This is a bittersweet moment for us since we're excited to launch our fifth lot of the Producer Series but sad that it concludes our most innovative coffee offerings from our 2020 harvest.
We're closing our 2020 Producer Series with Ratnagiri Estate once again. This time, we are featuring their Anaerobic Natural. For this lot, coffee cherries with naturally high sugar content were fermented for 30 hours in stainless steel tanks. The coffee was then slowly dried on raised beds for 18 days to extract the natural flavours in the mucilage. This rare light roast from Ratnagiri Estate has complex notes of honey, guava, dates and blueberry which come alive in manual brews.
We were very intrigued by Ratnagiri Estate's innovative processing methods and indulged Ashok and Divya in a conversation to tell us how their coffee journey started, what their usual day at the farm looks like and the challenges they faced.
BT: What inspired you to experiment with different processing techniques?
Ashok: It has always excited me to witness the many different flavour profiles that coffee processing can yield. I always wanted to produce coffees with unique taste profiles such as the ones grown in Central America. This is what inspired me to get innovative with experimental processing techniques, and my journey has just begun!
BT: When you started processing your own coffee, what were some of the biggest challenges and fears you faced?
Ashok: When you think of great coffee you often think of naturals from Africa. However, India has its set of limitations as the soil, varietals and the microclimatic conditions are not the same as in Africa or Central America. That being said, I realised that we have to work on the post harvest stages of coffee processing to be able to innovate with the quality of coffee we have in India. This is why we started experimenting with processing techniques such as anaerobic yeast fermentation, black honey, and the like. Initially, this was a complete trial and error run. We didn’t know when to stop the fermentation, and made a lot of mistakes. It was a really hard learning curve and was primarily focused on the fermentation period. So, one would only experiment with the total fermentation time. Back then we didn’t realise that the finest of atmospheric details can play a huge role in the fermentation process. We’ve started mapping all this data and have been doing this for the last 4 years to improve the quality of coffee by maintaining a record of all these details. The challenges we faced have helped us innovate and improve the quality of coffee.
BT: Could you walk us through your journey in the coffee industry…
Ashok: Our farm is family owned and was started in 1927 by my grandfather. When I took over the farm in the late 80s, it wasn’t doing very well as the farm was attacked by a lot of pests and we lost a lot of plants. So I took it upon myself to replant the entire area. But at that stage, dwarf varietals in India were just being introduced. So there was a lot of talk about whether to go for dwarf varietals or to go with the usual Indian varietals like Selection 795, etc. I took the decision to move forward with dwarfs as I’d visited Hawaii, and during my trip I noticed that they were able to produce volumes of coffee because of close planting. At that stage, I wasn’t aware about specialty coffee at all, I simply wanted to increase production.
It was in the 90s that I replanted the entire farm and started exporting coffee in 1995. Slowly in the early 2000s my coffee was being appreciated in the United States and I got to meet experts who told me that my coffee had a lot of potential. However, during those times there was no clear direction about innovating with processing techniques, and the focus was always to get a ‘clean cup’. It was only around 2014-2015 that I got deeply involved in the industry and realised that the only way to improve the quality of coffee is to innovate with processing techniques. Since we lacked this knowledge, I decided to visit coffee farms around the world to get a better understanding of coffee processing and learn from them. It’s interesting to note that what might work in one farm may not work in another. It took a lot of experiments and a lot of failures to finally achieve great results with different coffee processing methods. It’s been an interesting journey and like I said before, this is just the beginning!
BT: When you look into the future in 20 years, how do you see the Indian coffee industry? What are your hopes for it?
Ashok: My biggest hope for the future of this industry is that we see the country consistently produce better coffees with very distinct flavour profiles.
BT: In order for India to be thought of as highly in coffee production as countries like Ethiopia or Colombia, what do you think needs to change?
Ashok: I think that in India, we need to focus very heavily on post harvest processing techniques which play a vital role in the flavour development of our coffees. This is even more important for growers here as we do not have the soil and the micro climatic conditions such as those in Ethiopia and Colombia to help us inherently with our coffee flavors.
