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All you need to know about fermented coffee and where to buy it

Coffee beans can be manipulated at the fermentation stage to introduce a wide range of flavour profiles. We found six brands that are offering some unique fermented coffee.

Fermentation plays a huge role in the average Indian home kitchen. In the world of beverages, you hear of fermentation in kombuchas, tepaches, wines, and beers. Gourmet coffee makers have been exploring fermentation in coffee, giving connoisseurs several unique offerings to add to their collections. 

fermented coffee

Fermentation is a natural part of the coffee-making process. The coffee cherry is a fruit, and it is the seed that is used to make coffee. This seed is covered with mucilage that contains a lot of sugars. Once harvested, the fermentation process begins naturally, and these sugars are consumed by yeast and bacteria. There are three main methods of coffee processing that help with the fermentation process – natural, washed, and sun-dried. Each of these methods works on getting the seed from the cherry in different ways and can have an impact on the final coffee profile.

The interesting thing about coffee processing is that it offers multiple levels at which innovation can take place. Ashish D’Abreo, founder partner, Maverick & Farmer Coffee, explains, “Innovation can come in at the cultivation stage, mapping the crop to sunlight and shade available being just one of them. During harvesting, some techniques can be used to create flavours based on the colour of the cherries harvested. Innovation can also happen during fermentation, drying, bagging, and roasting. All these are stages at which you can play with flavours that the Indian or international market has not tasted so far”.

“The trend of the experimentative coffee-loving community has been that of using different strains of yeast/bacteria, mediums besides water for soaking the beans, to help the bean imbibe different flavours and produce more complex tasting notes to the same coffee,” feels Tapaswini Purnesh, director of marketing & promotions, Classic Coffee.

Currently, it’s all about the yeasts and bacteria and what they can bring out in a coffee bean. Different yeasts create varied flavours when they react with the sugars in the cherries and the mucilage. Coffee makers can decide on the number of hours these cherries are to ferment, how much of sunlight they are dried in, how long they are aged and much more – all in a bid to extract new flavours. The resultant flavours are not in-your-face but rather are nuanced. Most brands provide you with tasting notes to better understand your cup and appreciate the craft that goes into making them.

Here’s a look at exciting fermented coffee brands that have resulted.

Maverick & Farmer Coffee

fermented coffee

Maverick & Farmer have two interesting coffees – Orange You Curious, an orange juice fermented coffee and Milk and Honey, a coffee fermented with lactic acid bacteria (of milk from cows from their own farms) that has been isolated in their labs. 

“Orange juice fermented coffee does not equal orange juice flavoured coffee. In the cupping of this variant, we found a cherry wine and mild spices flavour profile. In Milk and Honey, the lactic acid bacteria was introduced in the initial fermentation process and then further processed with the honey-sundried method resulting in unique flavonoids,” explains D’Abreo. He adds that the time frame a coffee-maker gets from harvest to create a product is short, and making something unique is quite fulfilling.

Classic Coffees

fermented coffee

Here is a brand by planters who have been in the business for five generations. Tapaswini Purnesh says that over generations they have seen how the pure filter coffee crowd has evolved with their choices, thanks to a more global perspective, be it because of travel, education, or work around the world. 

“One of our most loved fermented coffees at Classic Coffees (Harley Estate, Saklespur), has been our whisky barrel-aged coffee. We allow the beans to ferment inside whisky barrels anywhere from 35 days to 60 days, along with yeast made in-house. The moisture content inside the barrel is what aids in the fermentation process and gives the coffee a strong heady whisky aroma and imparts flavours of Irish cream, green apple, and flavours of tropical fruits. We have an exclusive partnership with Amrut distilleries for these barrels. In fact, we have customers who have told us that this varietal smells like whisky and tastes like coffee,” explains Purnesh.

Savorworks

fermented coffee

New on the coffee block is Savorworks, launched in April 2020, with Fruit Bombs – a coffee that has been created with the unconventional anaerobic fermentation method. This is a method where coffee is fermented in a sealed environment for a pre-determined time-frame. “Coffee is dried as whole fruit and then transferred into food-grade tanks. Oxygen is sucked out of tanks, and they are made to sit for 48 hours (the traditional time frame is 12-36 hours in this method, but it can vary). Every creator has his vocabulary when it comes to flavour profiles,” explains Baninder Singh, founder, Savorworks. 

The brand recently launched the Pinanas, a coffee with pineapple fermentation. Beans are dried, fermented for 72 hours, and pineapple fruit added during the fermentation. The coffee soaks in the aromas and tasting notes of pineapple, giving you a hint of acidity and the flavours of tropical fruits, jams, and roasted coconut.

Blue Tokai

fermented coffee

 Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters is a speciality coffee roasting company that works exclusively with Indian coffee estates. They buy speciality coffee from various coffee farms and highlight the unique characteristics of each lot of coffee.

“For the Harley Estate (created exclusively for Blue Tokai by Harley Estate, Saklespur), Pichia yeast was added to the coffee cherries during the fermentation process. The Pichia yeast fermentation created a fruity flavour profile with tasting notes of strawberry, blood orange, and green apple. This opened up a few possibilities for us at the roastery. We usually launch our most complex and fruity coffees as light roasts, best had as a filter and manual brews. But, for The Harley Estate, we roasted it on an espresso roast profile and found that the coffee not only retained the fruity flavour profile but tasted great for manual brews and also in espresso-based drinks with milk. This meant that we were able to cater to a wider audience,” says Shreyas Chitnis, senior roaster and quality control manager, Q Grader, Blue Tokai.

Corridor Seven Roasters

fermented coffee

Corridor Seven Roasters was the first to have accepted the fruit fermentation process back in 2018 when they worked with Watermelon Process N-72 (72 hours fermentation).

“It has been a great experience with fermentations; we have not only have had coffee fermentations being done at the estates but also are working on backward integration and introduce fermentation as a process for brewing,” says Mithilesh Vazalwar, founder and director, Corridor Seven Coffee Roasters. He adds that the brand is coming up with a cold brew blend called ‘Sodden-Brew’. This is going to be a blend of two fermentation processes. 

Kerehaklu

Kerehaklu is in the Aldur area of Chikmagalur and has been tended to by the Thipaiah family since 1953. They ventured into speciality coffee in 2018.

“I first experimented with a micro-lot of the Pichia strain but used that for internal consumption for guests on the estate. For the current harvest, I plan to work with champagne yeast to add complexity to the cup. I will have something interesting in the market by around January or February. I have approached fermentation scientifically to break down the sugars within the coffee’s dense mucilage under different conditions while monitoring temperature and pH to allow for naturally-occurring micro-organisms to thrive. This, along with the different soil compositions we have around the plantation, enables us to produce coffees with unique flavour profiles,” explains Pranoy Thipaiah, managing partner, Kerehaklu.

All images: Courtesy brands

Ruth Dsouza Prabhu

Ruth is an independent journalist based in Bangalore. Always in pursuit of the next story that interests her, loves her food and drink, bookworm and a sucker for sunsets and airplane journeys.