Ian Steel, Owner of Atkinsons Coffee was invited to Araku in India to cup their annual selection of the best lots of coffee.
Never have we had so much to say about the Socio, Economic, Environmental impact of a particular coffee, but the opportunity for Coffee to transform the plight of marginalised tribes, in an area stripped of previously fertile nutrients, is too important a story to just gloss over.
The Araku Valley, located in the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh, is inhabited by indigenous tribes, the ‘Adivasi’ the earliest residents of India. This is not the traditional coffee growing region of India, which lies in the Western Ghats around Kerala. However, it does have great potential to grow great Arabica. It has just the right terroir, temperature and altitude.
Indian Coffee cooperative
In 2001, the Naandi Foundation began to create a programme in the valley to support farmers growing coffee and other commodities as part of a wider project to help raise their quality of life, create small sustainable sources of income and at the same time create opportunities in the villages for education, medical care, better food sources, nutrition & fresh water.
After much success over the years, a cooperative called SAMTFMACS (Small and Marginal Tribal Farmers Mutually Aided Cooperative Society) has been created to allow farmers to take control of the process right up to the sale of coffee to the cooperative. There are now over 24,000 members belonging to the cooperative spanning some 800 villages covering a coffee growing area of 13,560 acres. All women members receive equal pay for equal work; some of them have even reached the highest levels of leadership.
I had the privilege of being invited to Araku to cup their annual selection of the best lots, part of a concerted effort to encourage the farmers to focus on quality with real rewards for the winners in the form of cash prizes, on top of the higher market value the coffees are able to command. Quite randomly, in the cupping, they saved the best till last, when, to my surprise a pass of naturals was brought out. After several hours of cupping this was an instant lift to my flagging nostrils! An instant hit too. I made a deal then & there to buy these coffees…
The hospitality we received was heartfelt and generous. The insights we gained were enormous. The coffee is not just Fairtrade & Organic certified but also farmed according to Bio-dynamic practices, which teaches the farmers to respect the soil and the whole environment. The assistance given by the Naandi Foundation’s experts is nothing short of inspirational. It’s like they’re terraforming an entire valley, with a long-term & patient tree-planting programme that starts with the shade trees, Mango, Papaya, Jackfruit and other nutritious, lucrative and carbon & nitrogen capturing varieties, before a single coffee tree is even interplanted.
The green beans have that sparkle of green & gold familiar to us from the natural Ethiopian coffees. The aroma in the newly arrived GrainPro sack is quite unlike any green coffee I have ever come across. It has a rich ferment of green undergrowth to wade through. It is decidedly spicy, with a pleasant peppery vibrancy. Our cupping revealed a wonderfully balanced cup with a pleasant aroma of sandalwood, low acidity, a full body, a vivacious mouthfeel and a finish of succulent fresh fig. My overall lasting impression is one of the forest, perhaps tainted by my walk through the silver oaks on the slopes above the paddy fields where the coffee is planted, amidst the lush green peppercorn vines.
All this from a coffee yet to reach its full potential . .
By Ian Steel, Owner of Atkinsons Coffee in Lancaster