8 – 19 August 201

Dili & Maubisse

Making Salt

Making Salt

When we were told days before that we were going to a place where salt was made, we imagined large, massive salt fields by the sea. There will be a lot of white ponds with salt crystals which could be quite photogenic – or so we thought. Then our driver signalled we were there. We looked out the window and saw a grey, muddy empty place with huts scattered here and there with no one around. It looked like a dry ghost town. And like in a movie, I was waiting for tumbleweeds to pass by . . .

Where are the people in the neighbourhood?

Where are the people in the neighbourhood?

For a good 10 minutes, it was like we entered the twilight zone – tinu ninu ninu ninu – we were in another planet. All around us were mounds or little hills of hard mud and we just didn’t get it. Where was the salt? Our driver didn’t speak much English, so sign language and the little Bahasa we knew was how we got by — it didn’t get us very far.  As we walked around to try to understand the place and the mysterious salt making process, it was when we peered into a hut that we finally understood. Someone was inside boiling brine. Salt was made in the age old traditional manner. Sodium chloride or NaCl was from brine boiled in a wide open pan with fire, constantly fuelled by dry palm fronds.

We shall endeavour to show the process of making salt – a most ancient preservative and the magic ingredient that brings out the flavour in food.

These mounds have on top of it a container contraption where salt water is poured

Some of these mounds have, on top of it, a container contraption where salt water is poured

Salt water is taken from their backyard of mangroves when the tide is high. So I guess this is where the mud connection comes from . . .

Salt water is taken from the mangrove backyard when the tide is high. So I guess this is where the mud connection comes in, as mangroves are highly muddy environments

Gravity feed makes the brine trickle down

Gravity feed trickles brine down from the top of the mound to this dugout log situated at ground level

Then the open steel pan boils for 8 hours with the man constantly adding palm fronds to the fire and taking out impurities from the top if the boiling brine

Then the open steel pan boils the brine for 8 hours. The caretaker man constantly throws into the fire highly flammable palm fronds and he scoops out impurities from the top of the boiling brine. 8 hours! No wonder hardly anyone was there to do this long hot job!

A few dollars can buy you a kilogram of salt that's enough to last you for several years!

A kilogram of salt is just a little more than US 50¢ !!! How could they survive earning this little?!

From the coast we travelled to the highlands of Maubisse – 1,500 meters above sea level with temperature ranging from 14 – 19°C. There we saw the much more lucrative industry of East Timor – that of growing of coffee arabica beans for the export market. The organically grown high quality arabica coffee beans are supplied to Starbucks which in turn packages it as Arabian Mocha Timor. Starbucks has described it as a perfect balance between the clean, fresh floral notes of washed Timor coffees, and the wild and exotic berry, cocoa, spice flavors of naturally processed Arabian Mocha Sanani. It’s a complex blend with up front berry notes, medium body and a clean finish. Coffees from East Timor are washed and have acidity, though not as pronounced as Latin American coffee. Coffee from East Timor often has an herbal taste quality as well — not bad considering these crops were devastated about a decade ago when Indonesian militia destroyed much of East Timor’s coffee industry after the 1999 referendum.

Arabica coffee bushes are given shade under these massive acacia trees

Arabica coffee bushes are given shade under these massive acacia trees

When the coffee beans are cheery red, they are ready for hand picking

When the coffee beans are cheery red, they are ready for hand picking

Hand picked, the coffee industry is highly labour intensive giving jobs to many East Timorese

The coffee industry is labour intensive giving jobs to many East Timorese

The freshly picked bright red coffee bean will undergo a drying period before they are sold to the mills

The freshly picked bright red coffee bean will undergo a drying period before they are sold to the mills

Not as attractive as when they are fresh, the beans are dried for many days before it goes to the mill and then to the roasting process

Not as attractive as when they were fresh, these high value coffee beans undergo many drying stages before they are ready for delivery. The drying stage is also a crucial step in determining the taste and aroma of these highly sought after produce

In Dili we saw the packing of freshly roasted coffee beans. Can you imagine the beautiful smell this place had?

In Dili we saw the packing of freshly roasted coffee beans. Can you imagine the beautiful smell this place had?

And again we felt like we traveled a time warp when entering this warehouse where prime coffee beans were packed by the kilograms

And again we felt like we traveled a time warp when entering this warehouse where prime coffee beans were packed by the kilogram

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