes, but they are good bittersweet balanced coffees, not too acidic, great viscosity, thick, cocoa-laden, a classic cup.

In addition to being a solid cup, these coffees we are getting are fully traceable, coming from a small scale community project that looks at the goodness of the coffee as part of a bigger goal: making a supply chain from farm to consumer that benefits everyone.

The project is a private effort run by Peter Dougan, who has been in East Timor six years developing his fresh farm produce business to get small village farmers access to the market in the capital Dili. Peter realized that the seasonal produce production, broccoli, beans, lettuce, tomatoes etc, wasn’t enough to sustain farmers. Coffee could compliment their incomes too.

The washing station he runs is in its infancy but a community is coalescing around it, and the coffees are cupping well! We hope to land new crop East Timor coffee November or December this year.

We need to wait for the highest altitude coffees to be processed, and during my visit there was still cherry on the trees in these zones. Once those are processed, cupping and final selection can occur – Thompson

Check out our Coffee Roasting Basics articles:

How To Roast Your Own Coffee
Need a Visual Guide to Determine Coffee Roast Color?
Using Sight to Determine Degree of Roast

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