Indian Coffee: Made In The Shade by Barth Anderson
They grow coffee in India? Ever since my first sip of Indian coffee I have been deeply fond of its incredibly smooth, comforting character and refined sense of balance. After years of working with these beautiful coffees and the people who grow them, I have come to discover the rich and complicated past that has shaped Indian coffee. One of the most surprising things I have learned in the process is that Indian coffees have a history that predates all but the first movement of coffee out of Ethiopia to Yemen.
Thanks to the seed smuggling efforts of the mystic sage Baba Budan who traveled to Arabia in the late 16th Century, India is the third oldest coffee producing origin since coffee’s heirloom roots in Ethiopia moved up through Yemen and eastward. Coffee has been actively cultivated there ever since. Yet I continue to ask myself why are so many people in North America still unfamiliar with Indian coffee?
Beneath the tree canopy at Kalledevarapura Estate, Chikmagalur
Modern day mystics What I do know is that my introduction to Indian coffee is due to the explorations and innovations of one individual in particular who opened up this door to me in 1996 when I called him on the phone at his California home. I saw an ad in what was at the time just about the only periodical within the coffee trade. It was, and still is, The Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. The small ad at the bottom of the page said something to the effect of “Josuma Coffee — Importers of Specialty Coffee from India”. By the mid 1990’s I had already spent more than a dozen years exploring coffees from around the globe, yet I had never even heard of coffee from India. I just had to make the phone call.
I came to learn that in the early 1990’s, then Nuclear Physicist, Dr. Joseph John, firstconnected with Indian coffee growers who were interested in improving the quality of their coffee. As his reputation for working with coffee producers grew, the Indian government eventually reached out to Dr. John to ask if he would help establish India as a world class specialty coffee producer.
Dr. John accepted the request and, in turn, became so captivated with Indian coffee that he left the field of nuclear physics. Together with his keen and charismatic wife, Urmila, they founded the Josuma Coffee Company in San Francisco, CA and began importing coffee from India to the United States in 1992. The samples he sent to me after we spoke on the phone that day marked the beginning of my deep fondness for Indian coffee.
Dr. Joseph John and Mrs. Urmila John
The curious case of coffee cultivation in India With its long lived history of cultivation on the heels of the Middle Ages, Indian coffee endured a period of tight governmental control from the 1940’s through the early 1990’s. During this time, coffee farmers were fully subsidized by the Indian government for their farming efforts regarding the production of coffee. These subsidies included the development of infrastructure, roads, provision of coffee seedlings, access to processing equipment, fertilizer and more.
While under cultivation, the coffee was the responsibility and property of each farmer. There was a catch, however. The moment the coffee cherry was plucked from the tree, it became the property of the Indian government. Upfront governmental subsidization belied an unsustainable economic cycle which offered no financial return for a coffee farmer’s harvest.
The governmental focus on coffee became based entirely upon increasing coffee volume for export. Coffee from each farm was pooled together and homogenized so that shipping containers could be filled. Coffee quality took a back seat to quantity. In turn, producers had absolutely no incentive to produce quality coffee as they were offered no remuneration in return.
Picking coffee at Kerehuckloo Estate, Chikmagalur
Coffee polyculture Amidst this profitless cycle, how could coffee farmers make a living farming coffee if their harvest was not actually theirs? Somehow through a combination of intellect and sheer effort, an approach emerged for Indian coffee farmers despite the regulation. It became clear to farmers that crops cultivated alongside coffee could benefit from many of the same subsidies provided for coffee growing. If another product could be harvested along side the coffee, a farmer could have a crop to sell. This simultaneous cultivation of crops in close proximity to one another is the foundation of what agronomists call polyculture. Indian farmers call it sensible. This kind of farming has become the norm throughout India’s coffee lands.
While this diversified approach to growing crops provided a compelling incentive, numerous other challenges of polyculture farming emerged. Not only did farmers have to learn how to cultivate a variety of plants in and around their coffee trees, they also had to provide each plant with their own particular requirements for growth. In addition, they had to figure out how to stagger harvests to accommodate for the labor intensive nature of harvest time.
