Today we travelled to the remote region of Togos Gopas which is located south of Lintong Nihuta. By all reports these guys are doing great things in the area, so I was very keen to check out their operation first hand.
Large, pure varietal estates are a rare thing in Indonesia as the majority of commercial volume comes from small holders who sell to buying stations at local market places. Even if you can find a large estate, you may not be able to find an export company willing to process and ship their coffee as a separate line. The estate at Togos Gopas has just decided to sell their coffee through Volkopi — a great way for them to avoid under-selling their product. The drive into this region is rugged and about as far off the map as it gets. It took us about an hour to drive about 4-5 kilometres. So wait up — actually I guess I’m not that far off the map at all. The roads are covered in large rocks and boulders which are an attempt by estate farmers to fight off washouts and landslides and ensure they can continue to transport their goods during the coming wet season.
Much of the land on the way to Togos Gopas is made up of estate farms, and many of the estates are organic and rainforest certified. This is a contrast to everything else I had seen in the Lintong area. Here the planting practices were excellent in terms of spacing and shade trees, and the plants were carefully and expertly pruned. The trees were full of under-ripe cherries, but not over laden which is a sign of trees growing in balance with good nutrition and picking practices. Shade means slow and easy ripening which is a good thing. For whatever reason, this area is being farmed expertly — most likely due to the added premium that organic and rain forest alliance coffee attracts. Either way, I was very impressed with the contrast. Most of the farms here also had just one or two varietals, another rare thing in comparison to the rest of the landscape. All these factors seem to suggest farming groups who consider quality over quantity as lower yields can be offset by higher premiums through expert farming practices and careful attention to detail.
Togos Gopas continues this push for excellence in almost every way. New to Volkopi’s books, they have been quick to adjust and implement many of the practices I saw on the drive in. They have 45 hectares of prime growing land in the heart of Lintong which is approximately 1350m above sea level. We walked out into the farm to look at the landscape and see the harvesting first hand. Even though the farm is only 3-4 years old, the trees had a very healthy supply of ripe cherries. The varietal used here has the local name of Sigalarutang (a Typica — Catimor natural hybrid) which literally translates as ‘to be able to pay your debt off sooner’. Sigalerutang is a fast growing and high yielding variety which was originally discovered in the early 80’s and re-distributed and endorsed by the ICRII (or Jember research Centre). The varietal was later endorsed by the Indonesian Agricultural Department due to its high yield, all round flowering, large beans and disease and pest resistance. A perfect varietal for sustainable farming in this area.
You will see from the photos that they don’t need any help with their farming practices. As I walked around, I was very impressed with how they went about harvesting. Best bet is to check out those photos — this was probably one of the best, small photography sessions I have ever had. I was in a DSLR coffee candy shop!
We then checked out their warehouse and processing. Again, I was impressed by the standard of produce. Having seen the quality of parchment sold at market places the day before, I was able to make a direct comparison. The results were night and day apart. I witnessed little to no defects in the parchment coffee they had stored in their warehouse. The parchment was clean and consistent in colour with a slight ripe, sweet banana aroma (which is desirable by local standards and something they aim for as a sign of quality). This is sustainable farming at its best! Premiums paid to the farmer, higher export quality yields and a clean / pure cup profile for buyers.
The last day of my journey will see me cup the samples collected from the second part of this trip back in Medan. Again, I’m very excited to get these samples on the table as it is one thing to see great practices, but ultimately it must come through in the cup. My experience so far after tasting the pure estate / varietals from Wahana last week is that the heavy tones of earth are often subdued and tamed and the coffees usually have more complexity, balance and sweetness.