Three Education Lots from India
Passenger's Education Lot menu was created to be a home for inspirational, and in some cases adventurous, coffees of unique context. As with our Reserve Lot offerings, these are coffees of impressive quality. But in contrast to the Reserve Lots, where the primary story is cup quality, Education Lots are coffees that have been selected for inclusion because they:
- Highlight something of interest about coffee plant genetics,
- Showcase the quality potential of coffee production in unique microclimates,
- Provide a comparative or experimental exploration of coffee processing, or
- Represent a coffee producing region of historical significance
Passenger has maintained a long appreciation for Indian Coffees, having first presented washed kent variety separations from Karnataka on our Education Lot menu in 2017, so we could not be more excited to reprise a feature of this special origin. The three latest additions to the Education Lot menu, from Kerehaklu and Ratnagiri estates in India, offer a great opportunity to consider the historical significance of India as a coffee growing region, and to get a sense of the ‘taste of place’ that today’s ambitious producers capture in their harvests. In addition, the two producers in this collection employ unique processing approaches to present both hybrid arabica and robusta species coffees, giving us a chance to taste how distinct plant genetics and processing efforts interact in the cup.
A Brief History Of Coffee In India:
India is one of the oldest coffee producing countries in the world. According to historical record, the 17th century sufi monk Baba Budan smuggled arabica coffee seeds to India from Yemen where, at the time, export of coffee was tightly controlled, with coffee only leaving Yemen in a roasted or boiled state so as to prevent propagation of the crop elsewhere. After successful cultivation in India, the hills that became home to the many flourishing coffee estates in the mountainous Western Ghats came to be eponymously known as the Bababudangiri. Introduction of robusta species to India came later, arriving at the close of the 19th century by way of the then Dutch colony of Java. While it remains the case that India is one of the largest producers of robusta coffee in the world today, it’s also true that India is capable of producing high quality arabica coffee, a fact that the specialty market has only more recently begun to recognize and appreciate.
The 108 hectare Ratnagiri Estate in the Chickmagalur region of India is owned and operated by Ashok Patre and his wife Divya. Generations of the Patre family have grown peppercorn and coffee for nearly a century at Ratnagiri, and Mr. Ashok and his wife continue to push boundaries for the future of the estate, particularly when it comes to coffee processing. This anaerobic washed lot was pulped and placed in stainless steel tanks flushed of oxygen, where the seeds were then allowed to ferment for an astonishing 112 hours before being washed and dried. It has been our experience at Passenger that coffees fermented for this long will almost always exhibit “off flavors” in the cup, reminiscent of overripe fruit or rotten fruit - but this is not the case with this coffee. The remarkably clean sweetness and fresh fruit flavors in Mr. Ashok’s coffees are a testament to his investment in processing infrastructure and his painstaking attention to detail during fermentation. In addition to his pursuit of quality, Mr. Ashok has also maintained a commitment to environmental sustainability at the estate. Only organic soil inputs are used to fertilize the plants at Ratnagiri, which supports both the health and longevity of the coffee plants as well as the native shade trees that cover the estate. Fresh water from streams on the estate are used for processing, and strict protocols are upheld to process any used water before it re-enters the surrounding environment. Water use is further reduced by use of an EcoPulper prior to fermentation. As is clearly evident in the cup, the sum of the Patres’ efforts at Ratnagiri continue to build the case for India as one of the more underestimated regions in the coffee growing world today.
The Kerehaklu Estate in Karnataka is run by father and son duo Ajoy and Pranoy Thipaiah. The two bring an impressive combined knowledge of biology, agronomy, and agriculture to their management of the farm, resulting in some of the most compelling coffees from India that we at Passenger have had the opportunity to taste.The lush Kerehaklu estate is home to dense, old-growth forest that’s rich in biodiversity and supportive of arabica, robusta, and liberica species, as well as the occasional itinerant elephant or tiger. This washed arabica selection, as is true of the majority of the coffee produced at Kerehaklu, is processed using a controlled anoxic (or low oxygen environment) fermentation. The lot underwent a 32 hour anoxic fermentation before being washed and then moved to raised beds inside of the Thipaiah’s impressive ventilated ‘poly-houses’ for drying. The variety, known as ‘selection 9,’ is a cross between an ethiopian landrace variety called tafarikela and the rust resistant timor hybrid variety, and is one of a handful of different numbered hybrids known as ‘selections’ that are ubiquitous throughout coffee production in India.
This Robusta selection from Kerehaklu - the first Robusta to be featured on Passenger’s menu - is an example of a cultivar known as CxR, which is one of a number of hybrid cultivars created at the Central Coffee Research Institute of India (CCRI) that includes genetics from two distinct species: Congensis (a species believed to be native to the Congo) and Robusta. The result is a compact plant capable of high density cultivation and yield potential, as well as improved cup quality and the ability to yield fruit in as little as 1-3 years. As is true of this Robusta selection, Pranoy prefers to naturally process the majority of his Robusta harvest, using an ‘anoxic’, or reduced oxygen, fermentation process. This particular lot was fermented in whole cherry in a reduced oxygen environment for 22 hours before being spread out to dry on raised beds inside ventilated polyhouses.We’re truly excited to have the opportunity to present Pranoy and his father’s coffee for the first time, and we hope to be able to continue to invest in their vision in future harvests. To dig deeper into the work being done at Kerehaklu, check out our interview with Pranoy Thipaiah here.