Festival Kafe Timor 2018 Timor-Leste National Barista Competition!

Last week saw the 2018 Festival Kafe Timor event take place here in Dili. The event is in its third year and has seen interest and participation in the different activities increase in popularity. This was great to see as it shows signs that more and more young Timorese are becoming more involved in coffee, and are passionate about promoting coffee to be the Timor-Leste’s number 1 biggest commodity.

The 2018 Timor-Leste National Barista Competition was held throughout the festival with the final taking centre stage at the closing ceremony. With a total of 13 entrants from different local cafes in Dili, there was a lot of enthusiasm and support for the entrants from the crowd.

Being a barista was a fairly unknown profession in Timor-Leste until around 4 years ago where there has been a slow increase in the number of Timorese becoming pioneers of this profession. With strong participants from Agora Food Studio (the place to go for great tasting food made from locally sourced ingredients), Letefoho Cafe (a Japanese NGO supported cafe serving their own range of local Timorese coffees) and ETDA (the amazing training institute offering young Timorese people opportunities to learn great skills.) This meant that the competition level was exceedingly high.

Modelled on the barista competitions organized by World Coffee Events, the baristas were firstly required to produce two espressos and two milk based coffee drinks to exacting standards in order to progress further. Nerves built up more and more as all the entrants progressed through the competition.

Julia, Eko and Cesaltina from Agora Food Studio, Mario and Fatima from Letefoho Cafe and Domingos from ETDA were all named as the finalists.

As the pressure mounted with the final round of the competition, the support was immense as the baristas were expected to produce 2 x espressos, 2 x milk based drinks and 2 x signature coffees of their own creation. Coconut milk, ginger syrup, passionfruit, mango and even coffee leaf powder were featured within this great array of signature coffee drinks.

A big congratulations to Julia (front row, 3rd from right), who is in fact the reigning champion barista from last year, who was crowned Timor-Leste National Barista Champion 2018!!!! A truly inspiring young barista who has a great passion for her craft and a genuine love for coffee.


Coffee, coffee everywhere….so much to cup!

With the coffee harvest in full swing, we have been partaking in several cupping sessions to sample the newly harvested beans.

Cupping is quite a skill and not something that you can necessarily pick up in a short space of time. Like wine tasting, it takes time and a lot of practice to be able to not only perfect the slurping action to draw in enough oxygen to pull out the flavours of the coffee, but also to pinpoint what aromas and flavours you can sense within any given cup. And essentially gives you a good excuse to drink more coffee!

The art of cupping is to be able to recall smells and tastes in your sensory memory, so its justifiable to taste as many different foods and drinks as possible, as it gives you a bigger base from which to recall and retrieve different aromas and flavours which can be found within any given coffee. Through smelling the freshly ground beans to finally tasting a newly brewed coffee, it’s amazing what differences you can pick out.

Cupping is a meticulous process, carried out anonymously and individually in order to ensure no bias or influence. The set up takes time, ensuring a minimum of 2 cups per sample, each weighed out with the correct amount of beans.

This is replicated for each sample before grinding the beans and smelling the aromas.

Following which, the coffees are brewed for exactly 4 minutes before breaking the crust. After a second round of smelling, you are then required to remove any foam which has remained on the surface of the cup. If this remains in the cup then it can have a negative effect for the person cupping the coffee as it can leave a sticky feeling in your mouth.

Finally, then the cupping can really begin. Each person will individually and quietly proceed to taste each of the coffees, trying every single cup, to pinpoint the melange of flavours and identify any defects not only between different coffees but also within the different cups of the same coffee.

According to the Taster’s Flavour Wheel, there are a wide variety of different aromas and flavour notes which can be found within any given coffee. Working from this base, coffee cuppers are able to come together and speak the same language even if they do not actually speak the same language as they are working from the same base.

Different processing methods can bring out different flavour profiles from coffee cherries picked from within the same plantation, purely due to the fact that the beans have been exposed to more or less sugars during fermentation and drying.

