Tristan Eaton Goes to Sumatra for a Cup of Coffee

Follow artist Tristan Eaton to Sumatra as he discovers the origin of a favorite Starbucks coffee.


If there’s anyone who knows how to tell a story in vibrant visuals, it’s Tristan Eaton. He’s been obsessed with urban art since his boyhood days of skateboarding through the streets of London. And he continued to soak up global pop culture like a sponge as his family moved to Detroit and then New York.

Tristan began creating his own large-scale freehand murals as a teen, and that led to designing toys, album graphics and fine art. Today you’ll find his work on streets of Mexico, Sweden and Paris, to name a few. Even in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Tristan’s art is a brilliant collage of influences and imagery—a mashup of culture, character and color that manages to feel both playful and meaningful. So it was only fitting that we tapped this force of nature to express the bold, complex character of Sumatran coffee beans and the depth and beauty of their origin.

“I was a regular coffee drinker, but before visiting Sumatra, how the coffee got to my cup was a mystery to me. I had to go there to really understand the place and the coffee, so the visuals I create aren’t just a cool piece of art, but have a backstory, too.”

Tristan quickly discovered that Sumatra is more than just one of the world’s most beautiful places. Its rich, volcanic soil and tropical climate create the ideal conditions for coffee that’s uniquely earthy and full-bodied, with a particularly low acidity.

Before visiting Sumatra, Tristan was one of many who didn’t know coffee comes from an evergreen tree that can live for over 100 years and grow 20+ feet tall. It’s the two beans at the core of each coffee cherry that become the beverage we know and love.

“All that coffee doesn’t come from some factory somewhere. It comes from hundreds of small farms with families operating them.”

Tristan watched as the farmers soaked and partially sundried the cherries before transporting them to a dry mill for drying, hulling and more drying. This partial drying method contributes to an earthy, herbal flavor and big body in the cup.

One of the most powerful parts of the trip for Tristan was realizing that the process of planting and picking coffee was as human and hands-on as his approach to creating art. But the most meaningful experience of all was getting to compose a mural on a northern Sumatran cultural center near a freshwater well Starbucks had built for the community.

“I’d been taking in inspiration from landscape, the people, the wildlife, the process of making coffee … and put together a little collage of all those elements,” said Tristan.

True to his trademark style, Tristan’s Sumatran painting intermingles elements of the Indonesian culture and environment in one mesmerizing mural that manages to tell a complex story in a limited amount of space.

His passion for artistic expression turned out to be the perfect parallel for the kind of coffee dedication that starts on the ground in Sumatra.

“There are so many visual cues here, from the beauty and innate style of the people to the wild natural environment to the architecture,” Tristan said, “Traveling through the countryside, I amassed a vocabulary of imagery so my piece would tell the story of this coffee to someone far away from here.”

Now you can own a little piece of Tristan’s work for yourself. Look out for the new limited-edition single-origin Sumatra packaging in Starbucks® stores, and follow our next artists’ journeys as we explore roasting, blending and connection in the weeks to come.

Check out more of Tristan Eaton’s artwork on Instagram or at tristaneaton.com

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Chapter 3: Blending with Jessie and Katey

Chapter 2: Roasting with artist Ricardo Cavolo

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