Market Reports

New initiatives to drive up quality in India

While it is the world’s sixth largest coffee producer – and also holds the distinction of being the first nation to produce coffee commercially outside of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula – India is still known by many primarily for its tea and spices. But, while it may not be as well-known for its coffees as Brazil or Vietnam, as the producer of 4 per cent of the world’s coffee, India’s role in the line-up of coffee producing nations is far from insignificant. However, as a medium-sized producer of coffee, the people at the Coffee Board of India (CBI), who are responsible for the ongoing success of the Indian coffee industry, have identified the need to set India’s coffee apart based on its quality rather than quantity. “In order to be competitive globally, planters need to produce best quality coffee,” says the CBI’s Director of Finance, Aarti Gupta. “But several factors determine the quality of coffee during its journey from field to cup – notably the practices during the initial post-harvest treatment of the coffee cherries by planters are the most important factors in determining the coffee quality.” In order to address this issue, the CBI has embarked on a program of quality improvement initiatives aimed at helping Indian coffee farmers set their produce apart from the other coffees on the international market. Coffee in India is grown entirely under the shade of natural forest trees in the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats, which helps greatly in conservation of ecosystem and biodiversity in the region: a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as a hotspot of biological diversity. “Given that the quality of coffee in the cup largely depends on the method of picking and processing, the CBI is seeking to ensure that Indian planters have access to orientation about quality and practice selective picking of ripened beans,” Gupta says. In general, coffee growers with facilities for wet processing practice three rounds of picking. First is a round of selective picking referred to as fly picking, followed by a second round of selective picking and finally, stripping of the remaining fruits. The wet method of processing at farm level yields parchment coffee (washed coffee).  Most of the Indian Arabica coffees are primarily processed through wet processing for preparation of washed coffees. Though India is a major producer of washed robustas, the majority of robusta coffee farmers at farm level practice a dry processing method and market their coffee in cherry form, where the harvested coffee fruits are subjected to sun drying. “In order to ensure better results from these processes, the CBI is extending technical and financial support to the planters to construct modern drying yards and godowns [Indian warehouses],” Gupta says. “The CBI is also promoting eco-pulpers and mechanical coffee dryers, which enable planters to protect the environment in coffee growing areas and also to improve the quality of their coffee.” Another measure the CBI is taking to improve the quality of India’s coffee output is encouraging small growers to form collectives, self-help groups and cooperatives to assist with the marketing of the coffee they produce using a community-based approach. This initiative from CBI has the added benefit of enabling the planters to command higher price for their coffees. “The demand for high quality coffee in major importing countries is increasing in recent years, consequently the emphasis in the pattern of coffee growing in India is moving towards premium market segments,” Gupta tells GCR. “The country offers great scope for production of quality coffee, as it is bestowed with favourable agro-climatic conditions and is seen as a viable business model for domestic entrepreneurs and growers. India has all the potential to scale the market in terms of specialty coffee, where a growing number of consumers are prepared to pay a higher price for single origin high quality coffee.” In response to this, coffee planters in India are undertaking innovative approaches to the production of quality coffee by highlighting the special features of the estate and such coffees are being branded and promoted as single origin estate coffees. Some estate branded specialty coffees that have made inroads into the international market are “Buttercup Bold”, “Balanoor Bean”, “Meerthi Mountain”, and “Horseshoe Heights”. In addition, in recent years, planters have been transitioning from conventional coffee production to certified and organic coffee production in tune with the growing consumer recognition and demand for certified, organic, and specialty coffees in developed coffee markets such as the US and the EU.  “The coffee board is extending support and encouraging planters to access the high value market segment through production of eco-certified coffees,” Gupta says. “Leading Indian coffee exporters have been promoting group certification of coffee producers and building capacities of coffee growers to achieve compliance with standards defined under various certification programs.” At post farm gate level, the CBI has recognised that it is necessary to adopt novel coffee curing technology in order to be competitive in the global market. As a result, the organisation is providing technical and financial support to enhance the quality of the finished product. It’s working to achieve value adding and efficiency through the introduction of improved technologies in coffee processing at the curing stage and to improve consistency during post-harvest operations through techniques such as colour sorting, grading, and drying. The CBI is also providing incentives to purchase machinery in order to upgrade the facilities at coffee curing units. The CBI has also actively contributed to the capacity building of stakeholders and entrepreneurs by conducting a range of training programs in roasting and brewing coffee. One such program is the Post Graduate Diploma in Coffee Quality Management. This is a one-year program that prepares young professionals for technical careers in the coffee industry. The program was introduced in 2001 to create professionals who are well versed in evaluating the quality of coffee and to meet the future needs of the Indian coffee industry for professional cup tasting. This course helps students acquire scientific knowledge about coffee cultivation, market-related aspects of the industry, and the required technical skills for coffee quality evaluation at every stage of cultivation, processing, and cupping.  The CBI has also set up a Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Coffee at the Indian Institute of Plantation Management in Bangalore to facilitate entrepreneurial development in the coffee sector. The centre has launched a number of programs that are designed to impart essential skills and share crucial information with budding entrepreneurs. To enhance the quality of the finished product and achieve value addition through the introduction of improved technologies in roasting, grinding, and packaging, the CBI is also extending financial support and quality assessment services for companies upgrading their roasting, grinding, and packaging machinery. To encourage competition among the stakeholders engaged in coffee quality improvement and for the benefit of planters, the CBI introduced Flavour of India – The Fine Cup Award Cupping Competition in 2002. “This has been successful in showcasing the fine coffees from India in the international market,” Gupta says. “The outstanding coffees from among the selected coffees at national level are chosen for the final cupping by the international jury consisting of eminent cup tasters from different countries.” To assist international buyers in identifying the different styles of Indian coffee, the CBI has classified it into 13 regional varieties depending on the 13 agro-climatic zones where they are grown. “We also have three specialty coffees namely Monsoon Malabar, Robusta Kaapi Royale, and Mysore Nuggets Extra Bold,” Gupta says. “The Coffee Board has registered these logos and trademarks under the umbrella ‘Coffees of India’ consisting of distinct identities for the coffees of India. This enhances the visibility of India Coffee as a brand and makes the regional coffees more identifiable in the international coffee community.” GCR

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