Learning how to schedule the timing of various harvest cycles is particularly tricky. But when successfully executed, multiple harvests throughout the year help to ensure year round income. This is rare in coffee cultivating cultures. It is more often the case that each years’ coffee harvest must support a farmer for the entire year.
Each of these challenges proved worthy of the struggle for innovation, largely because the harvest of the companion crops belonged to the farmers. Despite governmental ownership of the coffee itself, the most complex, shade grown, polyculture farming system in the world was born.
Managing the shade Coffee trees grown close to the equator and at high altitudes need too be protected from the sun to survive. Shade is required by a coffee tree to flower and produce fruit. Growing at different altitudes and along different geographic exposures initiated a selective scheme for planting canopy trees for different uses as well as with varying rates of maturity. Fast growing trees like Silver Oak provide a more rapid cycle for the production of wood pulp. Slow growing trees like Teak produce structurally sound wood for the building industry.
Sandalwood trees produce the highly valued, and now incredibly ecologically vulnerable aromatic wood used for ornamental objects and incense. Rubber trees which prefer lower altitude are tapped for their latex. Water loving Areca trees grow well through riverine areas and produce Areca nuts valued for their psychoactive effect. Each of these tree canopies provides a shaded understory within which to cultivate an enormous variety of other crops.
In addition to shade, canopy trees provide a structure on which to grow other kinds of crops. Peppercorn vines are one of the most successful and their cultivation throughout the Indian understory has become another highly valued Indian product.
Open air market, Balehonnur
This understory has also proven to be ideal habitat for growing nutmeg, cinnamon, tea, cardamom, and a bountiful supply of fruits, herbs, seeds, spices, drupes, grains, pepos and countless vegetables and root stocks. Indian farmers cultivate them all. The moment you step into an Indian marketplace, an exotic world of vegetables, fruits and spices reveals itself. While many of these products have grown in India for millennia, it has been through the ingenuity of the Indian coffee farmers that a seemingly unsurmountable challenge posed by a controlling government was turned into a true success. And since the release of governmental control of coffee, coffee too has become a valuable product for each farmer at long last. Coffee quality has been incentivized in no small part due to the efforts and directives of Dr. Joseph John.
Polyculture breeds a healthy ecosystem This broad diversity of plants is hugely supportive of the avian communities, mammals, marsupials, reptiles and insects that dwell in the strata within and below the canopy. As a living canopy rains down upon the terrestrial ecosystem, the greatest benefits of this system become concentrated in the life of the soil.
Farm owner, Prem Kurian admiring the vibrant soil at Badnekhan Estate, Mertiparvata
The microbes, insects and mycorrhizae that dwell in the dirt break down all of this energy and return the nutrients back to the plants that have fed them. The activity in this soil is so vibrant it smells of life itself. In turn, the overall health of the nutrient cycle in an Indian coffee farm is ensured by the farmer’s commitment to the complex methodology of polyculture.
Modern day climate change and resiliency through polyculture The requirements of Indian coffee farmers to innovate to unlock the intricacies of their farms’ microclimates have been of critical importance to their success. Historically the challenges farmers faced fell largely upon their capacity to coordinate, manage and harvest each crop. Today as we face new environmental challenges which appear to be the norm in the 21st century, the conversation among Indian coffee farmers is more often centered around the very measurable effects of global climate change and how climate change affects the nature of arable lands. The steady increase of mean global temperature and the extremes around that mean have already had a profound impact on where coffee can and can’t grow. Moving crops higher and higher to avoid increasing temperatures has its own limitations; the ancient mountains in Indian coffee territory top out at just over 4000’. On many farms, they are already growing at their highest altitudes.
The intensity of recent global storm events presents yet another set of challenges from furious wind storms and flooding to periods of incessant heat and no rain. The frequency and ferocity of these storm events exceed those in all recorded history. The fact that these events are highly unpredictable and continue to be on the move only compounds the situation.