Cupping analyses several different categories including fragrance/aroma, flavour, aftertaste, acidity, body, uniformity, balance and sweetness, each scoring a rating out of 10. The scores given to each category are then totalled up to give you a final cupping score out of 100. The higher the score, the better the quality of the coffee. Any coffee scoring above 85 can technically be classified as speciality grade coffee although nowadays some coffee experts have even higher expectations of their coffees.

Coffee Cupping is always an interesting process, giving you new insights into what makes a good quality coffee, and comparing coffees against each other helps to highlight the differences between them. We have a whole bunch of different coffees to cup this week so we will definitely be getting our slurp on! Give it a go and unlock your senses to see what you can find! 🙂

The Ins and Outs of Quality Coffee Processing

The ACT (Asociasaun Cafe Timor) was set up two years ago in Dili, in an attempt to create an organisation which is focused on improving the quality of and enhancing commercial opportunities for Timorese coffee.

In line with this, they have held the Festival Cafe Timor event each year, during which barista competitions, coffee forums and coffee skills trainings are held, as well as awarding the Coffee of the Year award.

Just recently, in a move to try to further promote the processing of quality coffee in Timor-Leste, supported by ADB (Asia Development Bank) and MDF (Market Development Facility), the ACT invited Miguel Fajardo from Raw Materials Coffee based in Colombia to visit Timor-Leste and lead a training session on processing quality coffee.

Bearing in mind that the resources available to the coffee farmers here in Timor-Leste are very limited compared to other more developed coffee producing markets, it really was a case of going back to basics and working with what you’ve got.

Luckily for us, we were able to observe the training being run at the well set up facility of Timor Global. Here, we were able to get hands on and actually get stuck into processing coffee from cherry to parchment.

Sadly, in Timor-Leste the going rate for a kilo of cherries is extremely low so if there is any way to help to create a bigger market and therefore pay higher prices, in support of the coffee farmers, then Karst Organics will endeavour to do our best.

Emphasis was placed on the fact that processing quality coffee starts from the very beginning – the coffee tree and the cherries picked. Coffee grows organically and pretty much wild within the five main coffee producing districts of Timor-Leste – Ermera, Liquica, Manufahe, Ainaro and Aileu.

Both Arabica and Robusta varieties of coffee can be found, with the Hibrido de Timor variety having naturally evolved through cross breeding of both the Arabica and Robusta trees. The first Hibrido de Timor coffee tree was discovered back in 1927 and was found to have the mellow flavours of an Arabica crossed with the strength and robustness against disease of a Robusta. Since its discovery, many coffee botanists and scientists have used it as the parent plant to produce other man-made hybrids.

After visiting the Villa Maria coffee plantation in Ermera and picking the ripe cherries, everyone worked together to initially wash and float the cherries. Floating was highlighted as one of the most important steps of processing coffee, as this enables you to initially separate the bad beans from the rest of the batch to prevent them from affecting the final coffee flavour.

Floating to remove the bad cherries

Three separate batches of coffee were then processed using each of the three main techniques –  natural, honey and fully washed, to enable the farmers and coffee professionals taking part in the training to see exactly how different techniques can affect the overall flavour of the coffee itself and the important factors which need to be considered when using each of the different processes. This included difficulties in drying when using the natural process due to the risk of mould and over-fermentation. Ensuring that honey processed coffee isn’t contaminated by foreign materials and the laborious process of stirring the beans regularly in order to prevent over-fermentation and sticking. And for fully washed coffee, limiting the amount of water used and discussing how the waste water is treated in order to reduce the impact on the surrounding ecosystem.

Natural processed beans
Honey processed beans
Fully washed beans

Explanations of how to measure BRIX using a refractometer and measuring fermentation through PH level readings were also explained to show the importance of carrying out each step of the process correctly and at the right time. Of course, such equipment is difficult to obtain in Timor-Leste, so alternative indicators and testing methods were also outlined – namely the importance of analysing the coffee beans through sight and smell.

