We started this series to celebrate some of the most visionary coffee producers in India who put experimenting with different processing techniques at the forefront of their work. We couldn’t have imagined the outpouring of love we’ve received for this series and we hope to keep bringing you more coffees that showcase the potential of Indian coffees.
Thanks to Riverdale Estate’s ability to continuously yield such rare flavours with different processing methods, the likes of which we have never come across in Indian coffees, we’re featuring them for the second time in our Producer series. Riverdale Estate’s first coffee in this series was processed using papaya fermentation, a method where coffee cherries were fermented with real papaya chunks! For this coffee, the farm's handpicked ripe cherries are washed in natural spring water, and fermented for almost 90 hours with local red fruits found in the Shevaroy region. The result is complex acidity and a delicate flavour profile! With fruity taste notes of cranberry and red apple, and hints of vanilla and caramel, this beautiful light roast is recommended for manual brewing.
Riverdale Estate is located in the Shevaroy Hills of Tamil Nadu and is named after the gorgeous meandering stream that flows through it all year round. Since 1920, three generations have worked hard to enrich the quality of coffee that grows here. Experimenting with processing techniques to create unique flavour profiles is something Riverdale Estate is very well known for! To understand what drives Prakashan to experiment at the farm level, we spoke to him about the different processing techniques he has tried and how he spends his time at the farm. We learnt a lot of fascinating facts about growing coffee as well as some of the personal challenges he faced early on in his journey. Read on for the full interview.
Q: How did you start thinking about sustainable farming?
A: The amount of losses we’ve incurred in the early stages of farming really made us think about sustainable farming methods. At some stage we were almost considering shutting down the farm. Luckily, my brother is a roaster and he started educating me about specialty coffee and we saw that there was a big market for it globally. We were still unsure how to get started but then we met a friend who is a roaster in Melbourne. He had travelled to some of the biggest coffee farms in the world and played a big part in guiding me. It’s been a long journey and it definitely wasn’t easy to match international standards, but we understood that our planting structure had to change. I really wanted to help sustain this industry and find better, more sustainable ways to farm.
We chose selection 9 to grow for this region, since this varietal has very floral notes. We started working towards changing the farming techniques and started understanding the microbial activities in the soil. We realised that the quality of the soil and the amount of micronutrients in the soil is imperative to produce great tasting coffee. The biggest factor being the amount of carbon in the soil, as it really impacts the cupping notes of coffee. And that’s where we started from.
Q: How did you think of red fruits for this processing technique?
A: To be honest, we tried processing coffee with almost all fruits - jackfruit, papaya, grapes and red fruits to name a few - and we’ve been trying this for a long time! By now we know exactly what profile a specific fruit will yield. After trying this processing technique and understanding the market requirement, we started narrowing down this process to focus on only a handful of fruits.
For this lot, we used plums and other red fruits from the local region which are actually not very sweet and fermented them for almost 90 hours in a very controlled environment. It was important for us to keep in mind that we need to use a fruit grown naturally which will be ready in time for the coffee harvesting season instead of using fruits from cold storage. Since these local fruits were easily available, it seemed like a good idea to include them in the process.
Q: When were the coffee shrubs for this lot planted?
A: This lot was planted in 2010 and picked in January 2020. In the Shevaroy region, the planting season is from June-August. It takes at least 5 years for plants to fully develop and to produce intense flavours since it takes that much time for the necessary microbial activities to take place in the soil and roots of the plant. When the plant is picked, the leaf structure along with the roots are picked to ensure that the nutrient uptake is better. We always calculate the amount of sugar by calculating the number of leaves because leaves are the main source of sugar production in the fruit. It’s very important for plants to have leaves because that will ensure the ripening is delayed which, in turn, increases the amount of sugar in plants. This is why we recommend waiting for at least 5-6 years for naturals to be picked before they are planted.
Q: What did you hope to achieve by experimenting with coffee? And do you feel you have accomplished it?
A: What we were trying to do was to bring out the acidity and sweetness of Indian coffees, since Indian coffee is naturally low on acidity. I have tried coffee from many other regions and when I cupped coffee in Columbia, I realised that the coffee was sweet and acidic and the body was really good simply because their coffee is grown on much higher elevations and the type of soil is very different from India’s. With this red fruit fermentation, we found it possible to create unique flavour profiles that will be appreciated in India.
As far as whether we achieved what we set out to, my Australian roaster friends tasted this coffee and started comparing it to Ethiopian coffees which are so beautifully fruity and grown on much higher elevations. When this coffee scored above 84 in a few coffee competitions, it was the biggest form for acknowledgement for me. For any farmer, when their product is being appreciated in the market, there really is no better compliment than that!
Q: What struck you about Indian coffee when you came back from Colombia?
A: After traveling to so many regions, I realised that India has better infrastructure for farming than some of the countries that are leading coffee producers. That made me think and ask myself that if we have better infrastructure, how can we improve our farms and the soil so that we can improve our quality of coffee. Our country has better farming practices than some farms in Colombia. However, what we lack is good planting material which supports the cup quality. We always talk about the yield of coffee but very rarely do we talk about the cupping quality.
Q: How do you think climate change will impact the future of farming?
A: To be very frank, I think we just have to be really smart about our practices. We’re very selective about the people who work at the farm and that helps us maintain the ecosystem. Our farm is so rich in wildlife simply because we irrigate the plants and nurture the soil and don’t use weedicides. It all comes down to good management and planning ahead.
Q: Could you walk us through a day in your life at the farm and your favourite part of the day?
A: Having worked in the textile industry for ages, my day still starts at the textile office at 8:30am and continues till noon. From 3:30-6:30pm, I spend all my time at the farm and my favourite thing is to pick cherries with our team. It took us 4 years to teach them all how to pick them. Every evening, I interact with all the team at the farm.
The other part of my day that I thoroughly enjoy is when I go into my cupping room at the farm which is where I like to drink a nice cup of coffee. The cupping room has a variety of coffees on display across the room, along with brewing equipment and some funky jute sacks hanging right at the entrance! The cherry on top is the great view of the farm from the cupping room.
Q: How do you prefer to drink your coffee?
A: V60 is my favourite brewing method!
To understand how Riverdale's Red Fruit fermented coffee was roasted, we spoke to Suman Das, Blue Tokai's lead roaster in Bengaluru. Suman played a major role in developing a roast profile that brought out some incredible flavours in Riverdale’s beans. The excerpts below are a translation of Suman’s original interview.
Q: What stood out to you about this coffee?
A: This micro-lot is not only rare but also very balanced. The sweet acidity and the floral notes of this coffee really stood out to me. As this coffee cools the flavor becomes even sweeter and juicier. Not too intense, and enough to make you crave another sip.
Q: What flavours did you want to highlight while roasting this coffee?
A: Because of its unique fermentation method, this coffee has a natural sweetness. Our aim was to really bring out the floral and fruity notes that the fermentation technique lends to this coffee.
Q: What excited you or surprised you about this coffee?
A: After receiving such great feedback from our customers and friends about the first two coffees in our Producer Series, I was so excited to roast an equally rare and fruity coffee. I really enjoy the hints of vanilla and the lingering notes of caramel in this lot.
Q: Was the roasting technique different from the usual light roast coffees?
A: This was a slightly shorter light roast than usual, we have a long maillard faze to enhance the caramels, with development kept under 2 minutes after the first crack to keep the tart cranberry notes intact.
Q: Describe this coffee's taste notes in 3 words:
A: Sweet, acidic, juicy.