Tag Archives: coffee

My Trip to India

So many travel to India to discover themselves through meditation. I was born in India and didn’t leave till I was 17. As some of you may remember, I went to India last December and discovery or rather re-discovery, especially of my culinary roots was top of my mind. I thought a six week trip would be long enough. When it was time to leave though, I was very tempted to extend my stay for another month. There were so many things I still wanted to do and learn. For example, there was a week long coffee tasting and marketing course that was starting the day after my flight. I had to skip a trip to Chennai for cooking lessons in order to accommodate a few days relaxing in Goa. And with all the hustle and bustle of getting around in a big city like Bangalore, I didn’t have as much time to go shopping for kitchen tools as I would have liked (nor luggage space really, but that’s a different point). I’d also really wanted to spend some time on rural farms. Instead, I stuck to my plans and headed back to Seattle.

Perhaps it was the snow storm that hit the day after we got back, but the hectic pace of India that I’d been complaining to everyone about when I was there, suddenly seemed vibrant and exciting rather than annoying and hassle filled.  Rather than family offering me food all the time, I had to go shopping and cook. There was a void. It took about a week to get over the jetlag but about a month to get over the mindlag.

I regret not having had a longer time to spend in India, but I know what things I’ll be focusing on for my next trip. In the meantime, I realized that I hadn’t pulled together as many blog posts of my trip as I had wanted to! Here’s a start. These are all the posts related to my trip. I do have more video material that I haven’t processed due to technical issues. Here’s hoping I can afford to buy a new laptop soon and get more cooking videos completed soon!

Bangalore City Market

Heaps of kumkum and turmeric at the Bangalore City Market

Romantic Red Hills in the Nilgiris

Red Hills Guest House, Ooty

How Seven Beans Changed the World: Indian Coffee Part 1

The Story of Indian Coffee

The Story of Indian Coffee

From Bush to Bean: Indian Coffee Part 2

Coffee Harvesting

Coffee Harvesting

Sweet and Spicy Pineapple Curry

Mangalore pineapple curry

A Sweet and Spicy Pineapple Curry from the West Coast of India

An Afternoon with Sabudana

Sabudana Khichdi

Learning How to Make Sabudana Khichdi

The Third Most Expensive Spice in the World

Cardamom: The third most expensive spice in the world

Cardamom: The third most expensive spice in the world

Swiss Chard and Yogurt Curry Sauce

swiss chard and yogurt curry sauce

Swiss chard in a Mangalore style “Thambli” or Yogurt Curry Sauce

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From Bush to Bean: Indian Coffee Part 2

There was a time when I was a little kid and thought that adults were strange because they liked the taste of coffee. Now I try hard to limit my consumption of it to two cups a day and I know what part of the world I like my coffees to come from. But one thing that I did appreciate even back then were the rare field trips into coffee estates when I spent summers off with family.

On my recent trip to India, I got to meet my relatives and spend some time again at their coffee estates. Now, not everyone knows that India has a history of coffee. While taking pictures, I realized that others may also appreciate seeing where and how coffee is harvested and processed before you can drink it. So I put this video clip together for you.

The rest of this post details the process if you prefer to read.

There are two main strains of coffee: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is harder to grow, requires higher elevation and also sells for a higher price. Robusta is a lot easier to grow, is more disease tolerant but sells for a lower price. The two are very easy to tell apart. The leaves of the Robusta bush are broader and bigger.

Harvesting

Ripe red berries are harvested by hand towards the end of the year. The coffee pickers are typically women and they go from bush to bush plucking ripe berries. The women are paid by the number of sacks they pick and so they work quickly. If the coffee estate has a mix of Arabica and Robusta bushes, the women have to separate the pickings.

ripe coffee berries being harvested

Ripe berries being harvested

coffee pickers

Coffee pickers weighing the sacks at the end of the day

Sorting and Grading

In my Uncle’s estate, the first sorting of the ripe berries from the green berries happens at picking. The few berries that are just short of ripe but that will decay before the next picking go into a separate sack from the red and ripe berries. Even so, before pulping can start, the freshly picked berries are spread out on a clean surface and further sorting and grading is done. Specialty coffees require only red ripe berries. Damaged and decayed berries and other impurities like twigs and leaves are removed. The berries are then placed in a tank and washed before being taken to a siphon tank. Here the good berries collect in one place and the ones that float are removed and processed separately.

coffee berries are washed

Red berries are washed and sent for further separation

Pulping

The good coffee berries then go through the pulping machine where the outer skin is mechanically separated from the coffee bean.

pulping machine that removes skin from coffee berries

Pulping and washing machine

Washing

Once the skin is removed the mucilage surrounding the bean is washed off when the beans go through the washing machine. The washed beans are collected in large containers to take to the drying yards.

