The Story of Timor-Leste Coffee: From East Timor to Present Day
The small, young nation of Timor-Leste holds a big secret. In its highlands, nestled at elevations between 1,550 to 1,600 meters above sea level, there lies a hidden gem - a coffee industry teeming with untapped potential.
This is the story of Timor-Leste, a country that was once known as East Timor, a name bearing the traces of its colonial past and geographical orientation. After declaring independence from Portugal in 1975 and surviving a period of Indonesian occupation, it finally emerged in 2002 as the fully independent Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. The name "Timor-Leste" is a testament to the country's layered history, derived from "Timor", a word in Malay and Indonesian for "east", and "Leste", the Portuguese word for "east". Even though the country's name essentially means "East East", this redundancy has not hindered the unique identity it has carved out for itself on the world stage, especially in the realm of coffee production.
The coffee story of Timor-Leste begins in the highlands of Aileu, where coffee cherries are grown on small farms, each averaging half a hectare. These farms, tended by dedicated smallholder farmers, are often situated on steep, mountainous landscapes, testing the boundaries of coffee cultivation. The cherries are selectively handpicked at the peak of ripeness and then sold to a centralized mill in Gleno for processing.
Despite the challenges posed by the arid weather, a short rainy season, and low nutrient soil, Timor-Leste's coffee industry thrives. The resilience of the Timorese people and their unyielding commitment to quality have enabled the industry to withstand global fluctuations in coffee prices and other economic uncertainties.
The coffee cherries are then sun-dried for roughly 18 to 22 days, regularly raked to ensure an even drying process. It's a labor-intensive process, but one that results in a coffee that is unique and of high quality. This attention to detail is a signature of the Timor-Leste coffee industry and is a testament to their commitment to producing the best possible coffee.
Over time, the coffee industry has become an integral part of the country's economy, with coffee comprising 24% of Timor-Leste's economy and as much as 90% of the annual income for approximately 25% of Timor-Leste's population. It's a sector that is growing, with the potential to play a major role in investment, employment, wage growth, and overall economic prosperity.
The coffee of Timor-Leste, with its unique blend that retains properties of coffee quality "among the best in the world", is indeed a testament to the resilience, quality, and the relentless pursuit of coffee perfection. It's a story that is as rich and complex as the coffee it produces, a story that continues to unfold with each passing day.