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(Top-Bottom:) Estate Coffees (clockwise) - Meerthi Mountains, Horseshoe Heights, Buttercup Bold, Jamboor; Specialty Coffees (left - right) Monsooned, Mysore Nuggets, Robusta Kaapi Royale; Karnataka - Mysore, Bilgiris, Coorg.
Quality Coffee Regions

By Sunalini Menen

India offers not just quality coffee, but a basket of varied qualities to suit every palate. This is due to the differences in altitude, soil and climate, plant strains, regions of growth and processing technology followed by the individual farmer. Sunalini Menon reveals the many characteristics of its coffee and regions.

The coffee regions in India are in the three southern states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamilnadu, apart from a small quantity (approx. 8%) which is grown in the non-traditional belts of Andhra Pradesh and the North Eastern States of India such as Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.

Karnataka State, which constitutes 53% of the country’s production, produces both Arabica and Robusta. While Kerala predominantly produces Robusta coffee [28% of the total production in India is grown in this state], Tamilnadu produces both Arabica and Robusta, growing 11% of the total coffee grown in India.

In the State of Karnataka, the top quality coffee regions are Chikmagalur, Bababudan, Biligiris and Coorg. The altitude at which coffee is grown in Chikmagalur is between 2,000 and 3,500 ft, with Arabica production being approximately 20,000 T and Robusta 25,000 T. This district includes the famous Mysore coffee, which has a visual quality of long wide beans, with bluish grey color and the cup is characterized by mild body, fair acidity and fine subtle flavor. The uniqueness of Mysore coffee is that it could be used as the main component of a blend; as a fragrant aromatic topping for a drink or lending to being blended with coffees from other origins.

The famous Bababudan Hills, where the first coffee seeds were planted by a pilgrim Saint Bababudan, to result in the birth and establishment of the present Indian coffee industry, is a top quality coffee region in India. This region is often referred to as the “Giri’s.” Here, coffee has been planted at a high altitude of 3,500 to 5,500 ft, yielding excellent quality dense coffee beans. This hill produces 35,000 T Arabica and 5,000T Robusta. The washed Arabicas of the Giri’s have Good Body, Fine Acidity and an aromatic bouquet, with distinct mocca flavor. The gourmet markets in the world, including Japan, purchase this regional coffee, which has the distinction of not only highlighting exotic dark roast espressos, but also providing the base for an espresso. A dual role is indeed the speciality of this coffee from the Giri’s.

Left: The famous Babaduban Hills, a top quality coffee region also called the "Giri's"; Right: Araku Valley, a non-traditional coffee area in Andhra Pradesh.
Biligiris is not a well-known coffee region, but has the potential to produce a small quantity, yet exotic quality coffee beans. The altitude is 3,500 to 4,500 ft and the quantity of Arabica produced is just 5,000 T. Small growers dominate this growing district and produces some of the finest, large elongated coffee beans, with discerning floral notes, laced with acidity.

Coorg, known as Kodagu, the home to the respected coffee growing community of the Kodavas, produces both Arabica and Robusta coffees. The elevation ranges from 1,500 to 3,500 ft, with Arabica accounting for approx. 25,000 T and Robusta 60,000 T. The Robustas produced are some of the best in the world, with the beans being compact, oval to round in shape with pointed tips and golden brown colour. As for the Robusta Parchment, the highest quality in India is obtained from this region. The beans have a bluish grey colour, with “soft” and “Neutral” tones in the cup and could provide the buttery crema, which is a hallmark of quality in an espresso drink.

Kerala, with its wide expanse of backwater lagoons and coconut trees, produces mainly quality Robusta, of approximately 55,000 T. Some of the excellent Robusta Cherry coffees in India are from the regions of Wynaad and Travancore in Kerala State.

The Robusta Cherry beans from Wynaad are produced at an altitude of 1,000 to 2,000 ft, accounting for around 40,000 T of Indian Robustas. The beans have the characteristics of golden brown color, with strong body and bright neutrality in the cup.

Travancore Robustas, almost unheard of, are uniquely distinct, with the potential for preparation of special and even specialty coffees!! The Travancore region, best known for its beautiful topography, hilly terrain and above all the Maharajas and the Maharanis of yesteryears, also produces Robusta coffees, which have unique cup quality. The quantity produced in this region is approximately 10,000 T, at an altitude of 2,000 to 3,000 ft. The Robusta beans could be best described as golden bold beans, with sparkling neutrality and hardly any bitterness.

Tamilnadu, the state remembered for its myriad temples and historic culture, produces both Arabica and Robusta coffees, with Arabicas of approx.12,000 T and Robustas of 5000T.

Nilgiris, the number one region in the world market for fragrant teas, is also the home to aromatic and distinguished coffees from India. The Nilgiri Hills also known as the Blue Mountains of India, produces just 2500 T of quality Arabica. The beans are blue in color, large and wide with tight white centre cuts. In the cup, the quality is best described as full bodied with fine acidity and flavor akin to wild berries. These coffees could be compared with some of the finest coffees from Ethiopia and are appreciated by German and Japanese buyers, who find their flavor and acidity excellent components for canned coffee.

Shevaroy Hills is a place of scenic beauty, centered around a lake, with coffee bushes and forest trees adorning hills at an altitude of 3,500 to 5,000 ft and producing just 3000 T of quality Arabica. Oranges, peaches and apples playing truant with ripe red coffee cherries is the trade mark of Shevaroy Hills. As for the coffee beans which are medium in size, are dense, distinctly green in color and have good clear acidity and a fragrance with a hint of Spice. Truly unique beans to be served as filter coffee.

