A New and Fresh view on the great coffees of India
I think I can safely say that 2020 has been an interesting year for everyone. We have all learnt to live with the bare minimum, and it definitely taught us how to be content with our surroundings. Akshay (my husband) and I spent the last 9 months of the COVID lockdown on our family’s coffee estate – Mooleh Manay, located in North Coorg, Karnataka, India. This was a bit of a change, as we spent the last 12 years travelling back and forth between London and India; London being our primary place of residence.
Our coffee estate, Mooleh Manay (which translates to “Corner House” in the local language, Kannada), is located by the backwater of the Harangi Reservoir and was once part of Kanbile Estate, which has been in the family for over 5 generations.
When I first met Akshay, I was unaware of what a coffee estate even looked like. My first experience of walking through the plantation was surreal. In India, coffee is grown under shade, so you can imagine walking through a forest of typically tall trees, like Jackfruit, Teak, Sliver Oak and Rosewood, with pepper vines covering their trunks. This is usually followed by another tier of dadap or citrus trees, and underneath these two canopies are the coffee plants. It really is an estate of trees, and the coffee plants are their welcomed guests.
I would always ask Akshay why this amazing experience (and coffee) couldn’t be shared with the rest of the world? So, three years ago I took it upon myself to showcase Indian speciality coffee in the UK, and thus started South India Coffee Company. Our goal is to change the perception of Indian Coffees at the world cupping tables. We work directly with other estates – so apart from our own, we also work with our neighbours, and work together to carefully and methodically produce excellent quality coffee that is capable of giving Indian coffee a fresh identity on the world’s stage. As a company, we also handle exporting from India and importing it into the UK. With this set up we have the opportunity to sell directly to the roasters, ensuring the best prices to the estates that we work with.
Our Selective Natural S795 Arabica is processed as a whole crop cherry and we focus on picking only the ripe cherry. The staff on the estate, who were trained in more conventional practices, didn’t understand why we wished to pick only the ripest of cherry, as naturally processed coffees do not fetch high prices in the local commodity market. Also, typical Indian coffee consumers prefer a very dark roast, often blended with robusta and chicory. This is often consumed with milk and sugar. So this method of processing is certainly not typical for the local palate, so trying to cultivate this line of thinking among our staff was a challenge on its own!
This year we also experimented with another cultivar Excelsa, which is grown on trees as opposed to plants. Traditionally, Excelsa trees were planted as boundary markers for the estates and were thought of as not a valuable species. The coffee tastes rough and fruity, comparable in flavour to robusta. To lighten the harshness, we double fermented it, pulped and sun-dried it. The resulting flavours were fantastic, and we are proud of our black honey double fermented Excelsa.
We have loved experimenting with new processes and learning about coffee over the past 4 years, and we don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon! For those that want to get a sense of what our schedule looks like, from December of last year until now our coffee calendar looked something like this:
- April – Coffee Blossom with April Showers or Irrigation
- May – Shade lopping, pruning, 1st round of weed cutting, Fertiliser application, Borer tracing
- June – Monsoon season – Planting new saplings
- July – Monsoons – Planting new saplings
- August – Monsoons
- Sep – Monsoons – Weed cutting, Fertiliser Application
- Oct – Weed cutting, Fertiliser Application
- Nov – Coffee Harvest Arabica
- Dec – Coffee Harvest Arabica
- Jan – Coffee Harvest Arabica/ Robusta
- Feb- Coffee Harvest Robusta
- March – Coffee Harvest Robusta/ Pepper
So you can see how we’ve managed to make the best of an unfortunate situation and stay focused on the coffee all through 2020. That said, we have a lot more work ahead of us this year, and can’t wait for the harvest to start and taste our new micro-lots! We’re also very thrilled to see our coffee on your shelves, and we hope that all our fellow coffee drinkers enjoy their cup as much as we enjoyed preparing it for them.