Down from the mountain

As coffee connoisseurs scour the world for new, previously unheard of varieties and flavours of their favourite drink, the focus of undefined

the coffee world has expanded to take in a range of origins not popularly associated with coffee cultivation.

Ironically, this has meant the return to the world stage of some of the world’s oldest coffee producing nations.

India holds a unique position in the history of coffee, with a link that goes right back to the 16th century, when the Islamic Saint Baba Budan was the first person to export coffee from ancient Arabia for the purpose of production with the first seven seeds that, according to legend, he smuggled out of Yemen sewn into his belt.

While Central and South American origins are the ones most commonly associated with high quality coffee, the reputation of Indian coffee has enjoyed a boost in recent years.

This has come about due to strong efforts being made by the Indian coffee industry to promote the country’s rich coffee history, along with the work of contemporary producers allowing it to gain some notice among coffee lovers around the world.

Less than 100 kilometres away from the mountainside where the legendary Baba Budan planted those first coffee seeds and started a coffee revolution that now covers the entire world, is Uttam Coffee and Spices, a coffee producer and roastery belonging to the Zain family.

Situated in the Hassan District of the Karnataka province in southern India, the Zain family has been involved in the production of coffee in one way or another for more than 100 years.

Now representing the third generation of the family in the coffee business, Mohammed Zain has learned that the newfound desire for coffee from all over the world is opening up new possibilities for Uttam Coffee and Spices.

One particular avenue of opportunity that has opened up for the Zain family has come via the ability to connect with, and sell directly to, consumers all around the world via the internet.

This is an avenue that the newest generation of the family, Zain, has set out to capitalise upon since joining the business.

Despite holding a degree in Mechanical Engineering, Zain was drawn to the family business during a period of financial hardship, when his father was struggling to overcome the pressures put on him by mounting debt.

Zain’s father has worked in the industry all of his life, and had pursued a variety of ventures in roasting and production since 1969.

“I grew up watching my father engrossed in his coffee business,” Zain says. “So when I saw that I could help, I began to slowly get more involved in the business and it became apparent that I could be a good support to my dad as we worked together to clear the business’ debts and really start to build a strong business.”

It was during this process that Zain made the move to take their business online, establishing the website

“As the internet channel is developing dramatically, we would like to go with it and want to be in touch with almost all end users,” Zain says.

With about 100 acres of their own, producing both Arabica and Robusta, the Zain family has set its sights on becoming much more than simply a small scale farmer.

Their shop and roastery was opened by Zain’s father, Ashfaq Ahmed, in 1985, after more than 15 years of operating in partnership with two of his brothers in other coffee-related ventures.

Zain says that his father’s passion for the business is what drove him to join it after graduating, and has set the foundation for what he sees the business becoming in the near future.

The Zain family has worked closely with farmers from all around their local area, which at 950 metres above sea level is the second highest coffee growing region in all of India.

These relationships enable Uttam Coffee and Spices to offer a full range of coffee products, ranging from Arabica, Robusta and Peaberry – in green beans as well as roasted – to ground coffee powder, green coffee powder, blended coffee powder as well as pure coffee powder without chicory.

Zain says that his family’s extensive background as farmers allows them to deal extremely constructively with the farmers around them.

“While we procure coffee from our own farms, where we are aware of each and every step in the growing process, at the same time we have a good rapport with the other coffee planters with whom we coordinate to get all the varieties of best coffee for our business,” he says.

Uttam Coffee and Spices also grows its own selection of coffees amongst its cinnamon and pepper plants, infusing them with unique flavour characteristics.

Zain says these varieties can produce some extremely interesting flavours, and require special attention during the processing and roasting process to get the best results from them.

While Uttam Coffee and Spices already has established channels into hotels and retail stores within India, Zain says their recent expansion into e-commerce has given them a far broader market, and has in turn fed into the development of the business.

“Now with the help of internet, we are able to keep in touch with large number of end-users directly all over the place who give their feedback to us, which makes us improvise day by day,” he says.

With that feedback coming in, Uttam Coffee and Spices is now looking to also develop its own brand of instant coffee powder and is planning to open up more roasteries around India.

“We are looking for partners in different countries, as we are able to provide the necessary quantity of raw materials to the roasters through our farms,” Zain says. “As well as supplying our own crops, we can connect lots of roasters directly with the coffee farmers in our area, so that every farmer can get the best price that they deserve for all their hard work.”

Zain says that while the landscape for growers remains challenging, the outlook for India’s coffee industry overall is positive.

“Whereas the interest toward the plantations is getting less as all the small growers are selling their farms to some big companies due to the fluctuation of the market, at the same time the interest of consumers in India are continues to increase,” he says. “There was a time where people in India would only view coffee as something to warm them up in the cold weather, but now it’s a common beverage which more and more people would like to consume on a daily basis.” GCR

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