Emiliano explaining how to use a refractometer

Drying racks were also presented as a good alternative to the usual technique of drying the beans on the ground. Enabling the beans to receive better aeration due to the all round ventilation achievable with the racks.

An introduction into cupping was also demonstrated, giving the farmers the opportunity to try a variety of different coffees processed in different ways. This was a very enlightening experience, giving them the chance to see for themselves how different methods and techniques can affect the final flavour of a coffee.

The whole training was very well received and the farmers and coffee professionals were able to gain a lot of knowledge and hands on experience of what is involved in processing quality coffee. The torch has now been passed on to the trainees to spread the word to the rest of the farmers in their communities and other cooperatives, so that a more standardised process can be maintained to aid the increase of quality coffee production out of Timor-Leste.

Karst Organics will definitely be working closely with our farmer partners to see where improvements can be made to ensure that we can achieve the quality of coffee which our customers want.


Lets get cherry picking!

With the new coffee harvest upon us, we ventured into Ermera once more to visit the sub-district of Letefoho, where the coffee is well-known for being of the highest quality.

Letefoho is known as the home of the hill walkers and features Arabica coffee grown underneath the protective canopy of the tall shade trees. Coffee can be seen growing everywhere, by the side of the road to high above on the sides of the sloping mountains. Overlooked by Mount Ramelau, Letefoho is famed for having great tasting coffee, with certain smallholder villages having been awarded the coveted ACT (Asociasaun Cafe Timor) coffee of the year award.

We went to visit our good friends – the Roan family, and roam around their fruitful coffee plantation. Once there, we got down to business and headed off in amongst the coffee trees to see what we could find. Armed with empty baskets the challenge was set to see who would be able to pick the most red cherries.

The last time we came to Letefoho, we were unable to see any cherries at all, so it was great to be able to see such an abundance this time, following the long and nourishing rains of the wet season.

Coffee cherry picking is no easy feat…or not for Stewart and I at least. For the Timorese farmers who have grown up roaming around this terrain, its part of everyday life, so scaling the sides of 45 degree sloping hills in flip flops or even barefoot, is no problem at all!

With the trusty help of our friends, we were able to seek out the coffee trees with a plentiful supply of red cherries….and so the picking began.

Cherry after cherry we picked, trying to ensure that only the reddest and biggest were plucked. It’s at times like this however when it really pays off to be tall, or at least to have monkey like skills where you are able to hang from a tree with one hand and pick cherries with the other, as demonstrated by our new friend Nester! Sadly for me, I am neither vertically blessed nor do I have the agility of a monkey, so I had to enlist the help of a big hooked stick to be able to pull the tops of the trees down to enable me to pick the ripest cherries which typically can only be found at the highest point where the suns rays are most accessible.

Coffee cherry picking is definitely not an easy job. Its understandable that some farmers would strip the branch completely of all the cherries, as this is the easiest and fastest way, but isn’t ideal for producing speciality quality coffee. For this, selective picking is required and so only the reddest and ripest cherries should make it into the basket. This however takes time, but in the end the benefits will be seen through the higher prices paid for the farmers crop.

After about an hour, our baskets were slowly but surely becoming heavier as the weight of the delicious coffee producing fruit began to fill up. And so, with the heat of the sun beating down on us, we decided to head back to base, where we tried our hand at pulping some cherries with a manual pulper.

A motorised pulper would definitely make a huge difference in a coffee farmers productivity, allowing more efficient pulping in a shorter time. In support of the farmers in Letefoho and specifically with the the Roan family, we will be looking to support them by looking into the opportunity of purchasing a motorised pulping machine to aid their coffee processing abilities further.

It’s always inspiring to visit the farmers and see first hand how dedicated to their work they are, to ensure that they can maintain a comfortable life for their family and the surrounding community. And it’s also refreshing to see lots of kids making the most of the natural surroundings, enjoying the freedom of having nature right on their doorstep rather than being obsessed with playing video games or watching TV.

