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Mysore & Monsooned Malabar: the return of India specialties.

Think of India and you may think of the teas of Darjeeling, visions of Bengal Dancers playing polo in off hours, Ghandi, or the Taj Mahal. Few of us in the United States think of India and coffee. This is our misfortune though, for there is much in Indian coffee to admire and enjoy. In the Netherlands, France, and Germany, the secrets of these jewels of the Indian sub-continent have been appreciated for years.

Legend credits Baba Budan, a Moslem pilgrim, with bringing back coffee seed from a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1600. It is said he planted coffee in the rich soil near his humble hut in the mountains of Mysore. The date may be specious, as may be the tale of Baba Buden itself, but we do know that by 1696, India was exporting coffee and coffee culture. For it was in that year that Nicolaas Witsen, burgomeister of Amsterdam, Netherlands, caused to be shipped from Kananur to Malabar to Java, the first coffee plants introduced into the Dutch East Indies.

A British army officer discovered the existence of coffee cultivation in the Coorg district by the Rajahs (local lords) over a century and a half ago. The English began extensive commercial cultivation of Arabica coffee in India in 1840 (a very good year, I've always thought, for starting a coffee venture).

In southern Indian, the Malabar Coast, in India's Kerala State, runs about 450 miles along the Eastern shores of the Arabian Sea. Here on the western slopes of the Ghat Mountains, and in the neighboring states of Karnataka (formerly Mysore) to the North and East, and in Tamil Nadu (formerly Madras) to the East are almost a quarter of a million acres of Arabica coffee.

Shade trees protect the delicate Arabica coffee from India's sunny climates on coffee growing terraces cut into the Ghat mountainsides. There is a seasonal blossoming from March to May and an October through February harvest.

Auctions are held in Bangalore, a centrally located city and rail link between Karnataka and Madras in the East. It is about halfway between the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, and 340 miles from the tip of India at Cape Comorin.

Southern India, with its tropical climate and heavy rainfall, produces both Arabica and Robusta coffees in abundance. In recent years, India has repeatedly been one of the world's top 10 producers with production levels similar to those of Guatemala and Ethiopia. Today, approximately 50% of India's expected 1991-92 yield of 210,000 tons (3,182,000 60kilo bags) will be Arabica coffee. Domestic Indian consumption, of about 60,000 tons, is basic Robusta beans, leaving virtually the entire Arabica production for export.

The information incorporated in the chart on the following page expresses exports of coffee from India 1990-1991, in tons.

The political and economic situations in major trading partners-the states that have replaced the USSR, and in those that have replaced Yugoslavia--are both fluid and unpredictable. Russia announced in late 1991 that there would be no importation of coffee at all in 1992. Events and conditions in Eastern Europe will have a major effect on India's export economy.

Indian Arabicas are categorized as "Other Mild Arabicas" as are the coffees of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and other high grade specialty origins.

In the 1970's, a coffee labeled "Indian Mysore" was showing up on distributor's lists and in retail store barrels all over U.S. specialty bean markets. It is unfortunate, but true, that at the time there was no such coffee being 'produced in India, maybe the coffee was of Indian origin. Maybe it was another mild Arabica variety. We will never know.

Today the India Coffee Board segregates regional varietals for the specialty market. In addition, they have created a super grade of carefully screened and prepared beans. This new grade, Mysore Nuggets Extra Bold, will be in very short supply until production level can be developed. The introduction of the Extra Bold grade is a salute to the vigor of the specialty trade's development and India's hopes of being a major player in the specialty bean sweepstakes in coming seasons.

India's coffee production controlled by an agency of the Government of India; the India Coffee Board. Grade designations, created by the Coffee Board, are standard throughout the coffee producing districts. India produces Arabica coffees in both Washed (wet) and Natural (dry) types. Washed Arabicas are known in India as "Plantations" and are graded A, B, C, PB (Peaberry). Unwashed Arabicas are called "Cherry" and are graded AB, C, BBB, BULK, and PB (Peaberry) based on bean size and number of imperfections per sample. Those appropriate for specialty use are available by region. India also produces Robusta coffees in Parchment (Washed) and Cherry (Natural) preparations.

The principal coffee growing regions are: AnamaIais, Bababuden, Bilgiris, Chikmaaalur (marketed as Mysore), Coorg, Nilgiris, Painis, and Shevaroys. Each region has distinct bean and cup characteristics. I cupped Mysore (Chikmagaiur) washed Arabica coffees from the State of Karnataka for the descriptions herein.

