The lashing rain from the night before had simmered to a soft drizzle this morning. The clouds had parted, and the sundeck of our wooden cottage, perched high on stilts, afforded a resplendent view of coffee country Coorg. The freshly bathed dimpled-green Western Ghat hills rolled away as far as the eyes could see. Acres and acres of coffee and spice plantations dotted the landscape, intermingling with lush forests. The gushing sound of a waterfall drifted in from close by, blending with the rustling of leaves. Below us, as our resort’s plantation was waking up, we set out to witness first-hand the journey of coffee — from bean to cup.
With tall silver oak, teak, rosewood and other trees lending shade to coffee shrubs in the plantations, Coorg offers a gorgeous setting to observe the process of coffee production. Karnataka alone accounts for 70 per cent of the coffee produced in India, with the south-western districts of Coorg (locally Kodagu) and Chikmagalur producing the lion’s share. India, by some accounts, produces the finest shade-grown coffee.
Many of the plantations have homestays and resorts for anyone wanting to sample the plantation life. The deep dive into the coffee culture at our resort, sprawled over a 180-acre estate, begins right at check-in. You’re welcomed with steaming tumblers of delicious bellada coffee (Karnataka-style filter coffee with jaggery). The cottage-style wooden villas, in traditional Kodagu architectural style — sloping roofs, perched high on stilts — are placed at respectful distances from each other, for immersion into a planter’s private yet lavish lifestyle.
Umbrellas in hand, we follow our guide, through thick foliage and unending rows of coffee shrubs. Sharing interesting nuggets about the native flora that grows with wild abandonment, he points out the two main coffee varieties of Coorg — the hardy, disease-resistant Robusta and the better-quality, tastier, smoother and more expensive Arabica. A number of spices are often intercropped with coffee, such as peppercorn, cardamom, clove and nutmeg that help the coffee acquire lovely aromatics while adding a few prized cash crops in the planter’s kitty.
Each year, the life cycle begins with pearly white blossoms in February-March. Natural showers and sprinkler irrigation are crucial for their yield, which determine the amount of coffee harvested the following year. The blossoms turn into green berries and, then, a deep red when ripe, which are handpicked from November to February.
The walk is followed by a coffee-processing experiential programme at the little museum in the resort grounds. The ripe berries are dried and pulped to obtain the seed — aka coffee bean! The beans are sorted, blended and roasted in a traditional roaster. Encouraged to make our own blends, we weighed and mixed different percentages of the varieties according to our taste, put them in the roaster and hand-ground the divinely aromatic roasted beans into a fine powder — to be had as a hot brew right there, or carry back as a souvenir.
Back home, whenever I’d sip on my blend, I’d reminisce about the time I crafted it, and the scrumptious Coorgi lunch that followed, that rainy, misty afternoon.
Satarupa Paul is based in Delhi and writes on food and travel.
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