Just a few short years ago Shannon French, Tom Mahon, Tom Potter and Cameron Wheelehen were patrolling conflict areas of East Timor. Today, they own a coffee house, Wild Timor Coffee.

“If someone had told me then that I was going to be one of four directors of a coffee company I would have laughed”, explains Shannon. Tom adds that his previous coffee expertise involved stirring rationed instant coffee with a stick. Yet, it was these unlikely beginnings that sparked the extraordinary story that lead to Timor Wild Coffee.

The first to be deployed to East Timor in 2000, Shannon recalls his most vivid memories are those of the generosity of the Timorese communities.

‘The villages had been plundered and burnt to the ground. The locals had nothing but they would always greet us with plastics cups of hot sugary coffee”, explains Shannon who became very interested in finding ways to help the locals grow their industry.

Years later and back in Timor serving as peacekeepers, Shannon and Tom were camped near the village of Belumuhatu where they discovered a thriving wild coffee plantation. During the previous years of conflict, coffee farmers were unable to tend to their crops and as a result Robusta and Arabica coffee interbred to form a cross species known now as Hybrid de Timor. It has the strength of Robusta and the flavour of Arabica, a dark nutty cup with a clean thread of fruity acidity.

The team purchased a tonne of coffee from the local farmers and brought it back to Australia to be roasted, while they continued on to work with anti-poaching programs in the Congo. An email from the roaster brought unexpected news.

“The email said: Forget Africa, you’re onto something, this coffee is really good. Come home now”, Shannon recalls.

With that, four former battalion members formed Wild Timor Coffee, returning to East Timor to establish fair trade relationships with the local farmers. The coffee is now purchased for twice as much as it had been previously and farmers receive training from charity groups, a model that Wild Timor hopes to duplicate across East Timor.

Wild Timor Coffee are now roasting about 15 tonnes of the single-origin organic beans and following a crowd sourced campaign last year, raised $35,000 to open Wild Timor Coffeehouse in Coburg, Victoria.

The Coffeehouse serves a mix of Timorese and Australian dishes, including cakes made by Ana Saldanha who fled East Timor in 1975. She explains that Wild Timor Coffee not only supports communities in East Timor, but has also created a place for Timorese expats to meet and share their culture with other Australians.

Wild Timor Coffee Beans are available for purchase online.

Images from Wild Timor Coffee