Merthi Subbangudigy Estate, otherwise known as M.S. Estate, is located in the rolling Sahyadri range of the Western Ghats in Chickmagalur, Karnataka. The farms extend over an area of 600 hectares and lie at an elevation of 900 to 1400 meters above sea level. The altitude, in addition to the rainfall which can reach up to 350 cms per year, rich soil and evergreen shade have helped nurture the Arabica and Robusta plants that grow here. MS Estate is one of several coffee estates owned by Balanoor Plantations, whose experience in the coffee industry dates back to 1937.
Amongst the Arabica, MS Estate grows selection 795, selection 9, Old Kent, Sachimore and Cauvery. Silver Oaks, Dadap and various jungle woods are interspersed among the coffee plants, providing shade as well as a welcoming habitat for a number of birds, including myna, parrots, peacocks, woodpeckers, owls and parakeets. Animals such as bison, deer, foxes, and wild boars are amongst the many animals found in this area.
Careful attention is paid to every aspect of picking, fermenting, washing, drying and curing. Three to four rounds of selective picking take place every year, with the timings carefully selected based on the strain and elevation of each particular group of plants. Shade grown Arabica and Robusta undergo natural fermentation and a modern, state-of-the-art processing and curing facility is used for preparing quality coffee. Notably, coffee is cured only when it is about to be shipped, ensuring that the freshness of the green beans is preserved throughout the course of the season. By maintaining complete control over all phases of the coffee production, including storing all coffee it its own warehouse, Balanoor is able to ensure the traceability of every single bean.
Sustainable cultivation is key at Balanoor, which has installed effluent treatment tanks in its estate and follows ecological and nature-friendly cultivation practices. Balanoor believes in the importance of preserving the natural forest as a part of the plantations and has built check dams and grown forest cover in ravines to prevent soil erosion and to conserve water. The estate provides its employees with housing, a school for the children of its farm workers, a crèche and medical facilities. Everyone who works at Balanoor is also provided with social benefits like maternity and sick leave. When we visited the Balanoor head office in Bangalore, we noticed an entire corridor covered in plaques and awards, notably the bronze award at the "Grands Crus De Café" contest held at Paris, organised by Association Connaissance Du Café Concours Paris 2004. It also ranked in the top ten best coffees in Illy Cafe's "Indian Coffee Quality Prize" held in Trieste, Italy.