Day Two of reviews of coffees I received during The Great Coffee Exchange. One of the things I was most excited about when commencing this project was the secrecy of it all; there was only rule: we could pick coffee from any region we wanted, but we had to purchase it from a locally-owned small business in our immediate vicinity; so none of us had any inkling of what to expect when we opened our mailboxes.
For my contribution to the exchange, I, of course, selected Passion House Coffee Roasters’ Guatemala El Limonar—an amazing coffee from a roaster that I think is the most exciting coffee operation running in Chicago currently. I wrote my review of that one yesterday. Today, I am diving into a package that arrived in my mailbox all the way from New Jersey—a selection from my friend, Twitter buddy, and fellow coffee blogger, Randy Levine (@randylevine).
By the by, if you haven’t checked out his blog, Snob Coffery, make sure you do so at least within a few minutes after reading this review; you’ll be happy you did.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we are sipping Sulawesi Toraja from Lambertville, New Jersey-based company, Rojo’s Roastery. Feel free to pull up a chair.
Randy’s contribution to the exchange lived up to my expectations; I was hoping that the four of us would contribute radically different coffees than each other. It would have been really great if all four of us selected something from each of the four major growing regions—we’ll just have to wait and see what’s in store for us when I open the mailbox tomorrow and Thursday.
The last time I had a coffee from Sulawesi was when I worked at Peet’s—for whatever reason, Sulawesi just isn’t a well-represented region when you walk into any given roaster. I know all of the reasons that Sulawesi’s neighbor, Sumatra, is typically avoided, but, as far as I can recall, I haven’t really heard anything overly negative about Sulawesi. To be honest, I haven’t really heard much about Sulawesi… at all!
This a very interesting area of the world, shrouded in mystery. While I was doing research on this coffee and its origins, I couldn’t find much information. The folks at Rojo’s helped me out by sending me the précis that was provided to them by their importer, and I found a little bit more information on other coffee websites, but not much. For example, I don’t even know what farm this coffee comes from! Toraja coffees can come from just about anywhere in the Tana Toraja highlands; sometimes coffees from outside this area are even brought in and combined with the Toraja cherries.
After the coffee is picked and wet-hulled (or as the people of this region call it, “giling basah”), it’s brought down from the mountains to markets like Sapan or Minanga to sell.
origin: Tana Toraja, Sulawesi
elevation: 800-1000 meters above sea level
process: semi-washed, patio dried
Sumatra coffees are often heavy and bold and smoky and woody and earthy; their Sulawesi counterparts, on the other hand, are almost precisely the opposite. I can tell from the aroma of this cup alone, that the Sulawesi Toraja is going to be no different. Coming out of this cup are scents of baked chocolate, raisin bread, and a bit of spice. There’s a slight touch of earthiness mixed in, but generally speaking, this cup has a solidly sweet aroma.
The first few sips immediately post-brew seem to be pretty typical of a Sulawesi—spiciness that tingles the tip and sides of the tongue, Dutch chocolate, and a muddy texture (my patented phrase for “earthy, but velvety, silky, and smooth; not clumpy, dirty, or dusty”). It’s when I let the cup cool off that this coffee really separates itself from its Indo-Pacific peers.
That muddy texture is now smoothing out even more into a rich, chocolaty/caramelly creaminess. With Sulawesis I’ve had in the past, this is where I typically drop my pen and wrap up my notes; but with this cup, something else is happening—a fruity juiciness is emerging and there’s a soft, mellow acidity bubbling up from under the surface. Right now, it’s not anything to shout about but still—the fact that I’m getting such acidity from an Indonesian coffee is moderately incredible.
As the cup approaches room temperature, the mouthfeel becomes even more velvety—silky, smooth, and creamy caramel. The fruitiness becomes more defined, as I’m picking up notes of apple, fig, pear, blackberry, and raisin.
Full bodied; low, rounded acidity; creamy mouthfeel; dry, slightly astringent finish.
the bottom line:
Indonesian coffees are fabled, infamous, and shrouded in mystery. But one thing is certain about the Sulawesi Toraja from Rojo’s Roastery—it provides a great cup of coffee. I was really excited when I discovered that Randy had sent me a Sulawesi, just because it had been so long since I last had one; now that I’ve finished off my package, I’m excited about the possibility of you, dear reader, trying out a batch of it for yourself.
It’s full-bodied and has all of the elements that make Indonesian coffees what they are (unique, earthy, spicy, etc.), but when you let it cool off, when you give it time to finish its story, it presents you with a lot of really tasty and flavorful surprises.
It takes a roaster who really knows what they’re working with to properly handle coffees from the Tana Toraja region; I can’t speak much for Rojo’s just because this is the only offering I’ve had from them, but I will say that they handled this one well.
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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.