Your Essential Guide to Sulawesi Coffee

Sulawesi (formerly known as Celebes island) is an island located in east Indonesia. It is a mountainous region with elevation as high as 9800ft (3000m) and sits near the equator which makes it ideal to grow coffee.

There are 2 types of Sulawesi coffee named after its coffee growing regions; Toraja and Kalossi.

On this page, we will cover various aspects of the Sulawesi coffee starting from its history, coffee growing regions, type of beans, harvesting season and more importantly, what makes it so special.

Sulawesi Coffee – A Quick Fact Guide

  • Growing Regions : Toraga, Kalossi
  • Growing Altitude : 4,500 to 6,000ft
  • Harvest Season : July to September
  • Type of Beans : Arabica and Robusta
  • Flavor : Heavy body, creamy texture and low acidity

History of Sulawesi Coffee

Map of Sulawesi, Indonesia

The Indonesian island of Sulawesi may be known for its coffee now, but contrary to popular belief, coffee plants are not native to the region. Rather, they were introduced by Dutch settlers during the 17th century who saw potential for a lucrative new business in the warm climate.

The Dutch began to experiment with different climates and regions to make coffee using the wet hull processing method, and before long they had begun growing coffee plants on the central island of Celebes, now known as Sulawesi.

Coffee production in Sulawesi was a successful undertaking, to say the least. The mountainous regions of Sulawesi were uncommon to other Indonesian islands, and offered the settlers and locals alike the very special chance to grow coffee at higher altitudes.

It became clear that Sulawesi coffee was uniquely acidic and lighter than coffee produced in other islands in the archipelago. Over the past several hundred years, the coffee industry in Indonesia has swelled and now ranks in the top five coffee-growing countries. 

Coffee Growing Regions in Sulawesi

If you are searching in your local grocery store for something new to try, or testing out a new blend at your favourite coffee bar, you are likely to come across two regional names, each of which have lent their names to the blends of coffee produced there. 

The vast majority of Sulawesi coffee is grown in and around the Toraja and Kalossi regions, known for their particularly high quality beans. What makes Toraja and Kalossi appealing to coffee farmers is the high elevation, ranging from 4,500 to 6,000 feet above sea level. 

Toraja is a mountainous region in southern Sulawesi with extremely high altitudes, while Kalossi is located just slightly southeast of Toraja and comprised mainly of highlands. 

There is a misconception that all Sulawesi coffee is acidic. While it is significantly brighter than coffee from other Indonesian islands, your mileage may vary, since the two most popular coffee regions in Sulawesi are known for two distinctly different roasts.

Toraja coffee is fairly low in acidity and has a soft, silky, heavy-bodied texture. It has warm overtones of cinnamon, cardamom, and even chocolate.

Kalossi coffee is known for its earthy flavor profile, with a very heavy texture and a boldness surpassing a typical French roast. On the other hand, its acidity level is very low.

Types of Varietals and Beans

Not all coffee is created equal, although most of Sulawesi’s exports come from one varietal. 

If you are at all familiar with Indonesian coffee, you might be aware that 90% of Indonesia’s coffee is produced from a varietal known as Robusta.

Robusta (Coffea Canephora)

Robusta Coffee Beans Info

As the name suggests, Robusta is disease and climate resistant, which is crucial considering one fact in Indonesia’s tragic botanical history; an endemic of leaf rust in the early 1900s destroyed many of the islands’ coffee plants.

Robusta might make up the majority of Indonesian coffees, but Torajan coffee farmers have the choice between two distinct varietals. It is the latter, a rarer and more expensive varietal known as Arabica, that has become synonymous with Toraja coffee.

Robusta is easier to farm and costing half the price of Arabica. It is cultivated in greater quantities throughout Sulawesi and tends to be the old standard most of the local coffee culture falls back on. 

You should be aware that the flavor is less sweet and somewhat boring in comparison to Arabica. Robusta beans are bitter and acidic, meaning that the resulting beverage will linger slightly longer on the tastebuds.

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Arabica (Coffea Arabica)

Arabica Coffee Beans Info

Arabica makes for a sweeter, fuller, and more complex flavor profile than other Indonesian coffees. It is less resilient in the face of coffee rust and more sensitive to climate, making it more difficult to farm.

On the bright side, it is known for its sugary-sweet taste, so plenty of coffee fans consider it worth the higher price. Many find the taste reminiscent of brown sugar. 

It is easy to see why Arabica beans make for such a rich, bold cup of coffee with no acidic aftertaste to speak of.

However, Arabica is fairly low in caffeine, so if you’re searching for something that will give you that boost of energy you need to power through a long work day, Robusta might be a better choice.

Sulawesi Coffee Harvest Season

The peak harvest in all the major coffee regions of Sulawesi is mid-summer to early fall.

Coffee is produced during a brief window of time from July to September each year.

Naturally, the high elevation contributes to the success of coffee harvesting in these regions and gives them their unique, world-famous flavor profiles.

However, the traditionally Indonesian climate is also a crucial factor in coffee production. Indonesia is a warm and moist climate, with temperatures lingering around 20°C during the peak harvesting months.

Coffee thrives better in slightly shaded environments, too, so it is beneficial that much of Sulawesi is forested by canopy-like trees that keep the coffee plants out of direct sunlight.

What Makes Sulawesi Coffee Special?

Starbucks Sulawesi Coffee

You’ve probably heard a lot about Sulawesi coffee, or seen them at your local Starbucks.

But do you know what makes it so special among coffee lovers?

Unique Flavor

Since the Dutch settlers first brought coffee to Toraja in the 1700s, coffee farmers have emphasized the unique flavor profile of the coffee; full-bodied, smooth, and creamy, with no bitter aftertaste. 

Sulawesi coffee is often called a more sophisticated Sumerian coffee, and after one sip of the stuff, it’s easy to see why.

Perfect Climate

The warm, damp climate of Indonesia is perfect for coffee farming to begin with, but the moistness and humidity present in Sulawesi is particularly beneficial to the cultivation of Robusta and Arabica coffee plants.

Geography

Most of Sulawesi is rural, and coffee farms are plentiful in both Toraja and Kalossi.

The canopy-like forests that keep the coffee plants in shade for most of the harvest season allow for the production of uniquely flavored coffee that rarely sees direct sunlight.

Continuous Innovation

The Dutch may have introduced coffee to Sulawesi, but the locals keep the trend relevant. In fact, since the 1970s, when Sulawesi coffee reached the West, natives to this gorgeous region have made an increasing effort to showcase their regional pride. 

Many small villages offer opportunities for tourists to taste Sulawesi coffee. It may be exported globally, but the Sulawesi locals are engaged with their coffee culture.