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Veer Attikan — More than a fig forest

Five Senses CoffeeRichard Austin 22 May 2016

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of visiting Veer Attikan estate. The trip started back in Bangalore with the cupping of select lots from two of Sangameshwar’s coffee estates in Chikmagalur and Attikan. On the table, the difference between the lots from each estate was very noticeable and in a blind cupping, all of my selected lots ended up being from Veer Attikan. The difference was so clear in the cup that I thought I’d try to talk through the reasons for Veer Attikan’s incredible performance in this final blog from India.

Before I dig in and try to answer that question, I just want to add a little context and explain more about Veer Attikan estate. Jen has written many blog posts from Veer Attikan over the years which are a great read if you want the full story about how the relationship started.

Veer Attikan estate sits on a nature reserve in the Biligiri Rangan Hills (or B.R Hills as they are more commonly known). The estate was founded some 100 years ago by early English explorers and much of the original infrastructure — like the processing mill and bungalow accommodation – are still in use today. The old estate bungalow sits on top of one of the highest peaks in the range and overlooks the breathtaking Attikan coffee estate which sprawls across 400 acres of natural rainforest.

From above, you’re hard pressed to see a single coffee tree with the estate utilising much of the dense natural rainforest canopy as its shade. The estate itself is named after this natural shade canopy — Atti (Fig) and Kan (Forest).

In all my travels, I have never been to such an amazing coffee location. From the front porch of the bungalows, you are greeted by the sweeping vista that is Veer Attikan estate. A short two minute walk behind the bungalows greets you with another vista, this time looking back toward the town of Hassan which is barely noticeable through the layers of cloud and mist. I was preemptively told that at this more arid time of year, I may have the opportunity to see wild elephants on the estate as they often come to seek food and water. Just ten minutes after I arrived, I was greeted by three elephants; two females and a baby — what an experience!

Veer Attikan estate is an easy place to fall in love with — from the incredible wildlife and natural terroir of the place to the stunning coffee estate and friendly local people. It’s located at the edge of the world but at the forefront of India’s finest quality coffee. The nature reserve and coffee estate come together to produce something of incredible beauty, balance and harmony — my experience has shown me that this place is special, unique and irreplaceable.

On his recent trip to India, one of our green bean buyers Rich captured this stunning video of incredible beauty of the Veer Attikan Estate.

Veer Attikan from India from Five Senses Coffee on Vimeo.

Back to the coffee! As with viticulture, I get the impression that coffee production and coffee quality often collide and counteract each other. Strangely, some of the best yielding environments and cultivars simply do not produce the greatest cupping results. Fast growing, high yielding estates like Karadykhan (which I wrote about earlier) whilst looking healthy and vibrant on the surface, encourage coffees trees which are more akin to spoilt children. The trifecta of plentiful rain, rich soil and a lower altitude encourages fast growth and maturation, but does little for cup quality, nuance and complexity. The coffee trees get what they want when they want it in this scenario. The result? Spoilt little cherries!

On both the drive in and while walking round Veer Attikan, I had the overall impression that this landscape is more dry and arid than the one at their sister estate. For a start, the altitude is some 500-600m higher in elevation than Karadykhan which has a huge impact on coffee cherry maturation and slower growth rates. Such conditions generally favour the development of coffee flavour, especially in Arabica. The plants also seemed more vibrant in colour — they were a deeper, richer hue of green especially in the higher altitude lots around the bungalow. The region was also yet to experience its ‘bloom rains’ which Karadykhan had just days back. In general, the entire region experiences its bloom and start to the flowering season much later than its lower altitude cousin.

Stressing and straining plants to improve the quality of production is a known technique.

Examples of this in horticulture can be seen everywhere amongst fruiting varieties such as stone fruit, grapes and many different vegetables. The general gist of this idea is that denying the plant what it needs helps to establish a deeper root system that increases the uptake of nutrients during fruit development. This also makes the plant generally more hardy in nature, as with this more established root system the plants are more capable of flourishing in times of drought. To see this happening at Veer Attikan naturally with little influence from its ground staff truly suggests that this is one of the most ideal landscapes for coffee production in the area and perhaps in India. Couple the ideal environmental conditions with Sangameshwar’s progressive attention to agricultural practices and processing detail and the cup performance seen way back in Bangalore with Sunalini Menon makes logical sense.

This brings a close to my travels through India, a time that I will never forget! I am truly grateful to my hosts at Sangameshwar estates who have shown me an amazing journey to origin and treated me to some amazing food too. This is a tried and tested Five Senses relationship and given Sangameshwar’s approach to quality and social impact through their estate, it’s one that we should all feel very proud to support and be a part of!

Our fresh crop India will likely hit our shores in the coming months, so keep an eye out for upcoming alerts as there are a couple of stunning micro lots destined to rock our worlds!

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