Farm: ECOM Gill Coffee Trading PVT LT
Varietal: Chandragiri, Hemavathi & Selections9 &795
Processing: Natural processed monsoon
Altitude: 800metersabove sea level
Owner: ECOM Gill Coffee CuringWorks
Town / City: Chikmagalur
Region: Karnataka State
Overall: Terry's chocolate orange, leather, spices
Monsoon Malabar AA - India
Located in one of India’s primary coffee-growing regions, Karnataka, sits the foothills of Baba Budan. Here, ECOM, one of our export partners in the region, has been working with producers since 2008 as part of their Sustainable Management Services program, helping support and source some of India’s best specialty coffee.
The hills of Baba Budan make up part of the Western Ghats, a 1,600km mountain range rich in flora and fauna and well known for being a biodiversity hotspot. In particular, the town of Chikmagalur, where this coffee is from, is home to several natural streams, allowing the area to support a rich ecosystem.
As part of ECOM’s Sustainable management project, coffee production in the region is conducted in a way as to not harm the wide variety of plants and animals found here. In the estates of Chikmagalur, coffee is shade-grown, most commonly under three tiers of tree canopies. This technique helps to protect the coffee plants from much needed shade from too much direct sunlight, as well as also allowing the surrounding ecosystem to continue to flourish.
As well as coffee, producers in the region grow a range of other produce, including peppers, cardamom and citrus fruits.
Regarding varieties, much of the region formerly is home to solely Red Catucaí trees, known locally as HDT. More recently, new varieties such as Chandragiri, Hemavathi & Selections 795 & 9 are being selected. These varieties are selected on recommendation from the Central Coffee Research Institute and the Government of India. Extensive research has been conducted in the region, with these varieties in particular selected for their high yields, improved quality and resistance to pests and diseases.
‘Monsooning’ is a process unique to India, with a lengthy history and producing a distinctive, potent cup. It dates back to coffee farming under British colonial rule when during the several months that it took to ship green coffee from India to Europe, the humidity and sea winds caused the beans to swell and age. As transport improved and the beans suffered less from the elements on the route, European coffee-drinkers noticed that the coffee was losing the character and distinctive, bold flavour they were used to.
To combat the issue, a new process was devised to replicate the conditions that produced this singular coffee.
Coffee is first selectively handpicked before being sorted for quality. Next, the cherry is delivered via truck to ECOM’s mill in Kushalnagar; some 100km to 150km away. Once here, the coffee cherry is first dried via the natural process. The coffee cherry is placed on patios and slowly sun-dried for 6 hours a day, over 11 days. This slow drying method helps to allow for the retention of the coffee's quality and flavour. Once dried, the coffee cherry is milled, ready to begin the monsoon process.
To create the ‘monsooned’ crop, natural sun-dried green coffee is stored in open-sided warehouses on the coast, in this case in Mangalore, allowing moist tropical air from the monsoon winds to blow through the storage area. Over a 2 to 3 month period, the beans absorb moisture, lose a degree of their natural acidity and swell to around double their original size, becoming brittle and pale. The process starts when the monsoon season begins in June/July and is usually completed by the end of October. The result is an earthy, pungent, low acidity cup, which is often used to add body and weight to fine espresso blends.
Coffee producers in the region are currently facing several difficult challenges. Recent labour shortages have decreased the estate's ability to carry out timely pickings when coffee is at its most ripe. Shortages in staff have also meant organising the separation of the crop by quality or variety is difficult. This means that producers are forced to simply submit everything together, making them unable to achieve premium pricing for their quality lots.
As well as labour shortages, climate change continues to increasingly impact the region, making growing specialty coffee an ever more difficult challenge. Some of the dramatic effects include unseasonal rains in October and November, causing cherry to drop from the tree. Juxtaposed, extremely dry weather between September and March brings about a higher level of pest infestation such as the ‘white stem borer’. These factors result in estates not only producing lower yields, but are also faced by an ever increasing cost of production.