2,985 feet above sea level, amidst the plush forests of Eastern Ghats sits Araku Valley. In these serene environs of Andhra Pradesh, a quiet, yet electric wave of change is being executed meticulously. The adivasis of the region wake up to smell the coffee, quite literally, and what ensues are cups of java being consumed across the globe. Walking as much as two kilometers from their village to coffee bushes, the local people who were once skeptical of the Araku initiative, are now smiling faces plucking ripe red coffee cherries which translate into some of the world’s best quality cuppas.
Started in 2001, Araku Coffee is a non-profit venture by Naandi Foundation, established in a land marked by the government for special development and funding for locals. The pure Arabica coffee carries fullness of flavour, augmented by sweet notes, its quality recognised by the likes of Cup of Excellence and Specialty Coffee Association of America’s cupping protocols. With bio-dynamic methods processing the beans and agriculture experts overlooking the chain, Araku Coffee first started its commercial operation is Paris, gradually gaining popularity and expanding to other markets such as Sweden, Switzerland, and Dubai.
Last year they won the gold medal for the best coffee pod in the Prix Epicures OR Award in Paris. And now for the first time, Araku Coffee will be available in India. Launching in India soon, they’ll begin with online retail of the coffee, and are looking at starting brick and mortar spaces later on, beginning with Bengaluru. As the country preps to experience great coffee, we speak with Manoj Kumar, CEO, Naandi, on what should one expect from Araku.
In the recent years, the third wave coffee has brought about several artisanal coffees in India. What makes Araku stand out from the rest?
Araku is certified organic, terroir-based coffee, which has been developed in collaboration with international coffee experts. It is creating a totally new experience for coffee by offering designer coffee accessories, and introducing people to Coffeeology – the art of making their coffee experience better.
The usual route is to see success in the home country and then venture to international landscapes. You adopted the reverse direction – why?
This decision was a result of knowing that Paris is the gastronomic capital of the world, and that if we made a food product click as the best in Paris, then that would give us access to newer economies and newer markets.
What should coffee drinkers in India expect from Araku?
A world-class quality coffee produced through sustainable, bio-diverse organic agriculture combined with design and aesthetic, which introduces the Indian coffee connoisseur to a sensory experience that goes beyond just the cup.
How is Araku coffee made, and what are the processes that ensure high quality with each bean?
The valley’s protected ecosystem offers the ideal growing conditions for coffee. The hot days and cool nights of the high-altitude climate coupled with naturally iron-rich soil make Araku a terroir where coffee can ripen slowly, which gives it body, intensity, aromatic richness, and a mild taste.
Araku Coffee is grown with organic methods, in small plots and is cultivated and picked by hand. This enables our coffee to express its full body and amazing aroma. The region has been divided into different terroirs, and each cup of coffee can be traced to the micro-estate from which it comes. We have set up a Central Processing Unit in Araku to standardise the quality of the coffee being produced. The coffee is freshly roasted every day at our Roasting Unit in Hyderabad by our Honduran Master Roaster Andrew Delgado. We control the entire chain from seed to cup and are involved at each step in its processing, thus ensuring its high quality is maintained throughout.
It’s your 18th year, and Araku has gained cult status. And you are now coming back to India – how does that feel?
It is a homecoming of sorts for us because Araku is turning a full circle and coming back to its roots. After our successful debut in Paris, we wanted to explore other foreign markets but seeing that the Indian coffee market is at an exploratory stage, we decided to introduce the Indian consumer to this world-class coffee.
You’re introducing four of the six varieties on offer in Europe right now. Why only these four?
The four variants stood out and received a lot of positive feedback in the numerous focused group/blind tasting sessions that we did as part of our market testing and therefore we concluded that these four variants were more suited for the Indian palate.
Are you looking to introduce any new India-specific coffees in the future?
I feel world-class coffees will be accepted in all countries. In India, our challenge is to spread Coffeeology and help Indian consumers get used to coffee rituals and techniques to enjoy this high-quality coffee. We have never had this good coffee in our country before. However, when we do our pop-up café, we will create cold brew coffee and other Indianised experiences.
The essentials for a great coffee according to you?
It starts with agriculture which gives it a unique taste, nutrition, and personality. We call this terroir. This is then complemented by the gold standard practices that are to be followed during harvest, processing, drying, curing, roasting, brewing, and serving! Of course, the blessings of the farmer (who made a lot of profit) is a cherry on the experience.
The best way to enjoy Araku coffee?
We recommend brewing Araku with our Moka Pots designed exclusively for Araku by award-winning Norwegian designer duo, Anderssen & Voll.
All images: Courtesy Surbhi Kaushik