Hello Jason. How long have you been in the coffee industry?
Over 18 years. Most of it I worked as a specialty roaster and in consulting, now I am a green bean trader with MTC.
Why did you guys choose East Timor out of all coffee origins?
From the very beginning, we have been consciously focusing on our part of the world – countries like Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.
We always have a look at what’s going on with the coffee industry in a country first. We’re curious about its production and people in coffee.
If the industry is already sophisticated like for example in Brazil (where farmers have access to decent equipment and years of refined knowledge of the processes), there’s only as much we can do to make a real difference.
But take East Timor and you have a completely different story. There is so much opportunity for improvement!
We generally prefer locations where we can bring some real value to the supply chain. Not just arrive, buy coffee and leave.
What were your first impressions when you landed?
I visited East Timor in August last year. Timor is an extremely dry and remote island. And a very poor country. The distances aren’t great but there is no infrastructure to get to places.
It’s crazy! Heading up from our base to the top of the mountains took us probably 3 hours and the distance was less than 10 kilometres. That’s just how bad the roads are there.
Where does the coffee Goulala come from?
Goulala is the name of a town located in the Letetoho region. It has one reasonably sized coffee farm, but coffee is collected from around the whole township. Along with coffee, farming families also grow vegetables and fruit for their own consumption.
In terms of a finished green bean product, most families would produce one to two bags. Coffee from these 20 or 30 farms is then collected in the town of Goulala and that’s where the name comes from.
If we put it in terms of the Sunshine Coast, the area is as big as the greater Noosa area.
Who is coordinating the coffee collection?
We work closely with two people. One of them is Manuel da Costa Silva who owns a farm in Goulala and acts as the local collector for the farmers. He organises the people, goes out and tells them what’s going on in the region.
The other gentleman who works with us is Señor Domingos Sarmento who runs the collection station not far from Goulala. He drives up to the regions, inspects everyone’s parchments and if it holds up to our quality standards, he commits to buying and sends up a truck to collect coffee.
We’re happy to see that the farmers don’t have to walk with their coffee up and down the mountain themselves anymore.
How much coffee does Goulala produce in a year?
It’s a fairly small amount. This year we bought 48 bags. The total production would be maybe twice that.
What are the problems the Timorese farmers face and why?
I travelled through the entire region of Ermera (which is made of about 5 townships) and visited many coffee farms.
One of the issues the farmers kept mentioning was a troublesome cooperation with a local NGO that was buying coffee from them. The struggle was that the farmers were selling regular arabica coffee still of high quality but for a very low price.
“We’re paying the farmers at specialty coffee rates while everyone else is paying commercial arabica rates. It’s not just the environmental sustainability we care about, we want our actions to contribute to the economical sustainability as well.” – Jason Joffe
You mentioned that your goal is to add value to the supply chain. What do you consider a success in this project?
We’re paying the farmers at specialty coffee rates while everyone else is paying them at a commercial arabica rates. We also assist them with the collection. Travelling up and down the mountain with only two bags of coffee was not motivating for them.
They sold their coffee to a collector who then drove it to the mill at the bottom of the mountain and earned money by doing that.
By us collecting coffee directly, the farmers are able to sell it for the same price the collector would sell it to the mill. This way, they are getting a little bit more while having to do less work.
When I talk about sustainability, it’s not just the environmental sustainability. We also make sure that our actions contribute to the economical sustainability for farmers as well.
What future plans do you have for the region?
We’re currently half way through building a new wet mill on the mountain. Soon the farmers won’t need to collect coffee, worry about water or their environmental impact. We’ll take care of all that.
They get the same amount of money for their coffee and we get higher quality and consistency of the product.
Timor has an extremely short and intense wet season and a very long dry season. When it rains, it rains a lot. Most of the families don’t have tools to store rainwater for the next 10 or 11 months when it’s dry which is one of the many issues. I think this will massively improve their lives.
How would you describe your partnership with the farmers and how do you grow it?
We’ve been working in East Timor for a number of years. One of the reasons we’ve decided to have a physical presence there is that we’ve witnessed some companies taking advantage of the locals.
A lot of the international companies don’t do any work in the origin, they just buy coffee off the collectors. East Timor is so close to Australia, it’s about an hour flight from Darwin or Bali to get there so it’s fairly easy to regularly do some work there and have a big impact on people’s life.
When is the harvesting season?
Once a year. For the higher altitudes it’s in August and in lower altitudes it starts around June.
Can you describe the wet process and setup?
We’ve donated processing equipment (over 160 raised beds) to many farms in the Ermera region. Ripe cherry is picked and carried to the village for pulping, often in locally made gum wood and tin pulpers. Pulped parchment is fermented for 24-48 hours depending on the local weather conditions, and then hand-washed.
Clean parchment is then dried on tarps of raised beds. Prior to collection, the dry parchment is inspected by Señor Domingos to ensure that strict quality criteria are met.
Why did you offer the bean to Clandestino?
Every company gravitates toward some kind of coffee. This bean has a great story to it but I also thought that its flavour profile would fit your offer nicely. And because we’re so close to Timor, I hope that Australians will be more curious to try this coffee.
How would you describe Goulala’s flavour?
The only exposure I’ve had to Timor coffee before was to the cheaper commercial coffee that is very earthy and more of an older style flavour profile. As I was cupping coffees at the mill, I was shocked to find them very clean and crisp.
I find that Timor coffee is very chocolate malty. So if you drink it with milk, it tastes like chocolate ice cream. You’ll also taste dark red fruits like plums and berries that really shine through.
Jason Joffe is a green coffee trader with MTC Sucafina who has been in coffee industry for 18 years, working as a specialty roaster for 15 years, consulting and now trading greens.