Despite the perpetual struggles that every individual involved in agriculture must face, Indian coffee farmers have protected themselves by engineering ecological resiliency into their farming methods. For a century and a half, their global commerce based farming systems have become more and more based upon biodiversity, soil health, and the synergistic relationships between a multitude of organisms living together in a managed natural environment. It is these biologically diverse farming systems that provide the most resilient environments in the face of climate change.
Oddly enough, after all of the effort spent managing nature, Indian farms have come to emulate what was once a native jungle ecosystem. The difference is that this jungle has been designed by the farmers themselves.
I now understand that what I experienced in my first sip of Indian coffee is deeply rooted in an intricate web of relationships between farmers, the living earth and the complex cultural history of India. Ingredients that have come together in an ever changing world to make an incredibly beautiful cup of coffee.
Monsooned Malabar coffee is a Geographical Identification Certified Product (GI Certified) that is unique to the South-West shore of India called the Malabar Coast. Monsooning is a processing method in which green coffee is exposed to the high humidity conditions present during the monsoon season. Throughout this process, the coffee undergoes complex changes and new aromas and flavors are unveiled. The highest grade is Monsooned Malabar – AA Super Grade produced at Aspinwall Coffee in Mangalore. This refined degree of processing is the brainchild of once nuclear physicist, now green coffee importer Dr. Joseph John of Josuma Coffee.Aspinwall has been processing green coffee since 1867. The AA Super Grade was first realized through Dr. John’s direction in 2000 and was given its formal name in 2001. The resultant cup is supremely smooth with qualities of sandalwood, dark chocolate and nut. Monsooned Malabar boasts the lowest acidity of any coffee.
Inside the gates of Aspinwall Coffee, the monsooning process begins by sorting and selecting AA grade coffee cherry which is spread out on concrete patios and sun dried. The coffee is then hulled, sorted and stored until the onset of the monsoon season. When the monsoon hits from June through September, the beans are spread out beneath tile roofed, open walled structures where they are raked at regular intervals. When exposed to the high atmospheric humidity, the beans absorb the moisture and expand. In this vintage photograph of the drying yard at Aspinwall, you can see coffee being raked out to sun dry prior to monsooning.
The monsooning process was first developed in the mid 20th century as a way to emulate the organoleptic effects of transporting coffee in the hold of a wooden ship. This “natural” monsooning process which was once commonplace, was effectively eradicated when steel hulled cargo ships became ubiquitous in the early 1900’s.
After hulling, the beans are mechanically sorted by a high tech Spectrum Color Analyzer. Once the monsooning process is complete, they are subjected yet again to mechanical sorting. During this second stage of sorting forty to fifty percent of the monsooned beans are rejected. After the mechanical sorting is complete the beans are hand sorted numerous times, or “garbeled” as it is called, to achieve the AA Super Grade.
The beans are vigilantly raked and turned over many days. During this phase the beans are absorbing monsoon moisture. They are then bagged and stacked in windrows at which point the beans swell. The spreading, sorting and re-bagging is repeated up to three times until the coffee beans acquire a golden hue and a moisture content of 14.5%.
Here the final product is being bagged for export. The entire process comprises many months of careful attention. Monsooning is the most time and labor intensive coffee processing method in the world.
K.D. Thimmaiah, Aspinwall General Manager, simultaneously looks to the past and the future. On the garbeling board for this day, December 17, 2015, is our lot of Josuma Monsooned Malabar AA Super.
Melind (left) and Urmila John, represent Josuma Coffee Company (Menlo Park, CA). Urmila’s husband, Dr. Joseph John, introduced us to Indian coffee in the mid 90’s. Tushara U. (center) is Aspinwall’s Assistant Manager of Quality Assurance.
Tushara is responsible for evaluating coffee quality before, during and after the monsooning process. She keeps the Aspinwall coffee lab in perfect order, representative of her refined sense of good taste.
