It’s a mildly sunny day after three months of rain, but no one at the coffee curing yard at Allanasons, in Kuthar Padavu on the outskirts of Mangaluru, is complaining. Dark monsoon clouds hover in the distance, and an evening of much-welcome downpour is guaranteed.
After all, it is this Southwest monsoon rain and the moisture in the air that will help create Monsoon Malabar — said to be among the most hallowed coffee blends in the world.
After all, can there be a better coffee than one cured by Nature?
The story behind this bean is rife with serendipity. It is believed that during the days of the Raj, when coffee beans were transported by sea to Europe, the humidity and sea winds worked on the bean, ripened it, reduced acidity and turned it pale yellow. When brewed, these beans yielded mellow, smooth coffee with what is sometimes described as a pleasantly ‘earthy’ flavour.
The coffee went on to develop a devoted following. Once packaging techniques and modes of transport were modernised, it could no longer be cured in transit. So, people worked on trial and error to recreate the conditions at sea on land, along the Arabian Sea coast.
At the three-acre curing yard that sports sheds with brick-red sloping Mangaluru-tiled roofs (with A Albuquerque etched on them) shored up by white pillars, there’s coffee in various stages of curing. Fresh bags of Arabica from Chikmagalur, Sakleshpur and Coorg are piled in a corner, while workers evenly spread out nearly 15,000 kilograms of green coffee beans using rakes. This is churned and raked every day to allow the beans to breathe. In an adjoining space is a similar quantity of beans spread out a fortnight ago. They are almost off-white in colour, plumper from the moisture absorbed.
This batch is all ready to move to the next stage of processing. The coffee is packed in gunny bags filled to three-fourths capacity, and placed one on top of the other in a room with the windows open. The humid air will help the beans grow in size, and take on a mellow flavour. In between each stack of bags is a wind row, to allow for enough aeration, explains Poonacha PS, the manager of the Mangaluru unit. The bags literally swell by some inches after the three-month-long process.
Later, they go to a mechanised unit that cleans and segregates beans based on size. The highest quality must measure above 7.1 mm; that gets the AA grade.
Work on the coffee yard goes on through the year; the monsoon months are used to cure coffee that is processed the rest of the year before export. Of late, niche domestic retailers also stock this bean.
The time taken, labour-intensive process involved and the constant monitoring involved ensures the processed bean costs almost double or more that of its regular cousin. Roasted and ground bean can cost about four times more.
Poonacha, who recently went to Amsterdam for a coffee festival says: “The appreciation for this bean is huge. People loved it and looked at you with envy, because you have a process that can never be manipulated outside of this coast.”
Because Monsoon Malabar is an acquired taste, people either love it or hate it. And once a fan, it’s a lifelong affair with a coffee that reminds one of rainy days and romance.
Marc Tormo Altimira, 47, of Marc’s Coffees in Auroville, tasted his first shot of Monsoon Malabar more than two decades ago in Spain. “I never forgot the mellow, smooth coffee with notes of wine,” recalls Marc, who began brewing the coffee and retailing it about eight years ago. “When I started my coffee brand, I wanted to stock this, because it’s very unique to India. I buy my stock through the year from Mangaluru. What makes this blend very interesting is the story. It makes you nostalgic.”
Marc’s café pairs monsooned Arabica with dark chocolate brownies, slices of almond chocolate cake and grilled sandwiches.
One in a million
“Monsooned coffee is unique because no other country in the world can produce this,” he says.
Marc roasts two variants. A light roast Arabica best for black coffee or pour overs. And Malabar Blues, a dark roast of 50:50 Arabica and Robusta, which pairs well with milk.
What’s the best place to have a cup of Monsoon Malabar? Marc’s reply will make you smile.
“Ideally, a place where the monsoon is pouring down. When you are back from a walk in the rain and need something to warm you up. A cup of this is one of the best experiences you can have. After all, you are drinking a coffee created by rain, in the rain.”