Last month, we spoke to our Director, Chris about his origin trip to Southern India. Chris was accompanied by our effervescent Roaster, Libby, so now it’s her turn!
Libby is passionate about her coffee and especially the process of working to achieve the perfect blend for our devoted customers. She has shared some special insights into her experience; tasting a coffee cherry and the painstaking process of coffee growing and harvesting.
What was the first thing that struck you about India?
The beautiful landscape - and the people. The Baba Budangiri coffee growing region was like nothing I have ever seen. The air at 3500 ft (1066m) above sea level was so fresh and clean. We had low cloud and plenty of dew in the morning but then hot sun by lunchtime. To be surrounded by coffee trees and see the harvesters at work was amazing.
I had never been to India before and you hear a lot about the downside – but not much about the positives. The people we met were so friendly, happy, and hospitable – and so stress free. Although many were living in extreme poverty, they did all they could to make us feel welcome; very polite and spoke English so fluently. It was a wonderful experience.
Tell us about what you did there.
When we arrived at the estate, the coffee plantation started from the bottom of the mountain. As we drove up the road, as far as the eye could see, there were coffee trees on either side of the road. That’s where I was discovered the difference between arabica and robusta trees – the arabica leaf is a lot bigger than the robusta.
We visited the mills that clean and pulp coffee beans and saw the process for preparing dried, unwashed coffee beans which was long and labour intensive. Each day the beans are laid out to dry in big trays and then covered at night to stop moisture absorption.
We also visited the green bean processing mill, where dried beans are cleaned, sorted and graded by size. It was such a massive operation. Beans are screened by vibration, so the heavier bean goes to one side and the lighter bean to the other. Sorting was so advanced that the mill had a colour detector, so if the green bean is too yellow, it is discarded. The discarded beans are then sorted by hand to ensure the sorting process is correct.
What was the highlight of your trip?
Seeing a coffee tree for the first time and eating a cherry. Seeing those dark red, beautiful cherries hanging on the branches – it was amazing. For me it was the first real ‘wow’ moment. When we stopped at the farm, the first thing I did was pick a few cherries and eat one. Biting into the cherry, you get all the beautiful, sweet juices; and then the malk, which is like the honey around the bean. What an experience!
What sustainability initiatives are in place at these coffee farms?
I was impressed to see how the fields are multi-purpose. Right next to the coffee trees the farmers have planted large trees like palms that are over 10 metres tall, to provide shade, and they’ve planted peppercorn on those trees.
No land is wasted and there is a massive effort to reduce water use. The roots of these trees hold more water in the soil and also provide more oxygen and attract bird life, so there is a full ecosystem going on. Coffee bean pulp is also put straight back into the farming system for use as fertiliser. The farmers are conscious of minimising their impact.
Did the trip change your perspective of coffee?
It makes me sad that we may lose the traditions of the farming families because parents are now encouraging their kids to leave the farms to get an education. If we valued their work more and the workers received more money for their work, there would be more incentive for them to stay.
I have always had great respect for the product, not only because coffee is beautiful but it represents my livelihood as well. I have an even greater appreciation now that I have seen for myself the incredible work that goes into every cup. I feel I understand the product much better now.
What were the coffee and flavour characteristics of the region you visited?
I really loved the taste of their coffees. Their medium to dark roast was very flavoursome - chocolate, caramel and malty - not citrus and fruity which we tend to prefer in Australia. It was also a real eye opener to experience honey processed coffee beans, made so by the malk inside that is gooey and sweet.
Where would you like to travel next?
I don’t want to see the ‘industrial’ coffee production process – I loved what I saw in India, a very personal and hand-picked experience. So maybe Ethiopia, Kenya or Papua New Guinea. For me, the product is at its best when hand-picked.