Keep following our blog to see regular updates with regards to when you will be able to get your hands on the wonderful coffee grown organically in amongst the Letefoho mountains.


As mentioned previously, we at Karst Organics are focused on working direct with the coffee farmers here in Timor-Leste, to help to support and aid their growth and development in being able to establish their own self-sufficient and sustainable coffee farms.

A second coffee entrepreneur friend of ours whom we would like to introduce, is Mariano da Costa Alves, or better known to his friends as Ameta – probably Timor-Leste’s most stylish coffee farmer!

Ameta is from Atsabe, a sub-district in the district of Ermera. (Please see our previous blog post to read more about Atsabe) Being in his mid-twenties, he is another great example of the impressive new generation of young Timorese entrepreneurs working hard to carve out a better future for themselves.

Ameta, as with a large majority of the Timorese population, hasn’t had an easy time of things. When he was just 10 years old, his mother sadly passed away and in 2006 his father was incarcerated for a period of 7 years, during the 2006 East Timorese Crisis. At this time, Ameta and his younger brother were unfortunately left without any parents to take care of them. Fortunately, family connections are very important in Timor-Leste, where distant relatives will always be willing to offer help, no matter what. So, at the time of his fathers’ incarceration, Ameta’s uncle encouraged him to continue with his studies and promised that he would help to look after him and his younger brother.

In 2008, Ameta had to move to Dili in order to continue on to high school. Initially staying with family, this didn’t work out and so he went about finding his own place to live. It was at this time that he started living by the side of the river which runs through Dili, sheltering underneath a sheet of tarpaulin, together with other people who lived there, sifting sand throughout the day. As he was committed to his studies, he spent the day at school and sifted sand at night. This routine continued for 2 years, during which Ameta felt stuck and found it difficult to see how he was going to be able to free himself from this life, giving him the strength and motivation to push himself to strive for something better.

Motivated to achieve as much as possible, he attended courses at SOLS (Science of Life) in Dili after completing high school, gaining basic English language and social empowerment training skills.

It was during this time that a local NGO – Peacewinds Japan began recruiting local Timorese people to become baristas in their cafe – Café Letefoho. Being from Atsabe, Ameta already had coffee in his veins, as this was a known coffee producing region and his family already owned land which grew coffee. With this in mind, he thought that it would be a good opportunity to develop his knowledge and learn more about the processes of producing coffee.

Having been offered a job, Peacewinds invested a lot of time in Ameta, providing him with the opportunity to learn about the intricacies of coffee and train to become a skilled professional barista. Opening up his mind to looking at new opportunities of how to work within the coffee industry and utilise the coffee which his family already produce. Encouraged by his desire to do something to help to improve the economy of Timor-Leste and support the local farmers in training them about how to harvest and process quality coffee, he wanted to go back to the farm and focus on the whole process of coffee from seed to cup.

Ameta approached Peacewinds, who already worked with several coffee farmer cooperatives to sell their coffee, to see whether they would help him and feature his coffee as part of their range. Having strong faith in Ameta, Peacewinds recommended that with his knowledge and drive that he had gained over the years, he should develop his own brand of coffee and promote it directly himself.

This support gave Ameta the confidence to begin working on his own coffee. At the farm in Atsabe, he enlisted the help of his grandmother and father, directing them on how to harvest the coffee cherries, picking only the ripe red cherries as he wanted to focus on quality. Being from a humble background, they used a manual pulping machine (built by his grandfather) and large baskets to wash and ferment the 2 tonnes of coffee cherries which they were able to harvest. Finally drying them on handmade drying racks.

As a result, in 2017 Ameta launched his first batch of coffee from his coffee farm in Atsabe – Café Organiku Atsabe. Featuring the iconic image of the Mota-Bandeira waterfall on his packaging, Café Organiku Atsabe can be found on the shelves of the local supermarkets in Dili.

Ameta is well on his way to building up a successful coffee brand, with big plans to develop his coffee farm further and work collectively together with other coffee farmers in his village, training them to understand the efficient and sustainable way of growing and harvesting their coffee to produce a good quality cup.

