This post is a part of a blog series on Coffee by Tushar Shukla.
Living in South India for over a decade, I have visited coffee plantations quite a few times in Coorg, Chikmagalur and Tamil Nadu (Honey Valley, Ozone Valley, Makkithitta, Chingara, Club Mahindra Madikeri and Virajpet, Lake Forest Yercaud etc.). And Coorg being a favorite for us, have fond memories of driving over from the busy city streets and finding solace in the rejuvenating lush valleys full of coffee and pepper plants. Most of the homestays and resorts arrange estate walks, which gave us an opportunity to explore the terrains on foot. One vivid memory stands out. We headed out for a relatively shorter trek in the adjoining estates and were using a map. I got a little adventurous and went off the planned route. The views felt a little different and in no time, we were officially lost! After some not so friendly conversations and discussions, we found an estate house, where the owners offered us water and somewhat understandable directions. The price we had to pay for this little adventure was sore feet and a missed lunch but we cherish the memory of discovering an unplanned terrain amidst the confusion.
In one of our Christmas trips to Honey Valley, I remember the wintery sun caressing the coffee beans spread out on open terraces, woodfire smoke on one side and the estate workers quietly going about their business on the other. While everything was routine for them, for an outsider this presents a magical sight. In the evenings, we would walk to the central dining hall for sumptuous Coorgi meals, and the pathways would be lit with minimalistic festival decor and colorful lights.
Where the wild coffee grows
I have delved into the world of coffee a bit more over the past few months, thanks to a book by Jeff Koehler (Where the wild coffee grows), and few interactive sessions(coffee tastings, conversations) at the local Starbucks, which resulted in a series of blog posts and a renewed love for coffee. This was all the more reason I was looking forward to the recent Chikmagalur trip. And it did give me a chance to explore coffee plantations from up close.
Coffee explorations in Sakleshpur
In our stay at Hemakoota Homestay in Attihalli (Sakleshpur), I went for strolls around exploring the sloping farms behind the main cottage and saw a lush growth of coffee. Though not the best maintained, it was still a pretty sight.
The next stop of our stay, Western Hills gave me a much deeper plantation experience. Being at a higher altitude, it was a typical valley plantation with plenty of opportunities to go for extended mini treks in the plantations, see coffee plants in all their glory and stages, and breathe in the fresh air infused with coffee and pepper. The owner, Hemanth, showed us an Arabica plant as well, and shared a few interesting insights on how Arabica is tougher to grow and maintain than the “robust” Robusta. I cherish a foggy December morning spent in this estate appreciating the beans and the hundreds of intriguing frames they presented to a photographer’s eye.
I took back few beans from the plants and some medium roasted coffee beans from a shop at Shanivarsanthe local market (suggested by Hemanth). It was the first time I was buying coffee beans and not the powder, and that felt good, as I would get to taste the real coffee without the addition of Chicory.
From Farm to Table
Coming back to Bangalore, I got the coffee ground and brewed it in a French Press. Though the color and aroma was great, the body felt quite devoid of character, with no maturity in terms of the acidity. I blended this ground with some Monsoon Malabar from Blue Tokai and that made it much better.
All in all, it was a satisfying experience to see coffee being grown at the farms, speaking to resort owners, meeting the workers, understanding the process and market mechanism at a high level, and finally tasting the coffee. Here’s to another cup.