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The Aromatic Coffees of
India
Part 1

By Sunalini N. Menon

India has certainly come a long way since being recognized only as a producer of exotic teas. We no longer hear those hushed notes of awe: “Coffee in India? No, you mean Indian Tea!” Oh, yes, we certainly have traversed a great distance. A long journey of painstaking work, improvement of quality, determination and promotional skills are now paving the way for Indian coffee to be recognized as a quality coffee worth pursuing! We are also aware that this long journey will continue to be longer, tenuous and difficult, but we are positive that our sustainable aromatic coffees could sustain themselves even in the present scenario of low prices, due to the hard work of our farmers. These producers are examining ways and means of reducing their cost of production without affecting quality.

Indian coffee is truly sustainable - environmentally, economically and socially. Coffee grows in India at medium to moderately high altitudes on the slopes of the mountain ranges called the Western Ghats, only under shade. Varied and exotic trees such as the Rosewood, Ficus, Red and White Cedars, besides the evergreen Jungle trees can be seen growing at definite intervals on the coffee plantations. There is a scientific ratio to the number of shade trees that should be grown and retained on a hectare of land area, thus providing filtered sunshine, organic mulch, a natural barrier to pests and diseases, and a habitat to birds and animals and at the same time preserving the ecology of the region.

Our coffee farms are indeed a welcome stronghold to colorful birds of every description, not forgetting the majestic elephants and the stately bison.

A diversified pattern of cultivation with pepper, cloves, cardamom, oranges, bananas, vanilla and medicinal herbs is the hallmark of Indian coffee cultivation. This helps in augmenting the returns to the farmers, especially in today’s scenario of low prices.

Indian coffee is eco friendly considering that it is mandatory for each coffee farmer to treat the effluents from his pulp house by a process of aerobic and anaerobic lagooning, again a natural method of biological degradation. Even when offering coffee for sale, we pack our coffees only in food grade jute bags, which not only preserve the intrinsic quality of the coffee beans stored in these bags, but also preserve the environment, by being bio degradable.

Schools, creches, hospitals, cooperative stores offering workers the essentials of daily life at subsidized prices, and protection of the plantation workers with minimum wages, gratuity, leave and medical benefits under the Indian Plantation Labor Act are the epitome of Indian coffee. The Indian coffee industry is also playing no small role in providing direct employment to one million workers, besides equal opportunities to men and women.

India offers both Arabicas and Robustas of premium quality, which are not only selectively hand picked, but subjected to only sun drying. We offer four different types of coffees - Plantation (washed), Arabica Cherry, Robusta Parchment and Robusta Cherry and as many as over 25 grades of coffee, to cater to discerning palates of each and every coffee connoisseur.

Indian coffees are ideal for an espresso blend. The mild washed Arabicas with well-balanced body and acidity and lingering finish of chocolate notes are suited to be structured as a base for an espresso, with the high quality well washed robustas creating the rich, smooth buttery crema, the hallmark of a great tasting espresso.

Today, Indian coffee enjoys a free market and coffees are easily and readily available - one can buy them directly from farm gate, through disciplined weekly auctions held in India, through reliable export houses, through experienced facilitators and get them shipped through established C and F agents. And the piece de resistance is that the Indian coffee farmer can function not only as a grower, but also as a curer, as a trader, as an exporter and as a roaster! This is a significant developmental change for the Indian coffee industry, which took place in January 1996 and has been a positive step towards quality development. India: a Significant Player in the Global Coffee Trade Today, as the sixth largest producer of coffee in the world, India is a significant player in the global coffee trade. The total plantation area is around 355,102 hectares, with both Arabicas and Robustas being grown. The productivity is around 960 kg per hectare and the total production is approximately 5.0 million bags, accounting for about 4.4% of world global production. The exportable production of coffee is 4.0 million bags, with the share of global exports being 4.5%. During the year 2003, the export earnings from coffee were approx U.S. $484 million. The principal buyers of Indian coffee are: Italy, C.I.S., Germany, Belgium, Spain and the U.S.

We do hope that you have had an opportunity to glimpse something of the secret of India’s persistence. Our endeavor is to fuse the power of science with the wisdom of what you and the market requires. We have a long way to go, but are working hard to overcome the various odds that we face…the problems of a tropical climate which endangers our coffee plants by attacks of pests and diseases; the steep and sometimes inaccessible terrain of our coffee growing areas; the economic levels of the majority of our small farmers…by concentrating on producing our coffees in a sustainable environment, improving our plant materials, upgrading our cultivation and processing technology, reducing our cost of production without affecting quality, developing innovative methods of processing, providing specific usage information for our coffees and promoting estate branded, special and speciality coffees. The road is long, tenuous and tedious with the added drawback of depressed prices, but with the guidance, support, and encouragement of coffee consumers around the world and hopefully good prices, we would be like the twinkling stars in a blue sky, shining and reminding you of the delicious and varied tastes of our Indian coffees. India and her coffees beckon you.

Part 2 continues in next month’s Tea & Coffee.

Sunalini N. Menon is the chief executive of M/s. Coffeelab Private Limited. This laboratory analyzes the visual and cup quality of coffees not only from India, but also from all over the world. The lab is also involved in advicing on the processing of coffee to develop estate branded coffees, blending for cafes, conducting training programs on quality evaluation for the entire coffee industry and the certification of coffees for export. Menon can be reached at coffeelab@vsnl.com, Tel: (91)(80)23610722 / 23617881, Fax: (91)(80) 2361072.


Tea & Coffee - September/October, 2004
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