This year’s coffee harvest is now complete. Harvest time is usually between May and October (ie the dry season) and unfortunately this year, it coincided with the collapse in law and order.
The biggest coffee producing entity is the “Cooperativa Cafe Timor” which is a true cooperative which complies with fair-trade principles and is an organic producer. (Note that all coffee in TL is grown au-naturelle and farmers have never been able to afford fertilisers/insecticides anyway.) Delta Coffee is a Portuguese coffee company which imports Timorese beans for processing back in Portugal, but this year, they elected to give Timor coffee a miss. The other bigger player is Ensul, also Portuguese but who do have processing facilities here in TL.
CCT do not provide coffee to bars or restaurants in Dili. Many used Delta coffee but with Delta’s decision to skip importation of beans this year, most of the Delta coffee outlets have switched to Ensul coffee. Personally, I think Delta coffee was superior. Furthermore, it is a pity that CCT do not supply locally as they probably have the superior quality, 70% of which is purchased by Starbucks.
CCT valiantly tried to carry on its harvesting and processing but were struggling with a severe shortage in labour due to people being too scared to continue on as per normal. As a result, CCT only processed about two thirds of the volume it should have this year.
About 700 women work in the Dili CCT factory, earning up to about US$7 per day sorting beans in order to meet the standards required by Starbucks. (US$7 is a high wage by TL standards.) CCT have declined to move to automatic colour sorting machines because of the effect on this labour force.
Hundreds more work in the growing areas – harvesting, drying and transporting beans.
But isn’t coffee economics wonderful ? Each cup of TL coffee as sold to Starbucks constitutes about 3 to 3.5 cents of revenue for CCT.
I do have it on good authority that the TL beans supplied to Starbucks are the top shelf article. They also sell a lower quality bean “Estima” which appears in a blend. These beans are from lower altitude crops. The highest quality stuff (from the highest growing altitude) is usually known as Maubisse coffee.