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INTERVIEW

“From seed to cup, we experiment at all stages of the coffee journey”
Monday, 30 August, 2021, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
With the implementation of high-end quality checks now at Indian farms, the demand for Indian coffee is growing. Roasters across the world are no more looking at Indian coffee as a country as a whole but are being particular about the farmers they work with, Poojya Prasad, co-founder, The Caffeine Baar, tells Nandita Vijay in an email interview. She also highlights how they source single origin coffee beans, experiment, introduce beverage or food of the month every month and more. Excerpts:

How would you describe the current scene for coffee outlets and farmers in the country?
Coffee scene in India is wildly evolving and we’re a generation which is witnessing everything from just plain instant coffee, a soothing cup of traditional filter to some of the best espressos, cold brews and drips. Our farmers and estate owners are willing to experiment and improve the quality of the already existing crop along with growing new varietals. It’s 2021, and coffee is a luxury. Consumers are obsessed with it and can buy it anywhere they want, anyway they like. But it wasn’t always like that. From being a commodity, forming a community, creating a story; coffee is now becoming a scientific luxury. The coffee outlets/cafes influence millennials to understand the story behind it. They’re more transparent and ethical, ready to share where they get their coffee from and share details about farmers. Plantation owners have similarly started opening to smaller coffee shops and roasters who are venturing out in the industry purely out of passion and not restricting themselves with selling high quantities in the commercial space.

What are the visible trends you see?
There are three imminent trends. One is home brewing. Second is experimentation, which is trying different processes of coffees in specialty category. Third is convenience coffee, which is drip coffee, cold brew bags and coffee in a can.

What has been the pandemic impact on the sector?
The Covid 19 pandemic has been both a positive and negative on the coffee sector. The positives are shift from drinking instant coffee to specialty coffee. There is home brewing, willingness to experiment with unique processes and explore new specialty coffee roasters and increase in-home consumption by buying beans directly from the coffee roasters.
The negatives are low walk-ins, hence low revenues, low community development and loss of physical interactions and conducting educational events.

Where does India stand on the global map for coffee in your view?
The world is changing rapidly and while India has always been known for its robustas and heavy bodied coffees, often roasted dark, and used to create a blend for espressos; today we see plenty specialty roasters adopting our crop as their single origin variety among their range of coffees from regions like Ethiopia, Sumatra etc. With the implementation of high-end quality checks now at Indian farms, the demand for Indian coffee is growing. Roasters across the world are no more looking at Indian coffees as a country as a whole but are being particular about the farmers they work with, the practices the farm follows and adherence to quality and consistency that the plantation owners are willing to provide.

In the wake of a dip in coffee production, how would coffee retail and bars sustain the operations?
There only way to succeed is to be innovative. It calls to work with consumers on what they’re looking for. Nano lots, micro lots, make coffee more accessible, educate the consumers, encourage home brewing, innovation at the cafe, cut down overheads.

With the price of coffee being volatile, how do you maintain uniform pricing?
Producing high quality coffee beans and working on increasing production at the farm is the only way to manage volatility of the market. Every year we see to it that we sell maximum of our coffee to the specialty market which in return gives us a higher price.

Why do you say that The Caffeine Baar is one of the most renowned names in India and they have changed the way the beverage was known to be served in the country? The concept of 'seed of cup' is common across the coffee shop sector. What is your differentiating factor?
The Caffeine Baar, while being similar to some specialty coffee shops in the country, is changing the way we know coffee. Note the following:
With reference to the seed to cup, we wish to state that while loads of coffee roasters invest from buying from plantations, our co-founder owns one. All our coffee is single origin from the foothills of Bababudangiri Hills, Baarbara Estate. This allows us to monitor quality throughout the year.

From seed to cup, we experiment at all stages of the coffee journey. At the plantation, we invest each year in unique processing methods. Sometimes they are successful while other times, we do have to trash out the entire lot. Only the best reaches the consumers. At the cafe, we experiment with our beverages and food each month by introducing a concept called Beverage/Food of the Month. This has seen immense love.

Pricing too helps us keep up with the experiments, we invest in assets, at the farm and at our cafe. In spite of all that, our pricing is very competitive as the idea is for the consumers to be able to taste unique coffee.

Provide more details about Baarbara Estate in Chikmagalur, one of the country’s best-known heritage coffee estates in terms of area, coffee cultivation best practices among others?
Baarbara estate, a renowned estate backed by farming tradition which dates back to 1896 is located at the foothills of the Bababudangiri Hills in Chikmagalur. Baarbara coffee from this plantation is proud of its ethically sourced single origin coffee beans. Having a cultivation area of a few hundred acres, Baarbara coffee contributes in producing one of the country’s finest coffee beans.

Supreme importance is given to the quality of beans and the quality of processes at Baarbara. Baarbara coffee has prestigious certificates to ensure an adherence to right farming techniques, environmental care and labour conditions.

It's been often said that getting workers to be retained at estates is a challenge. What is your view on this and how has Baarbara Estate been able to overcome this?
Labour management is one of the biggest challenges in the coffee industry, but we, at Baarbara, have seen to it that our workers have been given the best facility and accommodation and their welfare as well. Giving all these facilities to the labourers has led to labour retention at the estate.

Agriculture has been tech intensive. What is the scene at coffee plantations?
As we know coffee in India is grown under shade, and the coffee plantations are still producing coffee using traditional methods, getting technology to the plantation is not an easy task. Not too much new technology is used at the coffee plantation.

Specifically, digital tech like AI (artificial intelligence) and blockchain, any efforts are made to adopt these at the coffee estates?
We have always used blockchain to manage our estates in a traditional manner, but we have not used any particular software to manage the blockchain system, whereas AI has not been used at the estates.

On the occasion of the International Coffee Day, what are the likely initiatives from Caffeine Baar?
This October, we celebrate one year of The Caffeine Baar, hence we plan to launch a birthday inspired beverage of the month and a dessert made using our most unique experiment of this year - carbonic maceration coffee, from Baarbara estate. There will be educational videos on coffee all across October and an online cupping workshop for our pan-India audience.
 
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