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Gaining perspective of Indian coffees

Five Senses CoffeeRichard Austin 12 April 2016

Over the past seven years, my perspective of Indian coffees has changed dramatically. As our relationships at this origin deepened, I listened to the experiences recounted by our green sourcing team, read the detail in blog reports and ultimately, tasted a broad range of Indian coffees for both fresh crop selection and ongoing quality control. This month though, sees my first trip to this vibrant origin and I look forward to broadening my understanding of Indian coffees even further.

I have come to India to pay a visit to our long standing friends at the Sangameshwar Coffee Estates, owners and operators of several estates and mills that include our much loved Veer Attikan. The format of the trip is a little reverse engineered; earlier in the week I cupped with Sunalini Menon at her lab in Bangalore. Only after this cupping, will I embark to the hills — visiting the estates,learning the dynamics of the relationship and coffee processing.

First off, we cupped many different lots from Sangameshwar’s two main growing regions; Veer Attikan and Chikmagalur. The results of this cupping echoed the results I have read about in earlier blog posts — namely that generally Veer Attikan cups and scores ahead of the other estates operated by Sangameshwar. I was hosted by the amazing Sunalini Menon in her coffee lab in Bangalore. Sunalini is an extraordinary woman who has helped bring Indian coffees into the specialty light via reformation of government trade policy. She now consults for growers of both Arabica and Robusta, acting as a “checking gate” in determining both quality (sale value) and ensuring that customers get what they have paid for through quality control. Alongside this, she brings a vast array of processing knowledge to the table and helps identify processing flaws in the cup for both correction and guidance for growers.

Her accomplishments and travels are the stuff of folk law in India and a few sentences or even a whole blog can’t possibly pay adequate tribute to her knowledge, influence and significance in the coffee industry.

Of the 14 samples we cupped, all nine that I shortlisted as both volume and micro lots came from Veer Attikan. All of the Attikan coffees were cleaner, more complex and smoother in the cup and, I must say, that there were some absolute cracker coffees on the table! On paper this comes down to some simple geographical factors. Firstly, Attikan is at a higher altitude (1400-1700masl) compared with Chikmagalur (950-1000masl) which enables the coffee to mature and develop more slowly. Secondly, Veer tends to have a more preferable climate.

In the mix were also several honey processed and fermentation experiments which, as mentioned above, Mrs Sunalini Menon was instrumental in developing along with our friends at Sangameshwar Estates. I was blown away by these flavour profiles and several of them will be entering our micro lot programme in the not too distant future. The success of these fermentation trials demonstrates why Sangameshwar have been so successful at reshaping the image of Indian specialty coffee. Their progressive view means they are leaping forward, taking what they have and applying processing methods which elevate the cup profiles from say SCAA scores of 83-84 to an amazing 86+.

I count myself very blessed to be here visiting this incredible place and I’m looking forward to broadening my understanding of what makes these coffees perform so well in the coming days.

From here, I will travel to their lower altitude estates in Chikmagalur. Word has it that I am just in time for the annual 2-3 day bloom, so stay tuned for more updates!

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