Today’s cup comes to us from that mystical, magical region, Tana Toraja, Sulawesi—a region of the world that is shrouded in mystery. South Sulawesi is a place of tremendous beauty and home to some of the cleanest and best tasting coffees in all of Indonesia, especially those that come from an area called Tana Toraja.
One organization that is helping to clear away the fog and bring transparency to the area is PT TOARCO Jaya.
PT TOARCO Jaya, a pioneering company established in 1976, has played a critical role in improving quality in the area. Toarco takes a methodical and progressive approach to coffee development and much of their success is a direct result of their investment in local farmers. They regularly provide free training to help local producers increase both their farm husbandry skills and their knowledge of post-harvest quality control. In addition, TOARCO operates a free seedling distribution program that gives farmers access to high quality varieties each year.
TOARCO’s presence in the region has also led to an increase in transparency and opportunity for the growers throughout Toraja. Not only do they pay stable and reliable quality-based premiums for the coffees they buy, Toarco also publishes the rates they are paying on a weekly basis to help prevent exploitation by collectors. Growers can sell coffees to TOARCO at remote purchasing points close to the growing areas (eliminating the need to travel to town) or deliver to the buying station in Rantepao where coffees are graded, roasted, and cupped on the spot and farmers get immediate feedback about the quality of their coffees.
For the last 20 years TOARCO has been purchasing coffee only from registered farmers and specific collectors who have agreed to their strict quality standards. Every lot is cupped and re-cupped, and all of the coffees are dried in parchment to maximize quality. This is costlier than the more expedient wet-hulling approach, but yields better and more consistent results.
And the positive impact they have had on the local communities is deeply impressive; in addition to providing training and consistent, transparent pricing to coffee farmers they have also contributed substantial infrastructure upgrades throughout the area, including bridges, roads, and even a hydroelectric power station. At their own Pedamaran estate, TOARCO developed a model farm that serves as an experimental station and a nursery for the coffee seeds they distribute.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping a cup of Sulawesi Tana Toraja, from Huckleberry Roasters in Denver, Colorado. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia
farm: PT TOARCO Jaya
producer: smallholder farmers
elevation: 1400 – 1600 meters above sea level
cultivars: S795, Typica
process: fully washed, patio dried
The aroma of the Sulawesi Tana Toraja is spectacular. It’s a BIG aroma; one that bellows out of the cup and fills the entirety of the immediate airspace with scents of brown sugar, molasses, citrus, cocoa, and baking spices.
Taking my first few sips of the cup immediately post-brew, I have to say that I’m a little disappointed in what I’m tasting. The flavor is there, but it’s not as intense as I was hoping (or as the aroma suggested) it would be. I was expecting this one to be a big, voluptuous, full-bodied coffee with a supple mouthfeel; instead, it’s a medium-bodied coffee with a syrupy mouthfeel. Like I said, though—the flavor is there (flavors of cherry, Dr. Pepper, cane sugar, and raisin); it’s just not as powerful as I want it to be.
As the cup cools off, a tart grapefruit acidity cracks through the surface and streams down the center and sides of the tongue. Again, it’s a fine acidity, but it’s not the bright, tart, zesty, lively acidity that excites my palate that I’m looking for. Also the coffee loses a bit of its body the cooler it gets, getting lighter and lighter, and the texture takes on more of a juiciness as flavors of red grape, plum, cherry, and apple are introduced. What’s unique to this Tana Toraja that I haven’t tasted in others, though, is the slightly lingering aftertaste of vanilla.
Medium body; syrupy mouthfeel; citric acidity; clean finish, somewhat lingering vanilla aftertaste.
This coffee, the Sulawesi Tana Toraja, has always been one of my absolute favorites. When the coffee is on point, it is one of the most unbelievably deliciously complex coffees on the planet.
Unfortunately, Huckleberry Roasters’s iteration of the Sulawesi Tana Toraja fell short of the mark. It might be considered unfair of me to compare their version of it to others I’ve had in the past, but in this particular coffee’s case I think it’s warranted simply by virtue of the fact that it is, indeed, in such a singular coffee.
Don’t get me wrong, this was a good coffee; great flavor, nice acidity. What I would have liked, though, was a much more fuller-bodied coffee, with a supple mouthfeel, and a very pronounced, sharp, tart grapefruit acidity. It was all there—just a bit muffled.
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.