Drying

The beans are laid out on a clean surface to dry in the sun. The thin layer is raked through about 7 times a day to ensure even drying. The beans are dried for 5-7 days or till they arrive at 10.5% moisture.

coffee beans drying in sun

Drying yard

Storage

Once the beans have been dried, they are stored in clean jute bags that allow ventilation. Plastic bags should not be used as they will make the coffee beans sweat. The coffee planter then sells the beans to a wholesaler or exporter.

Roasting

The beans are typically roasted close to the point of sale of the end product. Roasted beans will lose their flavor if not further processed or used within a few months.

Grinding

Coffee is typically sold ground in India though you can get roasted coffee beans too. Roasting and grinding is usually done at the same facility to the recipes specified by the buyer. In India, the coffee is mixed with some chicory. The coffee is then packaged for wholesale customers or retail consumption.

So the next time you drink a cup of coffee, hopefully knowing how coffee if harvested and processed will make your next cup of coffee taste even better. 

roasted coffee beans

Roasted beans

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How Seven Beans Changed the World: Indian Coffee Part 1

Seven coffee beans were enough

It was the 17th century. An Indian priest, Baba Budan, went on a pilgrimage to the Middle East. He had had coffee and was so enamored of the drink that he wanted to take it back home with him to India. But the coffee bean and the plants were carefully guarded. Any beans sent outside the Middle East were boiled and sterilized so no coffee could be harvested.

Risking his life, Baba Budan strapped seven beans to his chest and smuggled them to the foothills of the Western Ghats in South India. The beans were planted and the bushes thrived. The area of Chikmagalur became the birth place of Indian coffee.

It was a very good thing that Baba Budan did not have to go through an x-ray machine at Customs because coffee then spread to the rest of the world from India.

But the story of coffee goes back another 500-600 years. Legend has it that a goatherd observed his flock eating some red berries after which they became very energetic. He took some of the berries to the village priest. The priest boiled the red berries in water and had a sip. Coffee was born.

Coffee cherries ripe for harvest

A coffee nursery

Saplings

Today, while Indian coffee is very popular in India, especially in the South where it is grown, it is virtually unknown outside of the country. About 75% of Indian coffee is grown in the Southern state of Karnataka in Chikmagalur, Sakleshpur, and Coorg. India mostly exports coffee to the Eurozone and very little finds its way into the US.

Even with a sizeable domestic market, the life of coffee planters is not secure. Fortunes are made and lost with huge fluctuations in the coffee market. When Vietnam ramped up its coffee production, prices for Indian coffee dipped low. My aunts and uncles who live in Sakleshpur and have coffee estates say that another big problem today is that labor is very hard to get despite offering high wages and other benefits.

Many spices, such as pepper, vanilla and cardamom are grown along with coffee. This gives the estate owner some additional revenue. But the market for spices is not a stable one either. The prices for vanilla for example, a labor intensive spice as it has to be fertilized by hand, have gone as far up as 15,000 Rupees per Kg down to just a couple of thousand Rupees per Kg.

Coffee estates are beautiful and are a lot of fun to visit especially during harvest time. The coffee from my family’s estates is shade grown. This means that there is a diversity of tall trees providing cover to the coffee bushes below. The trees of course attract all kinds of birds. We’ve even spotted peacocks!

While coffee tourism has started, it is in its infancy and there are only a few coffee estates that offer home stays and tours of their estates. So if you are ever in South India, I’d encourage you to get off the well-worn tourist track and visit one of these estates to learn more about one of the world’s most popular brews.

Coffee estates are beautiful

Coffee pickers tallying up how much they picked so they can get paid

Pepper, cardamom, vanilla, oranges etc are also typicallly grown in coffee plantations

Gorgeous pepper vines are everywhere in a coffee estate!

You'll see all kinds of chili plants on estates as well

p.s. I’m back after traveling in South India for almost 6 weeks. I hope to get posting more regularly again.

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