April 26, 2013

The India Coffee Tour

My Coffee My Barista

It was another exciting opportunity to visit India just before Christmas, to fulfil my role as a coffee tour guide for the Equal My coffee My Barista Competition (MCMB). Equal had offered a trip to coffee origin for the winner of this popular competition. MCMB created great interest, and thousands of entries flooded in from baristas and their loyal customers from all over Australia. The winner was Joe Capra, from Foyer Café in Sydney. An extremely busy café in the city’s CBD, Joe has a great following in his role as head barista and was swamped with votes.

We also had the pleasure of extending the invitation to Joe’s brother, Adrian, who owns a coffee company in Young NSW called Art of Espresso. Joe and Adrian had never visited a coffee growing region outside of Australia, so a trip to Thalanar Estate in the Tamil Nadu region of India was a coffee lovers’ dream come true. We flew via Singapore and with 24 hours to kill, we checked out some tourist hot spots and spoilt ourselves with Chili Crab and Tiger Beer. The next day was a five hour trip to Coimbatore, India, where we were met by our host Pathy Kasiviswanathan, “Pathy”, who was our contact and tour guide for the week long coffee experience.

Pathy’s family has been farming coffee in the Elephant Hills region since the 1940s, growing high altitude, shade grown Arabic varietals. Because it was my second trip to India, I had taken a whole new view of the experience, and it was fascinating to see the expression on the faces of my travelling companions when they viewed Indian culture for the first time.

The trip took in a number of plantation visits, a farm stay on a coffee and tea plantation and a unique look at the lifestyle of the Indian coffee farmer. Part of the trip was to give the farmers of the Thalanar Estate a gift of a raincoat as a sign of friendship. This practical gift was greeted with an emotional ceremony we will all remember for a long time.

Please read on for Joe’s personal version of his Indian coffee experience. 

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Thalanar Coffee Estate, Valparai, INDIA

The trip was a real eye opener, particularly as this was my first ever visit to a coffee plantation. A great deal of excitement, a little nervousness and anticipation were my feelings prior to the trip.

Accompanying me on the trip were my brother, Adrian Capra from Art of Espresso Coffee in Young (regional NSW), as well as Sean Edwards, Managing Director of Café Culture, who acted as our Tour Guide along with Pathy Kasiviswanathan, Director of Elephant Hills Coffee, and his Uncle Ravi.

Not ever having visited a third world country, initially I was a little overwhelmed by the harsh and very poor living conditions. Driving to the plantation, which is approximately one hour from the city of Pallachi, I was amazed at the chaos on the roads; hundreds of motorcycle riders with no helmets, often doubling two or three others – it left me speechless. Yet, I didn’t see any road rage, and everyone gave way to both drivers and pedestrians. Major road intersections were entertainment for me, with cows, goats and bullocks simply standing around mingling through the crowds of people.

The road to the plantation was bumpy and winding, accompanied by many monkeys alongside, feeding on whatever they could find. As we climbed further and further up the mountain, approximately 4,000 m above sea level we were treated to some awesome views, as we made our way towards the plantation.

Thalanar Estate is situated in the most stunningly picturesque and mountainous terrain – so peaceful, green and quiet, with the occasional sound of wild animals such as elephants or bison. The farmhouse in which we stayed for 4 days was surrounded by thousands of lush coffee trees that were approximately 1.5 m high. The trees should have been dripping with bright red cherries; however, due to the lack of rain, the cherries were predominantly green. Despite this, other parts of the farm were ripe for the picking, and we had the privilege of seeing a truck load of luscious red cherries arrive to be dumped into the silos for processing through the pulping machinery on site.

The following day we geared up for a 5 km walk around the plantation. Along the pathway, we had the privilege of seeing an often sought-after bean, commonly known as “Kopi Luwak”. Later that evening, we gave a presentation to the men and women who work the plantation of a raincoat (sponsored by Equal and Café Culture). The delight, joy and gratitude on the faces of these simple farmers was priceless. What really amazed me was the awe on their faces when we showed them the photos we had taken of them on our iPad; many had never seen a photo of themselves. I was truly humbled by their simplicity and gratitude for a most basic gift.

Up early again the next day, we visited the Waterfall Tea Processing Plant at Gopalapuram, Chennai. It was an awesome experience, and I have now developed a greater appreciation for the way true authentic tea ought to be drunk. That afternoon we presented the children at the local school with more colourful raincoats, and the sheer joy on the faces of these most beautiful and innocent children was mind-blowing. At that moment, I wished that my own children were present to witness what I saw and to hear what I heard, so that they would have learnt a very valuable lesson in gratitude.

From a professional perspective, this trip has enabled me to fully appreciate the origins of this most humble coffee bean and to have a greater respect for its inherent complexities. This respect and appreciation has been derived from those simple hardworking men and women who work such long, tedious hours and earn a pittance for their efforts. From a personal perspective, I have learnt a great deal about the virtue of humility and to embrace simplicity in my own life and to fully appreciate more the things which are most important i.e. being truly grateful for all things in my life … try to stress less and embrace simplicity and respect for all people.

A heartfelt thank you to all those who voted for me. Without your votes, I would not have had this awesome opportunity to visit such a beautiful country, rich in culture, and lovely people. Thank you to Pathy and family for your hospitality and friendship and finally to Sean Edwards, for being our tour guide and the countless belly laughs we shared on the trip.


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