Sulawesi coffees can be the jewels of Indonesia
The reason is that some coffees from South Sulawesi are grown at altitudes unheard of on other Indonesian islands, 1800-2000 meters. Some planted vareties are older Typica cultivars or related types like S-Linea. Although the system of trading the wet coffee before final drying can damage the cup, we have been able to work with suppliers who have mastered the elaborate coffee-collector system in the Toraja highlands.
The result is a brighter, more complex and cleaner cup flavor. Traditionally, Sulawesi coffees have been processed using the wet-hull method, in the same way as other Indonesian coffees. This process determines much of the cup flavors - the low-acidity, full body, and rustic or earthy notes. We have been sourcing Sulawesi coffees processed a bit differently, where the coffee is dried to a lower moisture as you might find in Central America, and then hulled for export. This results in a cleaner, brighter flavor in the cup, while revealing flavors that are masked over by the wet-hull process.
Sulawesi coffees will have a large dark-green bean, often with a very smooth surface appearance and little silverskin (which comes off in roasting as chaff). The cup can have moderate brightness, especially when it is not wet-hulled, but there will be unique rustic notes even in the cleanest flavor profile. This can be slightly herbal, greenish (or in a bad coffee that we avoid, too vegetal or earthy). Sweetness is found in the best Sulawesi coffees, but will have a rustic hue, such as raw honey, or minimally-processed sugar like muscavado and molasses.
The coffee was known as Celebes Kalossi in the marketplace; Celebes was the Dutch colonial name for the island, and Kalossi was the name for the market town where coffee was traded. While there is coffee grown in the southern districts near Makassar (Ujung Padang), the island capital, these tend to be lower quality. I saw coffee being washed in what amounted to sewer drainage ditches!
There is also coffee from the area of Enrekang as well as in the West, but the heart of coffee production is the fascinating region of Tana Toraja. Toraja is named for the people of the area, heralded in the past as fierce warriors and with an elaborately rich set of cultural traditions.
While there is coffee grown at 1100-1200 meters in Toraja, it is possible to find 1800+ meter coffee in the more remote corners of the region. Coffee is still grown on small-scale family farms, which are best characterized as haphazardly-planted coffee shrubs conveniently planted near the houses and along the paths.
Coffee production is clearly not a top priority, but rather a matter of supplemental income. Livestock (water buffalo in particular) and rice farming are of a much higher order. The side benefit of the casual nature of coffee farming is that many of the old Typica-derived varieties of coffee are still grown in the region.
Each family processes their own coffee as they harvest it, and they hold it to sell to local collectors on market day. I have seen unique forms of processing, including a kid smooshing the coffee seed out of a pile of coffee cherries on something akin to a wheel-less skateboard. Most use simple hand-crank depulpers made with a bicycle crank and the sidewall of a car tire, and with a metal-covered drum to abrade the skin off the coffee fruit.
Coffee is then fermented in buckets or bags for a day or so to break down the fruity mucilage layer. It is washed and then held in clean water buckets until market day approaches. The parchment coffee is then dried for just a few hours before it is traded, with roughly 50% measured moisture content. The collector buys by volume using a standard tin can measure. The can is measured heaping full, the farmer is paid for a level can. The difference is the profit of the collector.
The collector then delivers coffee to a larger mill, many of which can be seen along the road between the town of Enrekang and Rantepao in Toraja-land proper. These mills will either hull the coffee immediately (ie. wet-hull, called Giling Basah) and lay the green bean out to dry in the sun, or they will dry it down a bit more to about 25% moisture content and hull it, which is still wet-hulled.
Our sources do not do this, since it risks contaminating the green bean to remove it from the parchment shell and lay it out to dry, completely exposed. They dry it down to a stable moisture content around 11%, just as would happen with wet-processed coffees coming from well-run farms in Central America or most any part of the world. It is then bagged in a warehouse to rest, a kind of seasoning operation to equalize moisture content. Finally, it is hulled, graded, density-separated, hand-sorted and bagged in hermetic sacks for export. The result is a brighter coffee, more uniform, and with less defective beans that produce off flavors.
There is a tendency to over-roast Sulawesi coffees. The reason is that they don't show as much roast color and have a mottled appearance up until 2nd crack and beyond. Don't let this make you think you have to roast them dark (although they can be nice this way too).
Great Indonesians will be wonderful roasted just to the verge of 2nd crack. So our opinion is to ignore the weird beans you see green, and ignore the mottled appearance of lighter roasts, and focus on the what you get in the cup.