Ashish D’Abreo, Co-Founder, The Flying Squirrel
Single-origin coffee is completely dependent on the farmer. Which is why not all single-estate coffees taste good. The flavour of the end product depends on how well the crop is taken care of by the farmer; how much care is put into cultivating it, such as pruning the plants, picking the beans on time. This is what makes single-estate coffee different from commodity coffee, that’s a mix of coffee grown at various places. Coffee grown at various regions tastes different. For instance, coffee from high altitudes is sweet, whereas that from lower altitudes is low on sweetness. Coorg and Chikmagalur produce some of the best coffee in the country. My favourite single-estate coffee is obviously ours — my partner Tej (Thammaiah) is a third-generation farmer and really knows what he’s doing.
Marc Tormo Altimira, Founder, Marc’s Coffees
The Auroville-based coffee entrepreneur, Q Grader, roaster, brewer and creative consultant, says that single-origin coffee comes under ‘speciality’ coffee. “This term is used to describe coffee that is traceable to the farmer who grows it. He will place quality ahead of quantity and will produce the highest quality possible in his plantation. This is something unique and people will be willing to pay more for it. Speciality coffee is a way out for those who cannot compete in the commodity market where prices are subject to stock market rates. To produce it, the farmer needs an understanding and knowledge of drying, fermentation, and other techniques. I feel all regions in India produce world-class coffee — from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, to Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.”
Sadhavi Ashwani, co-founder, Baba’s Beans
Single-origin coffee is different from single-estate coffee. Coffee from say, Coorg or Chikmagalur is single-origin, while that from one particular estate in these regions is termed as single-estate. It’s farming practices and the soil in which the coffee is grown that add personality to a coffee, ensuring that it is immaculate in the cup. In India, for instance, since we grow a lot of spices, our coffee naturally takes on nutty, chocolatey notes. Most of our country’s coffee is shade-grown; the cherries are hand-picked and wet-processed by passing them through gushing water; it is raised on hilly terrains under the shade provided by the silver oak. Pepper wines creep on the trees and this adds to the soil. At Baba’s Beans, we have a variety that’s grown under the shade of fig trees, so it ends up taking on fruity notes. Every single-estate coffee has a story; every cup has a unique flavour owing to the personality imparted by the soil, the plants that it is grown next to and that of the farming techniques.
Krittivas Dalmia, founder, Kaffa Cerrado
I don’t think single-estate coffee will ever replace regular, processed coffee. Neither is entirely replaceable. Coffee itself, as an industry, is still in the nascent stage, if you look at consumption in terms of percentage of population. Even among those who do drink coffee, the taste that they are used to, which includes chicory, is a very distinct one. So while there is an obvious difference in taste, flavour and aroma when it comes to single-estate coffee, the shift will take time. It has begun, though: in India, we seem to have skipped the stage of brewed coffee that is not single-estate (except outlets like CCD, which haven’t penetrated the local market that much), and moved directly to single-estate coffee. There can be ecological advantages to this, but it differs from estate to estate. Many estates are taking on bird-friendly or shade-grown practices, encouraged by the coffee board. It’s easier for the consumer to check which producers are following these practices and which aren’t. Plus, if you buy directly from the estate, the farmer gets the market price directly and middlemen are reduced to a large extent. You could count that as an advantage.
Compiled by Akila Kannadasan and Meghna Majumdar