As a coffee reviewer, a social media coffee semi-celebrity, a friend of several other coffee reviewers, and an avid reader of coffee blogs and forums, an awful lot of coffees pop up on my radar and populate my coffee wish list.
Sadly, though, most of them slip by me. There’s just enough time or money in the world to try even half of the coffees that I so eagerly want to find a residence on my Table.
Today’s coffee is one that, for several reasons, managed to elude me for a long time. I couldn’t allow that to happen—I just couldn’t. It’s one that hails from one of my favorite coffee-producing regions and is carried by my favorite roaster in Chicago. So I hopped in my car and pushed it over the 100K mile milestone to hunt down my good friend, Joshua Millman, at the Evanston farmer’s market because I knew that he’d have a limited supply of it.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we are reviewing a cup of Sulawesi Tana Toraja AA, from Passion House Coffee Roasters in Chicago, Illinois. Feel free to pull up a chair.
Yes, 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 known as Tana Toraja.
One organization that is helping to clear away the fog and bring transparency to the area is Toarco.
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.
origin: Tana Toraja Regency, Sulawesi, Indonesia
farm: Sapan, Uma, Perangian
elevation: 900-1800 meters above sea level
process: semi-washed, patio dried
The aroma of the Sulawesi Tana Toraja is unbelievable. It’s sweet and fragrant; the sort of aroma that transports me to my happy place. There’s a lot of raw cocoa steaming out of the cup and an equal amount of buttered crust and honey, but the sweetness isn’t all about the savories; there’s also a bit of fruits, like strawberry and fig, orange blossom aromatics, and herbs like sage and jasmine.
The first few sips are full-bodied and full of flavor. It has a smooth and creamy buttery mouthfeel that simply glides over the palate. All of the flavors up front are mellow, but they are so delicious. Fig, raisin, pecan pie, and raw cocoa nibs greet the palate first and they don’t stick around long before melting over it, taking on something like a spice rum taste that rises up to the roof of mouth, then slams into the insides of the cheeks.
As it cools off a stream of cherry syrup glides down the middle out of the palate, and it’s accompanied by plenty of malic and berry fruit sweetness that make the coffee a lot livelier and even effervescent. Fuji apple, Bartlett pear, and plum taste and juiciness bubbles up from the bottom of the cup and tart strawberry and raspberry tickles the tongue, an airy and fragrant Rooibos tea flavor brushes up against the roof of the mouth, each sip finishing off a smack of pecan and macadamia.
Full body; buttery mouthfeel; malic acidity; clean finish.
the bottom line:
Passion House Coffee’s Sulawesi Tana Toraja AA is a wonderful, beautiful cup of coffee—particularly after it cools off. Furthermore, it is a true underdog—it hails from one of the most overlooked and underrated regions of the coffee-producing world and it’s currently being offered by one of Chicago’s most overlooked roasting operations.
The last couple of Sulawesis we had here at the Table were all great and Passion House’s contribution to that roster was certainly no exception. It brims with flavor from beginning to end and its profile shifts dramatically from the beginning to end; the thing that I liked most about it, though, was how unique and indigenous the flavors were—this Sulawesi was exemplary of what a great Sulawesi could be and it did everything it could to expand my cupping vocabulary.
My one complaint about this coffee—it just didn’t last long enough at the Table.
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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.