Plantation A Coffee Board Specifications--90% by weight shall stand on a sieve with round holes of 6.6mm (between Screen Nos. 16 &17), Not more than 1.5% by weight shall pass through a sieve with round holes of 6.00 mm (Screen No.15)

The grade shall be "Clean Garbled" (sorted). It shall not contain "PB" (Peaberries) subject to a tolerance of 2% by weight. It can contain 2% by weight of "Triage."

Triage is defined by the Coffee Board as consisting of broken beans (not less than 1/3 of a bean in size), thin shrivelled, withered, elephant beans, shells, malformed beans, pulper cuts, and machine cuts.

I found the sample to follow closely to the Board description, a good sized pale green bean, showing clean, careful preparation. I brought the sample to a Full City Roast (a full brown roast color with no sign of first oil on the bean surface). The roast was medium bold to bold, and even color and even finish. The liquor was nicely acidic, medium bodied, and aromatic with slight hint of spiciness in nose, less in the cup. A very pleasing cup of coffee.

Plantation PB Coffee Board Description--This is the washed peaberry coffee of India. Its cup qualities mirrors those of Plantation A.

Plantation B Coffee Board Description--Not less than 75% by weight shall stand on a sieve with round holes of 6.00 mm (Screen No.15). Not more than 1.5% by weight shall pass through sieve with round holes of 5.50 mm (Between 13 & 14 Screen). This grade shall be "clean garbled." It shall not contain "PB" subject to a tolerance of 2% by weight. It can contain 3% by weight of "Triage."

Plantation C Coffee Board Description--This is a lesser grade of washed Arabica not meriting consideration here.

Mysore Nuggets Extra Bold (EB), the premium washed Arabica coffee introduced in 1992, is an upgrade of Plantation A, having tighter grading and sorting standards in production (90% by weight shall stand on a No.19 Screen, and 100% shall stand on a sieve with holes of 6.65 mm, between Nos. 16 & 17 Screen). It is to be medium to well-polished and containing no broken beans, peaberries, or extraneous matter, totally free from defects.

Only 120 tons of this grade is available to the world (about 1,800 bags). The bean quality here was bold, uniform, and polished. The bean color was blue-green. It is a stylish roaster and yields a clean medium bodied liquor with good acidity, and a note of spice that is recognizable in the nose and on the palate. No doubt about it, it is a world class specialty.

India labels some specially treated natural Arabica and Robusta coffees as "Monsooned." Monsooning is an ageing treatment for the beans developed to simulate conditions that prevailed in the days of wooden bottoms and sail, when "Old Brown" (aged) Javas of the Dutch East Indies were the most prized coffees in the world, and the growers of the Malabar Coast had to compete with Java coffees in the great trading markets of London and Amsterdam.

Monsooned coffees are layered about 4-6" in depth on the brick floors of special roofed platform warehouses with open sides, therefore exposed to the elements during the rainy (monsoon) season. To equalize moisture absorption, the coffees are raked at regular intervals. The aging process takes between 12-16 weeks. The beans change color from green to parchment tones. This is due to their exposure to the salts blowing inland from the Arabian Sea.

Monsooned coffees cup mellow, and smooth with only a background hint of their former new crop acidity. The highest grade of Monsooned Arabica coffee is the Monsooned Malabar AA. It is a worthy addition to your specialty portfolio during its short time of availability each year.

For more information about the specialty coffees of India contact: Coffee Board of India, Government of India, No.l, Dr. Amnkekar Veedhi, P.B. No. 5366, Bangalore 560 001. India. Fax: (91)(812) 265557. In particular you may be interested in two publications published by the Coffee Board; "Indian Coffee, A Rich Tradition Filtered Down the Ages," and "Indian Coffee/ Quality Credentials of the Ambassador of Good Taste."

Two additional informative pamphlets. "Mysore Plantation A/A Specialty Coffee From India" and "Mysore Nuggets Extra Bold/A Premium Specialty Coffee from India" are available from Josuma Coffee Company. P.O. Box 1115, Menlo Park. CA 9402. Tel/Fax: (415)366-5453.
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Title Annotation:coffee industry
Author:Schoenholt, Donald N.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Top flavors for coffee: a look back, a look forward.
Next Article:Trends for specialty coffee in 1993.

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