To say that East Timor, officially Timor-Leste, a small country occupying the eastern half of the island of Timor, has a troubled recent history is an understatement. Colonized by the Portuguese, over the decades it developed a culture different from its surrounding Dutch-colonized neighbor Indonesia. When the Portuguese colonizers finally withdrew in 1975, Indonesia promptly invaded its tiny neighbor. Twenty-four years of bloody armed resistance against the Indonesian occupiers ensued.
A significant coffee producer under the Portuguese, East Timor’s coffee groves were all but abandoned during the long years of rebellion. After East Timor finally achieved independence in 1999, international development agencies turned to specialty coffee as a tool to help rebuild East Timor, as they would later do in Rwanda.
An Origin That Time Forgot
Essentially, East Timor reentered the coffee world with two advantages: hard-working small-holding producers with a traditional respect for coffee, and coffee fields that were de facto organic owing to decades of neglect. East Timor was, essentially, an origin that time forgot.
Stimulated by support from development agencies and the specialty coffee world, coffee production intensified. It became common to see East Timor coffees, usually certified organic and often fair trade, on specialty menus. Then another round of social and political conflict flared up in 2006, internally this time, again disrupting coffee production.
Still Another Comeback?
At this writing East Timor coffee production appears to be making still another shaky comeback. East Timor coffees are again appearing in specialty markets. The tiny country’s industry received a boost starting in 2013 when Starbucks began offering a pure East Timor coffee.
East Timor’s tree varieties are mainly Arabica/Robusta crosses, including the very influential Hibrido de Timor (HdT), a spontaneous hybrid of Arabica and Robusta that was discovered growing in East Timor in the 1950s and widely planted there owing to its resistance to leaf rust. Since then, Hibrido de Timor has contributed Robusta genetic material to virtually every existing disease-resistant hybrid, regardless of where it was created.
East Timor coffees are usually processed by variations on the conventional wet or washed method and tend to be brighter in structure and lighter in mouthfeel than Indonesia wet-hulled coffees, though drying faults may add a musty note that can be read as earthy. Occasional lots of dried-in-the-fruit, natural-processed East Timor coffees appear on the market as well.
East Timor Coffee Ratings and Reviews
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