His vision is to set up a central processing plant – “Atsabe, Baboe – Craik”, where he is now working on building a complete facility housing pulping, washing and fermenting, and drying stations in order to process the coffee correctly. Enabling him to work together with the other farmers to process their coffee to its highest quality. In return, they will be able to achieve higher prices for their produce, enabling them to build a sustainable business in which to support their family and local community. His focus is on quality, and through correct harvesting and processing techniques and regular cupping sessions, he aims to ensure that the quality of his coffee can be improved and developed to become a consistent high quality speciality coffee.

Karst Organics is hoping to be able to support Ameta further by hopefully being able to feature his coffee as part of our range. Keep up to date with our website to see how this develops.

In the meantime, should you be interested in getting more information about Ameta and his coffee, feel free to contact us directly or follow the Café Organiku Atsabe page on Facebook.


Welcome to Atsabe

We spent a recent weekend visiting another one of our coffee entrepreneur friends’ coffee farms (a feature about Ameta will be posted later), this time in Atsabe in Ermera…definitely one of the most remote coffee farming regions we’ve visited so far.

The district of Ermera is famously known for being one of the biggest coffee producing regions of Timor-Leste, where Arabica coffee can be found growing wild and organically amongst the trees. Coffee trees can be seen dotted here, there and everywhere, with bursts of vivid green, rich red, and deep purple coffee cherries so abundant that you can pick your own as you’re literally driving by.

Exploring the highlands of Timor-Leste are a must, however driving there is definitely not for the faint hearted. The views are amazing but it takes some major concentration to be able to traverse the dangerously precarious roads which lead you into the mountains of the districts.

Ask anyone about things to do in Timor-Leste and most people will tell you to get out of Dili, the capital city of Timor, and go and experience true Timorese life and culture in the districts. This is easier said than done when you look at the condition of the roads which take you there.

We set off first thing in the morning, following Ameta who was making the journey on his motorbike! (Apparently maneuvering a motorbike along the roads is a lot easier than a car – we weren’t too sure about that, but we weren’t really willing to try it either!) Not really knowing what to expect of the road conditions, we ventured off in our 4WD and hit the road!

The first section of the journey was fine and pretty smooth sailing, with nicely paved smooth roads taking us on the initial upward climb into the mountains. What was to follow however, was quite the opposite. Driving conditions in Timor-Leste are harrowing at the best of times, but add in the fact that the rainy season seems to be relentless this year, the roads are less like roads and more like a network of sloppy mud rivers. Trying to steer a car in these conditions takes a strong stomach and the quick reactions of a whippet, especially when slipping and sliding dangerously close to the edge of the road which has already slid half way down the mountain!

We finally made it to Atsabe after around 4 hours and were welcomed with some of the most spectacular views we’ve seen in Timor-Leste so far.

Atsabe is nestled in amongst the mountains, overlooked by the famous Mount Ramelau and is home to the tallest waterfall in Timor-Leste – Mota Bandeira.

With a population of approximately 19,000 people, this sub-district is known for its agriculture with coffee, sweet potato and french beans being the main staple.

The coffee is grown in the mountains, amongst the shade trees, growing at an elevation of up to 1600 meters. Harvesting the coffee in this region is a slow and difficult task due to the sloping hillsides. From what we saw, being a coffee farmer in this region requires the agility equivalent to that of a mountain goat when harvesting the cherries, as not only do you need to have the balance and flexibility to pick and carry the cherries, but you also need to be able to scale the hills to reach the trees in the first place!

The coffee is delicious and combined with the beautiful surroundings, it makes Atsabe a place well worth visiting. We are definitely excited by the prospect of working with Ameta, exporting his coffee to the UK for everyone to enjoy.


