When it comes to high-end coffee, Indonesia has a bit of a bad rap. This is largely due to the fact that the region produces a large amount of Robusta coffee. As Robusta is often considered to be a lesser bean when compared with Arabica, most coffee enthusiasts do not consider the region to be of particular interest.
Despite this, there is some coffee grown in the region that is capable of going toe to toe with even the most well-regarded beans. For example, Sulawesi Toraja is considered to be one of the best coffees in the world and with good reason. Grown at high altitudes, when brewed this bean results in a creamy and rich coffee that combines perfect balance with a unique earthy taste.
History and geography
Sulawesi Toraja is grown in the Toraja region in the south-eastern highlands of Sulawesi, an Indonesian island east of Borneo. This area is extremely mountainous and is populated by the Toraja ethnic group. The coffee is grown at extremely high altitudes compared with other coffees from the same region. While most Sumatran coffee is grown as low as 800 meters above sea level, Sulawesi Toraja is grown 1100-1800 meters above sea level. The Toraja area is humid and has just the right amount of rainfall needed to keep coffee trees happy. While larger plantations exist, a significant amount of the coffee is grown on small family farms. Coffee production on these farms is almost an afterthought and is used as a means to supplement existing income. It’s not unusual to see trees planted on whatever land is suitable and left over.
The majority of coffee grown in Indonesia is Robusta; however, Toraja is the exception. Thanks to the ideal conditions, the area is perfect for growing Arabica beans. As a result around 95% of the coffee grown in this region is Arabica.
Most of the world’s coffee is processed in one of two ways: wet or dry. Sulawesi Toraja is fairly unique in that it uses a third processing method called Giling Basah (wet grinding). During this process, the coffee cherries are fed into a pulper that removes most, but not all of the fruit. A thin layer of mucilage is left on the beans. The beans are then stored for about 24 hours before the mucilage is removed. Finally, the beans are left to dry prior to shipping and roasting.
Giling Basah has a profound effect on the overall taste of Sulawesi Toraja. The process results in the coffee having an unmistakably musty and earthy flavor. Some may find this unappetizing, but it is a quintessential aspect of the coffee’s makeup.
Unlike Sumatran coffee, which is known for its robust body, Sulawesi beans are light bodied. The light body combined with the low acidity gives the resulting drink a deep and creamy texture and flavor.
In terms of flavor, Sulawesi is beautifully balanced with no single flavor taking too much prominence. When drinking Sulawesi expect to taste notes of ripe fruit, dark chocolate, mushrooms, herbs, and sweet spices. It’s also fairly common to smell an almost cedar wood-like aroma.
Sulawesi Toraja is a tricky coffee to drink with certain food as the almost overwhelming creaminess doesn’t always pair well with certain dishes. When looking for a suitable food, avoid rich foods. Combined with the rich coffee, this can result in an overwhelming taste sensation.
A simple combination of dark fruit-infused chocolate and freshly brewed Sulawesi is always a treat. Similarly, fruit cake and spiced apple pie work well when paired with the coffee.
If you want to try to bring out the herbal notes of Sulawesi, try pairing the coffee with some garlic and herb chicken or a curry.