Sulawesi Coffee (and why you need to be drinking it)
- The Skinny on Sulawesi Coffee Beans
- The Current State of the Sulawesi Coffee Industry
- How To Brew Sulawesi Coffee Beans
- How TO Roast Sulawesi Coffee Beans
- Where to Buy (LEGITIMATE) Sulawesi Beans
- Bringing That Natural, Island Taste to Your Brew
Sulawesi coffee beans (sometimes referred to as 'Toraja') is one of the gems of the Pacific coffee-growing world.
Wildly grown, hard to find, and utterly delicious, getting a good cup of this coffee is the perfect challenge for any coffee aficionado looking for an adventure.
In our Toraja coffee review/guide we’ll show you exactly why this coffee is so special.
The Skinny on Sulawesi Coffee Beans
Without further ado, let’s dive into our Sulawesi coffee review!
The Background of Sulawesi Coffee
The island of Sulawesi is part of Indonesia – one of the top 5 coffee-growing countries in the world. But coffee isn’t native to the multi-island nation, and the history of the plant’s arrival to the islands within the Malay Archipelago is often clouded in mist.
It was likely during the 17th century that coffee plants were initially brought to the region. They were first planted in Jakarta by the colonial Dutch, who thought they could create a booming business in the coffee-friendly climate.
The experiment of the Dutch colonists was a success, and over time the plants were moved to other islands, including the large island of Sulawesi (then known as Celebes), which was located in the center of the archipelago.
This former name of the island, along with the region of Toraja and city of Kalossi, have all lent their names to the coffees produced there. So you might see Sulawesi, Sulawesi Toraja, Celebes Kalossi, and so on.
Often these names are referring to specific regions that the beans come from (more on that further down), but sometimes they’re used to refer generally to coffee from the island itself.
Note: Learn more about the history of coffee in Indonesia!
What Does This Stuff Taste Like?
Sulawesi coffee can be on the lighter, more acidic side when compared to other coffees from the archipelago. Consider Sumatran coffee, for example, which generally tends to be very full-bodied with low acidity.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that Sulawesi is an overly light, bright, and acidic coffee. On the contrary, it is still a very rich, dark, and pleasant variation. Sulawesi is strong, bold, and full of life.
Sulawesi Toraja coffee taste:
- Aroma: Nutty and chocolaty
- Taste: Low to medium levels of acidity; silky, creamy, heavy-bodied texture; warm overtones of cinnamon, cardamom, and other spices; subtle hints of fruit and dark chocolate
- Aftertaste: Smooth finish
Other Sulawesi Coffee Factoids
Growing the coffee
The coffee is generally grown on small plots of land and on family farms, some of which are upwards of 6,000 ft. above sea level, and harvested in the late spring and early to mid-summer.
Many of these factors combine to give Sulawesi beans a unique taste, and to make them a low-quantity, high-demand coffee on the international market.
The processing method
Sulawesi coffee is generally processed using the fairly new wet hull method, which has become extremely popular in the region.
This is largely due to necessity, as the humidity and rainfall can make the typically long drying process difficult.
There are many different coffee-growing regions scattered throughout the island, but two of them stand out from the pack.
Sulawesi Toraja coffee - A great deal of Sulawesi coffee has been grown in and around the mountainous region of Toraja. It is one of the most famous coffee-growing regions of Sulawesi and of Indonesia in general, providing some of the highest quality beans around.
Sulawesi Kalossi coffee - Another coffee found in one of the highland regions, and not too far from Toraja, is Kalossi coffee. Kalossi is grown in the southeastern part of the island and is named after the nearby city of Kalossi.
Once again, this variation on the Sulawesi coffee bean is one of the most delectable coffees that the island has to offer. It has a very low acidity, an earthy body, and a smooth finish.
What do these two regions have in common? They’re both located in higher areas of Sulawesi, giving them a leg up on many of the other coffees grown in lower altitudes.
Sulawesi Coffee in Starbucks and Trader Joe’s
Sulawesi coffee isn’t just a Third Wave phenomenon. It has also found popularity in some pretty mainstream outlets.
For example, the Starbucks Reserve program has stocked “Whiskey Barrel-Aged Sulawesi” coffee more than once. It was provided in limited circulation and was difficult to get, but those who did try it said the whiskey-infused flavor was a big success!
