It’s a sad feeling leaving the coffee region here in Lintong and Lake Toba. The sights and scenery are something that I will never forget with constant weather changes and sweeping landscapes offering an ever-changing environment. More so though, it’s all about people I have met. I can’t speak highly enough of the crew at Volkopi — Leo and Lisa who showed me around this amazing place, and also all the workers within their production facilities who were so hospitable and comfortable to be around.

All week I have been thinking about the Sumatran coffee puzzle, trying to fit in our company’s green philosophy with a country that is so complex. While tasting the coffees on the ground you get the picture that many of the practices (good and bad) shape the flavour of the coffees here. Most of the flavour profiles Sumatra has to offer are shaped by bad practices — some by farmers and many by exporters, some avoidable and some not. On the second part of this trip, I was consistently informed that better farming practices will always show in the cup (in a positive way.) But does this take away from the typical Sumatran profile? There is no question that it does, but from my experience while cupping in Sumatra, it has always been for the better. As my understanding of coffee in this country grows, I have begun to dislike certain flavour profile types. There is a correlation between the practices here on the ground and the flavours we have become so accustomed to. It’s so crucial to align ourselves with experts on the ground who care not just about volumes for export, but about the finer details of sustainable coffee.

It was very encouraging to taste the results of sustainable farming that Volkopi is offering. Most of the coffees I tasted were clean, balanced and sweet; some of the other coffees were works in progress. Of particular interest on the table were many of the dry hulled coffees I tasted. For whatever reason, I thought they offered more complexity, both in taste and aroma. The Togos Gopas was an incredibly clean and balanced Sumo which is again evidence that excellent farming and processing practices show up in the cup. Another coffee of interest which I was very excited about was from Silimakuta. These samples were from the first lots of coffee to be dried and processed through Leo’s new processing facility in Simalungun. I cupped all of these coffees completely blind to ensure that I wasn’t at all biased — for them to shine and score exceptionally well was so encouraging!

As my third trip to Sumatra comes to a close, I leave with so many amazing memories. There’s something very empty about driving home from the airport in utter peace and quiet on the uncrowded and quiet roads. It takes a few days of training to ensure I don’t drift into other people’s lanes and use my horn to jostle for lane position! We will be cupping all of these samples again here in our own Lab with our cupping crew next week, as we move to make some future decisions regarding which Sumatran(s) we offer going forward. It may take a shift of thinking and some education to adjust to what we are hoping to introduce. You can be assured that we will move to secure a coffee that is both outstanding in flavour and comes from a network of supply which is ethical and encouraging to the most important part of the coffee chain — the farmers.

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