Origin Trip: Sethuraman Estate, India

– by Rick Di Genova, Victorian State Sales Manager

I have been a part of the coffee industry for the past 13 years, and over those years I’ve been privileged to have exposure to the internal operations of a roastery, sampled amazing coffees from around the world and worked with leading industry people. A short time ago I joined the team at Veneziano Coffee Roasters and in a matter of months I can say I’ve learnt and experienced more than I have in my whole career to date.

The key highlight of my career has been the opportunity to travel to origin just last month. I was asked if I would like to join three other team members to visit our friends at Sethuraman Estates in India – without hesitation of course, I accepted. Having never set foot on a coffee farm let alone India, I was well and truly venturing into the unknown. I definitely had some preconceived ideas of what to expect but I can assure you I got to witness the best the country has to offer, and a very special coffee farm indeed.

Sethuraman Estate is owned and run by Nishant Gurjer, a sixth generation coffee farmer, and is responsible for supplying us with some of the best R graded Robusta coffee beans on offer. In fact, Nishant’s Robusta has been granted this prestigious award eight times. Sethuraman Estate is located in the Chikmagalur district near the town of Magundi on the Bhadra river and sits at an altitude of 2500 feet.

Nishant has a vision of achieving excellence in everything he does and he knows he needs motivated people around him to achieve that. At harvest time, he employs up to 150 people. He acknowledges the efforts of his team by paying them at least double the standard rate and often offers special privileges.

When we arrived at Sethuraman Estate, we were given the grand tour of the spacious facility and taken through each step of the coffee process in detail by Nishant and his counterpart, Bops. Bops takes control when it comes to the quality assurance and best practice procedures. I was amazed at the innovation and progressive technology used on the farm.

Nishant makes his own home-made, organic fertilizer that he feeds the coffee trees. It’s his own secret recipe that he says is responsible for making this trees thrive and produce the best cherries. And only be best cherries makes the best coffee.

We met the gentleman with the sole responsibility of protecting the coffee trees by walking the grounds of the estate, scaring off any monkeys with an instrument that discharges gunpowder.

We met the local workers and observed them on their daily routine of harvesting the ripe cherries. They work in small teams hovering between coffee tree branches carefully assessing and picking only the best cherries. Once picked, the cherries are dropped onto canvas beds. At the end of the day the cherries are transported to the waiting congregation for weighing. Typically around 80,000 cherries are picked each day. This equates to around 150kg coffee cherries, which is only about 30kg of green beans! Meeting these incredible people and witnessing what they do day in, day out, certainly gives you a sense of appreciation for what we do back at home.

From here we saw the sorting process, which is all done manually by hand to ensure the quality of the cherries that make it though to the processing phase. We saw the cherries get pulped before they were put into big baths to ferment. The cherries at Sethuraman Estate typically ferment for around 26 – 32 hours, depending on the weather, after which they are laid out on drying patios for approximately 6-8 days for a washed coffee, or up to 15 days for a naturally processed coffee. There are workers dedicated to tending to the cherries during the drying process. They ensure they are turned 2 – 3 hours for uniform drying and are covered at night to avoid any contact with dew.

The entire process from growing to processing is unexpectedly manual for a farm of this size. I was blown away by the number of people working on the farm and that each and everyone of them approached their job with the utmost respect, enthusiasm and dedication.

The passion and sense of togetherness I experienced on the farm was the most valuable thing I took away from this trip. Everyone, from Nishant and his management team right through to the pickers, was working towards a common goal of producing the best and achieving excellence across the board. The dedication and enthusiasm was mind-blowing and has certainly given me an increased drive and sense of urgency to spread the knowledge and passion right through the coffee chain.

We here, as roasters and coffee professionals acknowledge the roots of specialty coffee but there’s always more we can do and it’s our job to share our experiences with the wider industry and our customers so we all treat this valuable product with the respect and appreciation it deserves. It’s a rare privilege to experience life on a coffee farm and really puts our day to day life into perspective. We as coffee lovers sometimes take for granted what we consume on a daily basis, for me though, with each sip I’ll remember the hard work that goes into each and every cup at the other end.