As part of our ambitions at Karst Organics, we would like to be able to support and invest in the local community by helping the local coffee farmers in whatever ways we can. This may involve helping to educate the farmers on agricultural processes which will aid them to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly coffee crop year on year, or through supporting their business by assisting with providing necessary equipment to help with more efficient coffee processing, or even through directly investing and supporting young entrepreneurs with their future business plans and growth.

One of the first people that we would like to feature at Karst Organics is Emeliano De Sa Benevides, better known to his friends as Emel.

Emel is from a small village called Grotu in Same, in the district of Manufahi in Timor-Leste. Same is close to the south coast of Timor and is located 116 km outside of Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. You would think that this is not a long distance to travel, however due to poor road conditions the journey can take up to 5 hours to complete.

He is a very inspiring young man, who is a good example of a new generation of Timorese who are striving to change their future and to improve the economic growth of Timor-Leste, spurred on by their entrepreneurial spirit.

It all started back in 2015 when he attended an event promoting locally produced Timorese products, where his friend was promoting his coffee. After taking a look around he came across a stall where a group of local coffee farmers from Maliana were selling their Luwak (also known as the wild civet cat) coffee. Sadly, by the end of the event the farmers had failed to sell the 30kg of parchment which they had struggled to bring with them. Emel, being the kind-hearted person that he is, bought the coffee from them in order to support the local farmers.

Having never tried Luwak coffee before, Emel roasted the beans and tried the coffee, which much to his delight was clean and smooth, with delicious chocolate and fruit flavour notes. He decided from that point that he would try to start up his own business to sell Luwak coffee or Laku, as known in Tetun – the local language in Timor-Leste.

In March 2016, Emel founded Kafe Laku Diak – his own small coffee business, selling the Kafe Laku Diak coffee beans in supermarkets throughout Dili. The feedback from his customers has been very good, with consumers supporting the fact that the luwaks are wild and the coffee cherries which they are eating are 100% organic. Emel has continued to support the luwak coffee farmers, encouraging them to protect these animals allowing them to continue to live freely in the forests, producing high quality coffee.

Following on from this, Emel now also sells his own brand of 100% Robusta coffee – Café Beliu. Harvested from his own coffee plantation in his hometown together with a collective of other local farmers in the sub-village of Beliu, these beans are hand-picked and natural processed to create a clean and smooth cup of coffee with citrus and sweetness to taste, quite different to what you would normally expect from a Robusta coffee.

Emel’s ultimate goal is to share his knowledge and experience with other farmers and support them in setting up their own sustainable business. Enabling the farmers to be self-sufficient, whilst also encouraging them to maintain sustainable processes to protect the environment, to ensure that their customers can receive high quality organic and responsibly sourced products, direct from the farm.

Emel has been a great friend since we arrived in Dili, and has offered up a lot of advice with regards to working with the farmers here in Timor-Leste. We hope that in the future there may be an opportunity for Karst Organics and Kafe Laku Diak to work together, so if you are interested in trying his coffee, please contact us directly for further information. You can also visit Emel’s page on Facebook to keep up to date with what he is doing.

Hello and welcome to Karst Organics!

I have been sitting here for a while now, trying to wrack my brains, thinking of an interesting way in which to start our new blog, and so far, my best idea is to introduce ourselves and go from there….so here goes.

My name is Kar Yee and I am one of the co-founders of Karst Organics, together with my partner and fellow co-founder Stewart.

Based in Dili, East Timor we are looking to work directly with the local coffee farmers of East Timor, exporting their wonderful single origin, organically grown Arabica coffee beans to all corners of the world (eventually), however for now, we are working on firstly exporting to the UK.

Keep up to date with our blog to follow along with our adventures through East Timor tracking down the best coffee the country has to offer, and meet the people with whom we are looking to build strong relationships with in order to offer them support in creating a solid, self-sufficient and consistent business.

We are looking forward to the exciting adventure ahead and hope that you enjoy reading all about it.

In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here are a few pictures of East Timor to give you an insight into what you can expect of the worlds second youngest country.

Dusk in Tasi Tolu, Dili

One of the coffee farmers sons, a little cheeky chappie