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Artisanal Coffee To Raise The Bar For Coffee Takers In India

To create new flavour profiles and tasting notes, companies are experimenting with methods like lactic acid bacteria fermentation, oak-wood fermentation, milk soothing, beer barrel ageing, honey sun-drying and orange pulp fermentation

Photo Credit : Photo Courtesy: Fig at Malcha


Artisanal coffee has started hot conversations in India, as millennial enthusiasts have started experimenting with home-brewing and more people moving away from instant coffee. In the past five to six years, with a huge amount of the young population getting international exposure, they have picked up the trend of drinking high-quality coffee, appreciating both its taste and learning how it grows. Marching on the shift, inspiring coffee entrepreneurs are up and scaled up for innovation and reimagining conventional coffee profiles. 

Sureena Dalal, the brand manager at FIG stated that people now have this urge of knowing what they are buying and consuming. “Now, speciality coffee is one such product. With so many cafes opening up, the owners too are conscious of the quality they serve. Travel post lockdown is vital and raging, people have gained knowledge, and now want to indulge in the beverage with meaning and purpose. Café owners or cafes with direct access to coffee farms, speciality coffees and single blend coffees can make a difference by being transparent and educating consumers, ultimately leading to the development of farmers, roasters, baristas, consumers and the overall evolving coffee scene in India.

However, despite the demand, there is a huge gap in the availability of such artisanal coffee in the Indian market. Founders of new Indian coffee brands sense that there is a huge gap between India’s potential to produce fine-quality coffee and awareness about it. According to Dalal, the reason is the cost bearing for small coffee shops. As the artisanal coffee market is labour intensive, the demand still does not match the expectations, not forgetting the fact that the cost for any kind of artisanal coffee is high. 

The second major factor according to Dalal is popularity. “It’s connected to the first point and that’s what is creating this gap in the market. Though there is an audience for the beverage, the Q grader certification has a long way to go in India,” she shared. Brands are also coming up with tutorials, workshops, and challenges for customers to experiment with coffee and brewing tools. 

To create new flavour profiles and tasting notes, companies are experimenting with methods like lactic acid bacteria fermentation, oak-wood fermentation, milk soothing, beer barrel ageing, honey sun-drying and orange pulp fermentation. In India, companies often end up following trends set by other countries, be it coffee production or consumption, however, many brands are taking things one notch up creating newer speciality offerings unique to the Indian palette. 

Roseate Hotels & Resorts for instance is soon launching its range of signature coffee blends ‘Roseate Coffee’ that offers variants made with a blend of Indian and Brazilian coffee beans, a blend of Indian and Ethopian coffee beans, a blend of Indian and Nicaraguan coffee, roasted 100 per cent robusta from Chikmanglur, Karnataka and Skandapuri Coffee sourced exclusively from Coorg.

“Coffee plantation usually happens on hilly regions hence it is very labour intensive; poor grade quality of coffee originates from plain areas with low yield as machines are used for harvest. The majority of high-end quality coffee is imported, hence the cost shoots up due to port duties and logistics involved whereas tea plantation includes low manpower and logistic costs, hence a good quality tea is possible even at a lower price vis a vis coffee,” Namit Agnihotri, area general manager of Roseate Hotels & Resorts commented while explaining the price differentiation.

A cup of tea and coffee in India is brewed with rolled tea leaves and instant coffee respectively which is super inexpensive. Artisanal coffees and teas are priced high because of the traceability and post-harvest processes involved which make them expensive. It would not be fair to compare a low-quality tea (brewed with rolled leaves) with coffee prepared with fresh coffee beans, explained  Chef Tej Wardhan Saini, De’Lan Cafe.

To bridge the gap of availability, Dalal feels that there is an urgency of building a sense of transparency. “This is where cafe owners or cafes with direct access to farms come into the picture. Coming together and educating the consumers, potential consumers, and even farmers for that matter is where we can take a step towards drinking coffee that is truly good and not just named so, on packets,” he commented.

Akash Kalra, CEO and Founder, United Coffee House Rewind also addressed the need for production in larger amounts and a stable distribution network that will bridge the gap till the time there is an increase in artisanal coffee producers who shall develop infrastructure of its kind to distribute their products in the market. 

A lot of coffee companies are also focusing on the quality of their products, with single-origin coffees (sourced from a specific region and not blended with others) being one of the popular options. Manoj Kumar, CEO of Naandi Foundation and co-founder of ARAKU Coffee feels that the rise in demand for artisanal coffee is similar to the microbrewery trend in the alcohol industry. “I, therefore, see this movement slowly moving from artisanal coffee towards speciality coffee for those who are discerning enough to understand its qualities,” he said. 

For Kumar artisanal coffee means non-industrial coffee. It also means good quality coffee.

On the other hand, Chef Amit Sharma - Chef Patissier & Co-Founder at Brewworks, believed that there’s nothing that prohibits getting good coffee at a lower cost - the difference today is largely due to quality supply not being ahead of demand. "As coffee consumption rises, we are bound to see more economies of scale that will reduce costs for the value chain without impacting quality. The other factor is that coffee chains usually have larger format stores - so those fixed costs also need to be recovered - that also drives the pricing," added Chef.

Anticipating the future, he stated that the next five to ten years is going to be a time when quality speciality coffee, home-brewed coffee and coffee as a culture, a ritual, and a ceremony will begin to become a status symbol for the aesthetes.

And there will be a coffee wave in India, which will spread the cross as a kind of mass culture. But there would be a very high-end coffee also, that'll come on top of it for the one per cent. “I think there is an opportunity to use coffee as the window to understanding our interconnectedness between soil microorganisms, food and climate the world over. In other words, the post-COVID world is probably going to be the world of coffee,” Kumar further added.

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