The result? Perfectly monsooned coffee from the Malabar Coast of India. Its flavor is as unique as is its elaborate process to creation. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
After literally decades of searching, we are super excited to introduce our new 100% compostableretail bags.
These bags have a soft organic feel and they offer a fully hermetic seal for the freshest coffee possible. The block bottom allows the bags to stand up proudly on a counter or shelf. This innovative material is constructed out of Biotre® Film, created by Pacific Bag and is certified to OK Compost’s Home Composting Standard and to ASTM International standards for commercial compostability.
When we founded Barrington Coffee in 1993, we have always sought to identify the most exciting coffees on the planet, grown by farmers who use environmentally sustainable methods for cultivation. At long last we are able to bring our coffee sourcing philosophy in line with our packaging.
Each of our Barrington Coffee Origin CertifiedTMcoffees arrives at our Roastery after having been certified at origin by a formally recognized third party certifier as having been produced without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers. In addition to having been certified at origin by a recognized organic certifier, some coffees may bear additional third party certifications from organizations such as Rainforest Alliance, Demeter, TransFair USA, Smithsonian Institution, Utz Kapeh and others. Please consult the description for each coffee on our menu to learn more about its distinct identity.
Barrington Coffee’s Pioneering Role in Organic Coffee Processing
Barrington Coffee Roasting Company, Inc. was among the very first specialty coffee roasting companies in the US to be certified for organic coffee processing. Our certification as a processor began in 1996 and predates our certification through the National Organic Program by seven years.
We have been ardent supporters of organic and biodynamic coffee cultivation since we started our roasting company in 1993. During our earliest days roasting, we began sourcing coffees from certified organic coffee growing cooperatives in the Dominican Republic, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala and Sumatra. As Timor established its independence in 1999, we have had the good fortune to work with there as well. Our deep roots in organic agriculture qualify us as one of the longest term certified organic specialty coffee roasters in the United States.
In the mid 90’s we became involved with a biodynamic coffee farming project in the mountains of the Dominican Republic. This was a project inspired by Christoph Meier, one of the founders of the Hawthorne Valley Farm, Ghent, NY. Christoph Meier is a pioneer of biodynamic tropical agriculture and currently operates his biodynamic banana and mango farm, Horizontes Organicos in Azua, Dominican Republic.
Our path to organic certification began in 1996 with Quality Assurance International (QAI).At that time we undertook a pro bono consulting project to assist the largest organics company in Europe, Rapunzel Pure Organics, to build a roasted coffee program here in the United States. This project involved work with a coffee cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico. This farm was both organic certified as well as biodynamic certified through Demeter International.
Our work with the very same coffee cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico laid the foundation for the coffee program at the Arbor Day Foundation. This was another pro bono project which we initially consulted with the Arbor Day Foundation and helped to get off the ground with Matthew Quinlan at Conservation International(CI).
In 2015 we came to the realization that through the efforts we undertake with such a broad diversity of farms and cooperatives of all shapes and sizes, we are able to do an even more effective job at categorically describing our coffees through our own certification program. Thus was born the Barrington Coffee Origin CertifiedTM Program.
The processing methods we utilize at our coffee Roastery have always been found in utmost compliance with the guidelines set forth by the USDA and the FDA. Our methods remain unchanged and are driven by the pursuit of sourcing and preparing the finest roasted-to-order coffees on the planet and delivering them to you — FRESH. To make that happen, we fire up our roasters Monday through Thursday of each week. Any order received before 9am will be roasted and shipped out that very same day.
We strongly support farming without the use of pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers and fungicides. We believe that coffee grown under the shade of a tree canopy and polyculture farming practices foster biodiversity, more resilient farm systems, a healthier planet and the highest quality coffee.
Barth Anderson, green coffee buyer for BCRC at the Doka Estate, a fourth generation family farm in the Central Valley of Costa Rica.
How do we source the coffees that we roast? With great care.
