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Rescuing a 'lost' masterpiece coffee.

When the investigating team reached the abandoned plantations on Sulawesi Island, they found nothing but desolation where once some of the world's noblest coffees flourished. But after 15 years of back-breaking effort, a Japanese-Indonesian company is once again growing fine coffees in the old Kalosi locales, says special correspondent Richard Clark.

There once was a time when "Celebes Kalosi" was always a notable item on any coffee connoisseur's shopping list, but many yearshave passed since anyone savored that bean's classic notes. The island is now better known as Sulawesi; it lies 1,000 miles east of Jakarta in the Indonesian archipelago, and it had produced no serious coffees since the 1930's. Then, 20 years ago, a Japanese company decided to discover what had happened to the legendary Kalosi bean.

The original Kalosi had been grown in the Toraja region of the island - Kalosi was the area's principal city - and, until the Dutch arrived around a century ago, the coffee trade was the source of continuous warfare between the local tribes. European settlers replaced the semi-wild coffees with new strains grown on well-regulated plantations and, by the 30's, the distinctive Celebes Arabicas had a worldwide reputation.

After independence, the Dutch quit the area, and many years of political unrest followed. What the Japanese teams found when they located the plantations in 1972 was ravaged trees covered in moss, producing small quantities of totally negligible coffees which provided a wretched living for the remaining farmers. It was not a promising sight, but the soil was still good and the climate ideal, and, after three feasibility studies, it was decided that the area was worth reclaiming.

The company which had initiated the studies was Toshuku Ltd., a leading Japanese food commodity trading house, acting in conjunction with the Key Coffee Co. In 1976, they formed a joint venture with the Indonesian firm P.T. Utesco, to become P.T. Toarco Jaya (TOraja ARabica COffee; Jaya means "Glorious"). The two main aims were to operate plantations on 1,200 acres of land granted to the undertaking by the Indonesian government, and to help local farmers develop their own holdings.

Mr. Ohara, an acknowledged expert on the cultivation of top grade coffees in this region, was given the task of supervising the project, and the bulldozers were brought in to clear up the neglected acres. These machines came as a considerable shock to many of the local farmers, who had never seen anything like them before-- in fact, even ordinary shovels were new, since they had previously worked the land with flat-ended iron bars.

The transformation took almost five years to complete, and it was hindered both by a country-wide outbreak of coffee rust and a prolonged drought. Nevertheless, in spite of these setbacks, Toarco also managed to complete a program for establishing farms, retraining local farmers in new horticultural techniques, and setting up a central processing line that includes pulpers, dryers, hullers, graders, plus a generating plant.

These days the fully mature, hand-picked coffee cherries are pulped and washed as soon as possible, picked over by hand to remove impurities, and hulled according to final shipping schedules. Farmers bring in their beans for assessment and further processing once they have met the initial high standards set by tile enterprise. In fact, not all Toraja coffees can match the full quality specification, so Toarco is growing seedlings for distribution to the farms. Finally, the coffees are cup-tested by Key Coffee at the local warehouses and, again, at the point of shipment.

Exports to Japan began three years ago, and consumers are said to be highly enthusiastic about the "new" beans, which have a mild acidity, with a rich, full flavor and a mellow aroma, in keeping with the reputation of the now extinct Kalosi. In San Francisco, Erna Knutsen, who has sole U.S. distribution rights, is also enthusiastic. "It has a depth and roundness of body which sets it way above all others from this origin," she says. "Problems is - to get enough of it."
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Title Annotation:Kalosi line of coffee from Sulawesi, an island in the Indonesian archipelago, brought back from near extinction by a Japanese-Indonesian company, P.T. Toarco Jaya
Author:Clark, Richard
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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