January 20, 2015

East Timor Specialty Coffee, Assui Craik


In my opinion, to truly appreciate a cup of “Java”, one has to look at the story behind the cup. Rather than just mindlessly slurping coffee, why not consider it’s origins? Why does organic coffee grow in East Timor? Who brought it there?

The $10 million coffee trade matters to the Timorese population. Coffee is the principal cash crop. 1/5 of East Timor’s population are employed by coffee farms.  So why not take a moment to consider their rich coffee history, and let their coffee matter more to us – the consumer.

Timorese farmer washing coffee

Coffee in East Timor is organic and natural.

The History Can Be Split into 3 Stages

1. “The Golden Prince” (the local name for coffee) was first planted in 1815 by Portugese colonisers. Coffee remained a staple “cash crop” for East Timor until the Indonesian occupation of 1975.

2. During this violent occupation (which lasted two decades), 180,000 Timorese were lost to war and famine and an Indonesian company, (with close military ties), monopolised the coffee industry. This monopolisation translated to farmers receiving extremely low prices for their coffee crops, which led to stagnation in the coffee industry. Why? Because farmers had no motivation to produce and process high quality coffee.

3. In 2002, East Timor was liberated from Indonesia. Although the coffee industry suffered further during the initial violent nation rebuilding process, the industry began to recover quickly, exploiting an unexpected upside of the Indonesian occupation. Ironically, the lack of necessary resources to import fertilisers and the farmers neglect for their crops during the occupation meant the remaining low yielding coffee varieties were wild, forest grown and truly organic (even slowly ripening under full native shade).

Rural kids in East Timor.

Rural kids in East Timor.

Ok, so What the Cup Am I Drinking?

Assui Craik is a remote humanitarian plantation in East Timor. Humanitarian? Yes, an NGO (Peace Winds) has provided technical support to farmers and opened the global coffee community to the region.

The coffee is fully washed and sun-dried at an elevation between 1300- 2000 metres.

Coffee workers carry sacks of coffee

Coffee workers.

So How Does It Taste?

Assui Craik is a “life changing” single origin coffee. How so? I shared this with several nescafe drinkers who (much to their surprise) stated that it tasted “really fruity, sweet and zesty” and actually named the precise fruit – “orange”. Their perception of coffee, a bitter drink with a burnt taste, was challenged.

At first sip, an explosive punch of orange hit the front of my pallet. It was as if fresh oranges were squeezed into the cup. Then, what followed was a sweet orangey aftertaste characterised by subtle hints of spicy dark chocolate. Surprisingly, for a bright coffee, it had a medium/full body, textured (and lightly weighted) mouthfeel.

As the refreshing coffee cooled, the orange flavour became even clearer!For baristas who like to experiment with their coffee – it was delicious over ice. Or, for those sweeter individuals, i’m told a teaspoon of sugar reveals a spicy cinnamon taste.

Women sorting coffee

East Timor is one of Asia’s poorest countries.  The nation ranked fourth worst in the world in the 2013 Global Hunger Index report. Coffee work is vital to improving many families livelihoods.

How Did I Brew It?

I used the exactly the same Kalita Wave recipe as in this article.

Perfect Daily Grind.