Each year, Barth procures green coffee samples from the best coffee producers from around the globe. The coffees he identifies hail from small family farms, cutting edge private farms and coffee growing cooperatives. Barth’s sensitivity to cross cultural integration and his ability to communicate in other languages are an enormous asset to our search for great coffee. A relationship that spans over two decades with the Vargas family’s coffee farm in Costa Rica is testament to the depth of such relationships.
It is the biologically complex farms that yield complex cups of coffee. These coffees are grown by individuals who put their energy into the stewardship of their farms and the quality of their produce. We view the farms, families, and cooperatives that we work with as strategic partners. Our relationships grow with each year’s harvest, and in many cases our relationships span generations. Extensive information about each of the farms we work with is available from us in the form of BCRC Coffee Cards, as well as online at barringtoncoffee.com.
Gregg and Barth have been actively exploring different coffee flavor profiles since they became involved with specialty coffee in the 1980’s. At the Roastery in the Berkshires, the BCRC staff pool their collective senses to evaluate each coffee in the controlled environment of their tasting room. Our tasting room is one of the finest coffee analysis environments in the industry. Water quality, air quality, and equipment calibration are carefully maintained for consistency. Our critique of a coffee involves moisture analysis, sample roasting, the cupping process, serving temperature profiling, and numerous methods of brewing and extraction.
We want your coffee to arrive at optimal freshness. To make that happen, we fire up our roasters Monday through Thursday of each week. Any order received before 9am will be roasted and shipped out that very same day.
-Controlling relative humidity during green coffee storage to enhance body and soften acidity for espresso preparation.
There are a multitude of compounds that exist in a coffee bean. They can either make, or break a coffee’s cup quality.
We know that we can protect these compounds in green coffees through barrier protection and careful storage as we do with our Green Seal Program™. Deciding how to hold on to these qualities and how long each coffee’s season will sustain are some of the critical roles we perform as coffee roasters.
However, humankind has also known for millennia that aging and conditioning different kinds of food and drink can reveal amazing aromas and flavors. Over the years, we have found that we can actually improve the character of some of the coffees we prepare for espresso by tempering, or otherwise controlling, the storage environment and time period that these coffees inhabit before roasting. We use a variety of aging methods to open up an espresso profile, soften its acidity, and bring to light captivating and otherwise inaccessible flavors that can exist within particular coffee varieties. We call this process our Landed Aging Program™ for espresso coffees.
These coffees also have a season, it is just a different one than would be described by a traditional notion of seasonality. Typically seasonality is considered in the context of holding on to something that is fleeting. Landed aging is about developing and transforming something that is hidden within a coffee bean.
We have been actively exploring this potential in espresso coffee since the mid 1990’s when we created our Barrington Gold Espresso Blend™. You will also find it noted among some of the Single Origin Espresso coffees that we periodically have available as Limited Offerings.
Just as we transform green coffee to roasted coffee, we employ landed aging to impart our style to some of the very special espresso coffees that we offer. You won’t find them anywhere but here. We certainly hope that you enjoy our results.
-Hermetically sealing green coffee to preserve freshness and vibrancy in the cup.
Is there an ideal way to handle the best green coffees in the world? Yes, very carefully.
Coffee beans are seeds from the fruit of the coffee tree. At Barrington Coffee, we care for and roast coffee seeds. We explore and identify the ones we enjoy the most, we preserve them, and we prepare them to order in our artisanal drum coffee roasters five days a week, each week of the year.
The coffee farms we work with typically have but one harvest per year. This can present particular challenges regarding seasonal supply and storage. After years of careful testing we have devised methods to preserve these amazing coffees so that we may offer them to you at their peak throughout the harvest season.
A washed coffee with a particularly lively acidity or a very delicate flavor profile will typically fare best by being sealed against the elements shortly after repose. In some cases we hermetically seal these coffees at the farm even before the coffee ships to our Roastery. In other instances, we may feel that once it has landed, the coffee will benefit by settling down further befor