This year at the prelims for the Dutch Barista Championship, I brought a Natural Anaerobic Arabica from India to competition. Over my time of being a barista, rarely had I encountered Indian coffee in the bars in which I worked. For this reason I wrongly assumed that the quality and complexity might be lacking. It wasn’t until Back To Black introduced an Indonesian coffee to our bar that I began exploring what seems to be a wealth of underrepresented coffee. I was taken aback by a quality in the coffee from Asian countries that seemed so strikingly different from what I had experienced in coffees from the African continent and South America.
Following a curiosity to find out why we, baristas and consumers, weren’t so familiar with coffees from Asia, I came across some information that explained how a large outbreak of coffee leaf rust (in the late 19th century) forced coffee farmers to find solutions to make sure they still had a livelihood in coffee. This led to experiments with cultivating other species of coffee such as Robusta, which is cultivated most often for commodity purposes due to its resilience as a species and high productivity. Robusta then became most prominent and even to this day it is highly cultivated in Asian countries. For this reason, I was doubtful about bringing Indian coffee to competition but I believed it was time to shift gears and shine the spotlight on overlooked origins that deserve more attention for the incredible coffees that they are cultivating.
Introducing our Anaerobic Natural Indian coffee that we named Sunny & Ganesha (to reference the farmers). It is from a community of roughly five smallholder farms (that go by the name of Srirangalli Village) spread across the Pushpagiri Mountain Range in Western Ghats, South India. It is an absolutely Idyllic part of India and many people have compared it to the Scottish Highlands for its abundant natural beauty and untouched ruggedness. It is then no wonder that this mountain range has been labelled as one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots with over 5000 different flowering plants, 139 kinds of mammals, 508 bird species and a staggering 178 different types of amphibians.
So why exactly is this relevant to the coffee? Well, the quality of the coffee relies heavily on the condition of the soil. It is therefore advantageous to create a polyculture in the soil to replenish rather than deplete the nutrients there. In these particular farms there are native varieties of peppercorn, citrus fruits and cardamom growing alongside the coffee and we have been able to detect hints of these flavour qualities when cupping. The coffee of Srirangalli Village is also shade grown which is a style of farming (also known as agroforestry) that promotes natural ecological relationships. ‘Shade grown’ has also been evidenced to enhance the coffee taste due to the way it slows down the ripening process, leading to a higher level of natural sugars in the cherries which improve the taste of the beans.
It was the sense of giving back to nature that I really found striking when talking to Komal from South India Coffee Company. She along with husband Ashkay are fifth generation coffee growers and merchants that are on a mission to bring the best of the coffee grown in the Pushpagiri range to as wide an audience as possible, changing the current narrative that surrounds Indian coffee. It is really encouraging to see how they work with farmers who are using methods that are respectful of the natural environment.
We enjoy this coffee best brewed as a V60 filter, or if you feel like experimenting you can try my signature drink: 2 shots of India Sunny & Ganesha espresso, 100ml ginger beer, 50ml raspberry and lemon concentrate (which can be made at home in a pan on a low heat with 200g fresh raspberries, the juice of 2 lemons plus some grated lemon rind for extra lemon oil, 2 heaped tablespoons of sugar) and 1 teaspoons of walnut oil (this adds some hearty viscosity that is a perfect complement to the colder seasons)