And then there was Trader Joe's Sulawesi coffee, which was medium roasted and sold directly by the grocery giant.
While it wasn’t exactly a high end experience, this "decently fancy coffee" brought a unique, small-lot coffee to grocery store shelves, and made a lot of tastebuds happy in the process!
The Current State of the Sulawesi Coffee Industry
Many of the farms on Sulawesi are located in the highlands of the island, including the major areas of Toraja, Kalossi, and Mamasa (the latter producing the lowest quality of the high-altitude beans). The rest of the lower altitude beans are also of a lower quality, which isn’t surprising as coffee tends to grow best higher up.
The coffee culture of the island is robust, with Sulawesi producing a large quantity of coffee and fully participating in Indonesia’s massive contribution to the coffee world. However, many pieces of the growing, cultivating, trading, and transporting processes still have major factors that have not yet been ironed out.
Note: Here’s an interesting account of the Sulawesi coffee industry from the folks at Sweet Maria’s.
Extremely localized in its nature, and hardly organized on a large scale as is seen in places like Kenya or Rwanda, farmers generally cultivate small numbers of often haphazard coffee plants and sell the harvested beans to collectors who pass them along, making the quality hard to predict without proper oversight.
For consumers, this means you should choose your Sulawesi coffee beans with care — paying attention to the region or city of the island they’re coming from, and ensuring that the online seller is working only with reputable farms.
How To Brew Sulawesi Coffee Beans
While the rich and full flavor of Sulawesi beans can deliver in most forms of brewing, these beans were born for espresso.
The darkness and deep earthiness of the flavors fit perfectly with a well-pulled espresso, or even a Moka pot coffee.
Note: For more tips on how different coffee beans mix with different brewing methods, check out our article, Are you Murdering Your Coffee Beans?
How TO Roast Sulawesi Coffee Beans
Most roasters want to go dark with this one to bring out the earthy flavors, so this tends to be the most common option.
Of course, you can still try lighter and medium roasts, all of which will bring out different aspects of the rich and varying flavors.
However, be careful not to over-roast these ones! They tend to show their roasted color more slowly than other beans, making it hard to predict how far into the roasting process they are.
The trick is to not worry too much about their appearance. Instead, show restraint and stay focused on that second crack (if not stopping before that), and then making minor calibrations from there with future batches.
Where to Buy (LEGITIMATE) Sulawesi Beans
With the industry in Sulawesi so much less organized than other coffee giants, it can take a little bit of research to hone in on the perfect bean supplier.
Of course, we’ve tried to shorten the workload for you. Here are some of our top online suggestions for where to pick up a bag of beans.
#1 - Volcanica Coffee
Volcanica Coffee specializes in coffee grown in regions with rich, volcanic soil, making them an excellent choice for well-sourced, freshly roasted Sulawesi coffee beans. The company practices transparency in acquiring their coffees and focuses on Fair Trade and obtaining only the highest quality beans.
#2 - Coffee Bean Direct
Here you can choose between the lighter roast, which allows the gentler flavors to shine but also comes with a higher volume of acidity, or a darker roast, which reduces the acidity and brings out many of the deeper, earthier elements of the coffee.
#3 - Sweet Maria's
If you’re looking for Sulawesi green coffee beans to roast yourself, you can’t go wrong with Sweet Maria’s! Keep in mind that this company works carefully with local growers, meaning their green coffee bean supply comes and goes over time. You’ll want to check in frequently to see what’s available!
#4 - Joe's Coffee House
One final option to consider is Toraja Sulawesi White Eagle Coffee. Coming from some of the oldest plants on the island and carefully grown and processed apart from other Sulawesi beans to keep it pure, this coffee is considered the “Crown Jewel” of the Toraja coffees!
Bringing That Natural, Island Taste to Your Brew
And that, friends, is our overview of coffee grown on the island of Sulawesi.
This rich, earthy, full-bodied coffee has captivated drinkers for generations, and it is one of the finest beans you can use in your coffee brewing – that is, when you can find them!
We hope you enjoyed the review, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on Sulawesi coffee, too. Drop a line in the comments below!