BT: From the many places you visited and tried coffees at, which one really stood out to you?
Ashok: I especially enjoyed the coffee in Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, Black Honey process was developed by accident. Due to their strict government regulations, they couldn’t use water to wash coffees. So they decided to completely skip water in the fermentation process. I thought this was so innovative since not only is it environmentally friendly but you also modify the entire taste profile of the coffee.
BT: What is something about growing coffee that you feel people have no idea about?
Ashok: I don’t think that a lot of people know that growing coffee is extremely difficult in the current climatic conditions that we are seeing. Coffee requires a very unique climate with the daily difference between maximum and minimum temperatures staying between 14 degrees centigrade. Only when this is achieved will the coffee flourish. We are seeing that this difference in temperature is now being reduced due to climate change, which will have a disastrous impact on growing coffee in the years to come.
BT: How do you think climate change will impact the future of farming?
Divya: Climate change is the biggest threat to coffee and especially to Arabica. We’ve been witnessing the drastic effects of climate change for the last 10 years at the farm. Firstly, we don’t get the April showers on time. Secondly, we have extended periods of rain during the monsoon. We don’t have distinct seasons anymore! The average temperature has also gone up by 6-7 degrees. This is a very serious issue not just for coffee but for everyone and we need to address it as a global community.
BT: Could you walk us through a day in your life at the farm?
Divya: Our routine at the farm is quite flexible so that we can adjust to the climatic conditions for the day. Once we’ve set our tasks for the day, I spend about two hours in my office and get all the paperwork done. I go for a walk around the farm and monitor the work being done. We usually wrap up work by 4-4:30 PM, unless it’s the harvest season. If it’s the harvest season then there’s a lot of hustle bustle! During harvest season, our day ends no earlier than midnight. That’s because the depulping and fermenting has to start instantaneously. No matter how long our days at the farm are, it’s always fun to be working with the team!
BT: What’s your favourite thing about your estate?
Ashok: I love the peace and tranquility we have at the farm and the fact that there’s no network connectivity makes sure that nothing and nobody bothers you! I personally really like to get away from the traffic of Bangalore so I enjoy my time at the farm. A usual day at the farm might sound rather boring to someone living in the city. But when I’m at the farm, I don’t even realise when the day is over as I’m always involved in some task while enjoying every bit of it.
BT: What advice would you have for Indian coffee producers who want to innovate but don’t know if they are willing to take a risk?
Ashok: It’s not an easy path to take but if they want to improve the quality of their coffees, Producers must experiment with their coffees and find their sweet spot, and then continue to develop those processes further.
We also spoke to Santosh Kunchal, our Lead Roaster, to understand how he chose to roast the fifth coffee in our Producer Series.
BT: What stood out to you about this coffee?
Santosh: The processing of the lot is very unique, it's been fermented anaerobically for 30 hours and dried naturally which led the nutrients and sugars of the fruit to get into the seeds. This is one of the best coffee processing practices.
BT: What excited you or surprised you about this coffee?
Santosh: Compared to any other light roast, this has a very rich and creamy mouthfeel.
BT: How did you choose to roast this coffee?
Santosh: As it is a natural Coffee , it has a fruity profile with a rich body. So, it has been roasted on a small batch of 5kg with longer soak and caramelization times but with less development to retain the fruitiness.
BT: What flavours did you want to highlight while roasting this coffee?
Santosh: This lot is processed in the right way to hit the sweet spot. I wanted to bring out the fruity notes of ripe strawberries, blueberries and guava.
BT: What's your preferred brewing method and recommended recipe for this lot?
Santosh: I prefer this coffee in a pourover.
Below is my personal recipes for this coffee :
17gm ground coffee
300ml of hot water (95 degrees)
Pour 80ml of water first, simultaneously start the timer.
Stir the coffee well, so that all coffee comes in contact with water for extraction.
Let the coffee bloom for 45 seconds, then pour the remaining water.
The total time to brew the coffee should be around 3 to 3.20 minutes
BT: Describe this coffee's profile in 3 words.
Santosh: Fruity, creamy and zesty!
Click here to buy 2020's last harvest for Producer Series.