Araku Valley coffee has never been imported to the USA or Canada before their involvement with The Coffee Co-Mission. There is no FDA coffee processing facility near the region. The Coffee Co-Mission transported the coffee almost 1,000 miles away to be processed and exported to the USA. It was a grueling process that took 8 months in total. Coffee moisture and quality was maintained carefully throughout the process and the quality was successfully preserved. The Coffee Co-Mission is working to improve the export situation and in 2018 we will be buying land to build a new FDA registered processing plant to serve the farmers of the Araku Valley.
Coffee here is mainly cultivated in deep fertile jungle soils under a two tier mixed shade canopy comprising of evergreen leguminous and non-leguminous shade trees. Growing under shade has several advantages. Shade trees provide a natural habitat for vast population of birds and natural enemies of insect pests/diseases, help in reducing the soil erosion, contribute towards the fertility of coffee soils by recycling nutrients from deep soil in the form of leaf litter, and finally, to protect the coffee bushes from vagaries of changing weather conditions.
The horticultural practices followed in Indian coffee plantations are considered as one of the best in the world, in which emphasis is mainly towards manipulation of microclimate and plant health, so as to reduce excessive dependence on agro-chemical inputs.
The Araku Valley is an ancient and biodiverse area that is a popular tourist destination. Coffee was introduced to the region in the early 1900s but it didn’t catch on until the 50s and 60s. One of the benefits of the shift toward coffee cultivation by the tribal people is that it ended their Podu – or slash and burn - cultivation practices which has allowed the jungles to regrow and thrive again. The tribal people have lived in deep poverty despite improvements from coffee and other farming successes. It is an immensely beautiful and culturally rich part of the world.
About Indian Coffee
The story of coffee in India begins in Yemen in the 1600's. The Ottoman Empire sought to maintain control of the trade by boiling or roasting all coffee before it left the port of Mocha. During that time a Sufi man from India, Saint Baba Budan, discovered coffee while on a pilgrimage to Mecca. To bring coffee back to India with him he reportedly taped seven green beans to his stomach and smuggled them out. When he returned to India he planted them near the town of Chikmagalur making India one of the first countries outside of Ethiopia to grow coffee. Even though it has a long history with coffee it has only been since the mid 1990's that producing specialty coffee was thought about in India.
We look at India as the model country for the whole industry. Biodynamic and organic growing methods are the norm. Rainforests are prized and maintained to provide shade for coffee and other types of crops such as mango, pepper, and jackfruit. They have had issues in the past with different plant diseases but today their largest threats are monkeys and king cobras. Workers on larger plantations in the Western Ghats mountain regions are given free housing, health care and schooling for their children. Rare coffees are everywhere you look from the Monsooned Malabars to the Kaapi Royale Robustas, that can easily beat many Arabica coffees in taste and flavor, to the Mysore Nuggets and the wild grown coffees of the Araku Valley. Indian coffees are gaining popularity all over the world.
India hasn't been as great at marketing its coffee to the world as some other countries have been. The government controlled the industry from the 1940's until the 1990's when it started turning things back over to the farmers. During this time quantity was more valued than quality. The same practices that helped them maintain production numbers are also the practices that helped them develop such great quality funny enough. That's not usually the case.
India is getting better at telling their story, but that's still an area where they need help. Most of their coffee has been sold to Italy, Germany, Australia, and other markets across Asia. Because of this there are only two FDA registered processing facilities. So getting new coffees out of the country can be a massive challenge depending on who and where the producers are. The Coffee Co-Mission and partners plan to make substantial infrastructure investments in the Araku Valley region to help with this issue.