India Coffee Tour : Karnataka, Chikmagalur, Ghats 2008

In early 2008 I visited India for the first time to get some first hand experience with coffee production here, and to get a sense of what level of quality is possible.  I wrote quite a bit about it here, this confusing and ambivalent reaction to the coffee culture. Yes, of course it’s just the view of an outsider, and ignorant for sure. But traditions in India, in the culture of how coffee business is done, can be confusing. It’s both incredibly enterprising, and arcane too. Anyway my rambling thoughts led me to these concluding paragraphs, which is perhaps why they never tried to sell me coffee after the trip :

I am afraid that my hosts on this trip will be a bit “appalled and delighted” too when they read my mix of comments. But as Guru from Rasthemane estate told me, “be honest with us … tell us what you like and do not like.” I like any coffee farmer that says that, because we can’t have a real relationship, farmer and buyer, unless we’re honest. Nobody on either end of a relationship can simplyu wave a wand and fix some deeply entrenched problems. I can’t wave a wand and fix the reputation India robusta has in the United States, for example. But each party can say what they truly think, and have mutual respect. I think Indian specialty coffee has a long way to go, and the way they want to get there isn’t a path I would recommend. Not this coffee buyer at least.

I was a bit confused when I received the invitation for this trip, partly because I am not used to growers paying my airfare (!) and because I didn’t understand the organization of the company, Karnataka Coffee Plantations, but had bought some coffee from them. Basically, they feel it’s better to invite a handful of customers-roasters over to meet suppliers-growers, rather than invest in magazine ads. That makes sense, and I think they get genuine feedback from roasters, and grower get to learn more about where their coffees are going. This group of growers does indeed own shares in the company selling it in the US, as do the Ranade family. But the growers are united because they are all subscribers to the Ranade micronutrient fertilizer program. It feels like a weird scheme, and has more to do with fertilizer than coffee. Until the day I drink fertilizer though, not coffee, I think the focus is a bit off.

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