The artisanal coffee revolution in India is here

Artisanal coffee brands are finding takers in India, as millennial enthusiasts experiment with new flavours and home-brewing and more people move away from instant coffee, inspiring coffee entrepreneurs to innovate and reimagine conventional coffee profiles

Published: Oct 10, 2020 09:35:25 AM IST
Updated: Oct 10, 2020 10:52:26 AM IST

artisinal coffee(Clockwise from top) A coffee bean cherry; Maverick & Farmer partners at a coffee tasting session; the company’s coffee estate in Coorg
Image: Pavan Srinivas/Maverick & Farmer

Arabica or Robusta, finely ground or course, cold brew or hot, mellow or strong. Every coffee lover has a preference for their perfect cup. And coffee entrepreneurs are taking things several steps forward by innovating and reimagining conventional coffee profiles with new techniques of cultivation and processing, unexplored flavours and pairing of ingredients.

“People are beginning to discover and appreciate newer flavours, aromas, textures, roast profiles, and the finer nuances of coffee,” says Ashish D’abreo, co-founder of Maverick & Farmer, an artisanal coffee brand. “India is slowly but surely moving away from the obsession with instant coffee and people are beginning to understand how coffee is grown, processed, sourced, etc.” Maverick & Farmer—founded by Sreeram G, Ashish D’abreo and Tej Thammaiah in 2018—has come up with arguably the world’s first cold-smoked coffee, which is smoked for 13 to 14 hours to infuse the beans with the earthiness and flavours of the firewood.

To create new flavour profiles and tasting notes, the company is experimenting with methods like lactic acid bacteria fermentation, oak-wood fermentation, milk soothing, beer barrel ageing, honey sun-drying and orange pulp fermentation, among others. “In India, we often end up following trends set by other countries, be it coffee production or consumption. We’re trying to push the envelope by creating newer specialty offerings unique to India,” says Sreeram.

Millennials have been at the forefront of this new-found enthusiasm for artisanal coffees, and are keen to try alternative coffee brewing methods at home. In February, Lavazza India conducted a survey that found 69 percent of Indian millennials relate to coffee as a companion and nearly 50 percent opted for a cup of coffee as the first meal of the day.

“Coffee lovers like me are always looking for something new to try. We want to taste as many new formats as we can,” says Shaurya Sharma, a coffee enthusiast. “It was during my trips abroad that I developed a taste for specialty coffee. I found new coffees at cafes on every other street. This isn’t the case in India, where we’re still obsessed with McCafe and Café Coffee Day. Thankfully things are changing, and I’ve discovered a couple of great coffee roasters here.”

coffee 2(From left) Manoj Kumar, founder, Araku Coffee; the landscape of Araku Valley, one of the finest coffee-producing regions of the world
Courtesy: Araku Coffee


A lot of coffee companies are focusing on the quality of their products, with single-origin coffees (sourced from a specific region and not blended with others) being one of the popular options. Italian brand Lavazza has recently launched its single-origin coffee pod, while Indian brand Sleepy Owl is trying specialty offerings that “don’t require numerous brewing equipment”, says Ajai Thandi, the brand’s co-founder. It offers filter coffee bags that can be dipped in hot water, eliminating the need for a French Press or Mocha Pot.

“Indian consumers who love quality are interested in supporting sustainability and organic products,” says Sherri Johns, a global coffee expert and consultant of more than 40 years. “India is only slightly behind the global market in consuming countries per capita. And the evolution of specialty coffee leads to the development of farmers, roasters, baristas, and consumers.”

sherri johns_araku coffee_04238 (1) Sherri Johns, a global coffee expert and consultant for over 40 years

Araku Coffee is an Indian specialty coffee brand that opened its first café in Paris. Araku Valley, in Andhra Pradesh, is one of the world’s finest coffee-producing regions, and Araku Coffee was started as a livelihood project for local tribal populations, by ensuring profits for the farmers and quality for consumers through regenerative agriculture. “Around 2012-13, we realised that India was not ready for our kind of coffee, so we focussed on B2B marketing in Japan, South Korea, and France at very high prices. In 2015, we decided to open our first retail café in Paris,” says Manoj Kumar, founder, Araku Coffee.

The brand has consistently scored ratings of 92 out of 100 from the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), which is a first for any coffee from India, adds Kumar, who launched the brand in India in 2019. “Last year in Paris, many people told me that before trying Araku Coffee, they thought India is just known for tea and that Araku has redefined India for them,” says Kumar. “That’s how the hard work of the adivasis and the strength of agriculture is redefining India worldwide. It’s time that more Indians experience the fine quality coffee our country produces.”

Founders of these new Indian coffee brands feel there is a huge gap between India’s potential to produce fine-quality coffee and the awareness about it. Consequently, they are coming up with tutorials, workshops, and challenges for customers to experiment with coffee and brewing tools. For instance, Maverick & Farmer organised a 21-day cold brew session, while Araku Coffee organises tasting sessions. “We are constantly competing with the huge budgets and marketing muscle of instant coffee brands. We’re still so used to just putting a teaspoon of coffee in a mug and whipping it up with water and creating 10 viral videos, rather than taking the time to brew a nicely roasted cup of coffee,” says Sreeram.

However, the Covid-19 outbreak has been “a blessing in disguise”, says Kumar, as it led to a spike in coffee consumption, and artisanal brands witnessed a manifold increase in sales.

 coffee farmer family (killo sibboAraku Coffee was started as a livelihood project for local tribals by ensuring profits for the farmers
Courtesy: Araku Coffee

“Working and schooling at home created a new need for coffee and brewing equipment. There has been growth in home-brewing confidence, whereas before the pandemic most people took their coffee out. Once we can move freely again, people will return to cafes. However, home consumption will remain high with consumers’ newfound confidence,” adds Johns. “The future lies in specialty coffee, with smaller lots of distinction fetching higher prices.”

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