Anamalais, as the name implies, is the home to numerous herds of elephants, producing special Arabica coffees, which are still unknown to coffee connoisseurs around the world. This region in India, produces approx. 2,000 T of Arabica coffee, at an altitude of 2,000 to 3,500 ft. The beans are large, greyish green in colour with a balanced cup, highlighted by “fruit” notes. The beans also roast evenly and lend themselves to uniform and effective blending - a coffee roasters’ delight!

From the traditional coffee areas to the non-traditional coffee areas of Araku valley in Andhra Pradesh and Kohima in Nagaland, Indian coffee is certainly preserving not only the natural forests in these areas by preventing shifting cultivation; providing employment to the tribal force (90% of whom are women and uplifting their lives) but also enabling the preparation of some fine distinct coffees from these areas. Special strains of coffee with lineage to an Ethiopian strain are being processed with upgraded processing technology and the marketing of these coffees with distinct brand identities are being explored.

Distinct Preparation Techniques To Market Estate Branded and Specialty Coffees
India has entered the arena of Estate Branded preparations. Distinct plant strains and unique processing techniques have helped in the preparation and marketing of coffee as “Estate Brands.” It is an established fact that each plant strain has distinct quality characteristics. Certain estates cultivating plant materials with unique acceptable cup quality characteristics have taken to processing them with strict adherence to quality norms and are now launching them in the market as Estate Brands.

Meerthi Mountains, Banangala Organic, Horseshoe Heights, Jamboor and Buttercup Bold are some of the Estate Branded Coffees, which have been prepared from distinct plant strains and with special care during processing..

Meerthi Mountains, a delicious coffee prepared from an exotic Indian strain of Sln. 9, is from Badnekhan estate located in the Bababudan hills at an altitude of 4000 ft. These fine washed arabicas are the result of care from the seed to the cup. The processing is carried out on state-of-the-art machinery and is sun dried. The beans exhibit sweet acidic notes and distinct flavour of fruit nuances in a caramel dip.

Banangala Organic is from a well-maintained estate in the region of Coorg and belongs to the progressive company of The Bombay Burmah Trading Company. The coffee is organically grown and is prepared from a distinct plant strain of BBTC Selection, comprising greenish grey, bold dense arabica beans with balanced body and acidity and an aftertaste of fruit notes laced with smooth acidity. This coffee could certainly be served “black” and is the first Indian organic coffee to be offered to the overseas market.

Horseshoe Heights, an excellent Estate Branded Special Coffee of M/s Bettadakhan Estate, prepared from Sln.795 coffee beans, is from a high altitude estate (4250 ft.) nestled in the lush emerald valley in the Inner ‘Giri’ Mountains. The purity of the plant material has been ensured with the planting of uniform and homogenous plant material of the Sln.795 in distinct blocks on the estate. The coffee is prepared by the washed method, without any chemicals or machine attrition, utilizing only an aagard pulper to remove the fruit skins, with the rest of the operations such as the breakdown and removal of mucilage carried out by natural fermentation and manual washing and finally being sun dried. Labor intensive indeed, but the intrinsic flavour notes have been preserved and highlighted by the natural methodology of selective hand picking, processing with biological degradation and drying with the help of cost effective natural sunshine!

Jamboor, is a special coffee from Jamboor estate, at an altitude of 3500ft. in Coorg and owned by the well known Corporate company of the Tatas. The washed Arabica of this estate, is harvested by selective picking and is carefully processed both on the estate and at their modern curing factory, where the coffee is not only meticulously graded and stringently sorted, but also cupped to ensure the quality of the produce. This premium coffee finds favor with roasters, who follow a fast technique of roasting and the balanced body and acidity enables fine blending.

Buttercup Bold, is an exotic name for an exotic robusta coffee from a small farmer in Coorg. This estate houses distinct plant material of Sln.CxR, producing bold, dense beans, which when washed, possess a grey hue with clean, soft “buttery” after notes in the cup. This coffee could, with ease and perfection, provide the froth and bubbles for the much sought after espresso.

India also prepares speciality coffees for coffee connoisseurs around the globe. We have the proud privilege of having launched the Specialty Coffees of Monsooned Malabar and Monsooned Robustas as early as 1972, even before the world was awake to the concept of Specialty in coffee. These delicious beans, which are of golden hue, are large in size and possess mellowness with a hint of spice, making them unique in the cup. You could use these beans in a variety of ways….a neat coffee as an after dinner drink, as a highlighter in an espresso blend or as a smooth body builder in your regular filter coffee.

Added, washed arabica and robusta beans from selected coffee regions of growth and subjected to special preparation techniques have resulted in the speciality coffees of Mysore Nuggets EB and Robusta Kaapi Royale launched by the Indian Coffee Board in the 1990s. The popularity of these coffees is growing with the overseas trade. The recently introduced premium grades of Plantation AA and Robusta Cherry AA, comprising bold beans, which have been enriched with stringent quality standards are finding ready acceptance in the market.

Sunalini N. Menon is the chief executive of M/s. Coffeelab Private Limited. She can be contacted at: coffeelab@vsnl.com. Tel: (91) (80) 23610722, Fax: (91) (80) 23610722.

Tea & Coffee - June/July, 2005
Modern Process Equipment


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