Legend has it that in the 6th Century, Kaldi—a goat herder from Ethiopia (then the Kingdom of Kaffa)—was surprised to find his goats invigorated by feeding on black-coloured berries growing in the pastures where they’d graze. On feeling a sense of calm after consuming these beans—it was coffee—Kaldi announced his discovery to the village. It doesn’t matter what the origin story of coffee is, the truth remains that not only is this product a backbone of the global economy, it is also a symbol of cultural interaction.
Over time, coffee has evolved in how it is made and consumed. Now, many coffee aficionados—moving from traditional black coffee—have started experimenting with ingredients and making process—at the brewing phase, during fermentation, and roasting. “It is only in the last eight years that Indians have started paying heed towards properly roasted coffee. Experimentation as a concept is new and can be called a growing trend,” shares Siddhant Keshav (30), roaster and director of Lodhi Colony-based Devan’s.
A taste of change
In India, most people have already been familiarised with flavours such as mint, chocolate, or hazelnut in coffee, courtesy coffeehouses such as Starbucks. Even though coffee aficionados stay conflicted about coffee with artificially-added flavours post-brewing (as is done at Starbucks), it is no doubt that this has been accepted by consumers warming up to coffee experimentation.
The real work in coffee production starts post harvest, during the processing—when layers surrounding the coffee bean are removed. This is where coffee producers have identified a newfound scope to experiment with flavour profiles. “We are now seeing some good batches coming through than what I saw five years ago because it doesn’t happen overnight,” says Keshav.
In the same vein, Matt Chitharanjan (40), co-founder of Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters, mentions there is an increase in experimentation with coffee at the farm level. “Traditionally, growers have been sending good-quality cherries for wash processing and low-quality for natural processing. I remember having a conversation with growers five years ago to process good cherried as naturals.”
Noida-based coffee consultant, Binny Varghese (33) mentions that coffee experimentation has been a part of Indian culture for a while. He adds, “In Wayanad, Kerala, I had the opportunity to drink coffee roasted with spices. In the South, many people roast their coffee in ghee; it changes the flavour profile.”
All in the flavour
Chitharanjan feels that experimentation with coffee offers scope to increase the complexity of the drink. Globally, several unique processes have surfaced wherein producers experiment with soaking periods, wash frequencies, etc., to change the flavour. Anaerobic fermentation and lactic processes are recent processes that are finding an audience in many countries. In India, Chitharanjan shares, two forms of coffee experimentation have been on the rise. One, where coffee cherry is fermented alongside a fruit and yeast is added later. “If done well, there are a lot of fruit flavours that become more pronounced and I think that is really appealing to a certain set of customers,” he comments. The second is the barrel-ageing process; green coffee lots are blended and placed in whiskey barrels.
While this may seem (and to some extent it is) an influence of the West, Binny Varghese (33), a coffee consultant from Noida, elaborates that coffee experimentation has been a part of Indian culture for a long time. Recounting a memory from his visit to Wayanad, Kerala, he shares, “I had the opportunity to drink coffee that had been roasted with spices. In the South, many people roast their coffee in ghee and add spices. It completely changes the flavour profile of the beverage.”
Hit or miss?
Indians mostly feel inclined towards coffee that tastes sweet. Varghese is quick to point out how Indians have always wanted to stick to the original idea of coffee— black, with little sugar. The slow acceptance of newer versions with experimentation is, thus, due to similar existing notions. “I drink cinnamon-flavoured coffee; I like its woody flavour and I am all for experimentation with coffee. But, one can only have these flavours once in a while. Nothing replaces normal coffee,” shares Lakshita Narang (23) from South Delhi. According to Chitharanjan, there is a different segment of consumers that pays heed to the newness of experimental methods. Giving his insight into what might work in our country, he says, “At this stage, we are actually in a market where anything goes. I have tried coffee where the fermentation has gone wrong but they still have been released in the market.”
Despite so many changes in the space, experimental coffee is a niche product in the market. While Keshav feels that it is easier to introduce non-coffee drinkers to the beverage through these experiments, Chitharanjan states otherwise. “Experimental coffees are not great for getting new people into coffee because the flavour profiles are complex and not always what people expect coffee to taste like,” shares the latter. However, Chitharanjan also feels the same does a good job in getting coffee-drinkers to delve deeper into understanding flavour profiles. Varghese admits that since coffee is still quite an under-researched product, creators are yet to navigate their way around experimentation. “Scientifically, there is no way to say ‘this is how it should be done’... There is a lot of impact of social media; it prompts people to experiment with processes and flavours. It all comes down to the consumer’s choice,” he shares. It looks like the only trends that will manage to spark the curiosity of the consumers now will be the ones with a place in the community, just as how the only thing that managed to intrigue Kaldi, the goat herder, centuries ago, was the taste of unprocessed coffee beans.
A ‘TRENDING’ CUPPA JOY!
Coffee consultant Geetu Mohnani says that the trends being witnessed in beverage industries such as wine, beer, etc., are followed in the coffee space as well. Mohnani says, “Anaerobic fermentation, fruit fermentation, carbonic fermentation has been going around since the last few years. This year, we have seen Koji fermented coffee—Koji is a Japanese fermenting agent. In India, Koji fermented coffee is still new and only one or two green coffee growers have done that.” She also mentions that fruit fermentation and champagne fermentation are trends India will be seeing soon.
With inputs from Dyuti Roy