– by Gareth Maddock, Coffee Roaster
Way back when my interest was first piqued in specialty coffee, the idea of travelling to origin and visiting a coffee farm seemed like a distant possibility. While it was a motivating factor in deciding to pursue a career in coffee, I fully expected that it would be a trip I would eventually get to take after working for many years within the industry. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when the opportunity of an origin trip to India was bestowed upon me last year, especially considering that it was only a relative short time ago that I became aware that India even produced coffee! While India had always been high on my list of travel destinations, being able to visit a coffee farm in regional India would have been somewhat more of a challenge without a strong direct-trade relationship in place with the farm.
Sethuraman Estate, located in the Indian state of Karnataka, is a farm with which Veneziano has built a strong and enduring relationship. Sixth-generation owner Nishant Gurjer regularly travels to Australia annually to see first-hand where his prized Robusta ends up; for me, however, only having seen the final few steps in the coffee production process meant that I would be seeing the exact opposite direction of the process from Nishant.
After a mostly comfortable (Indian roads are sometimes of questionable quality!) eight hours of travel from Bangalore, we arrived at Sethuraman Estate and wasted no time in viewing the coffee plantation. The layout and appearance of the plantation was a far cry from my expectations, since I had assumed that Indian coffee was planted in large, open paddocks similar to a lot of other staple crops. However, upon walking into what felt like a rainforest, I soon realised that all of the tall bushes that surrounded me were coffee trees. I bent in towards a bunch of coffee flowers on one particular bush, and was met with the most unique, delicate and beautiful floral fragrance of coffee blossom. There were rows of coffee trees for as far as the eye could see, and it was quite cool under the canopy of purpose-grown shade trees. After we all arrived in a small clearing, a veritable crowd of coffee pickers appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and immediately put us to task in picking coffee cherries. As we struggled to match their speed and efficiency, I could hear the workers quietly giggling behind me at our sub-par efforts! This kind of enthusiasm and joviality while picking was something that I had not expected to see, and certainly speaks volumes about just how respectably every member of Nishant’s farming team is treated.
Nishant provides his workers with excellent working conditions through several means: paying above-average wages, treating every one of his employees with tremendous respect, and having a large scope for growth within his operation. In fact, several of his current farm managers started their careers by being tractor drivers or coffee pickers! Potential for growth in this manner is something that is relatively unprecedented within other coffee farms, and creates a strong incentive for workers to continue working in order to climb the ranks within the farming operation.
In another effort to ensure his workers’ ongoing welfare and support, Nishant also provides the opportunity for committed, long-term workers to obtain loans to put towards quality-of-life improvements. For example, should one of his employees need to buy a bigger house for his growing family, he would be able to obtain that loan interest-free from Nishant. These loans aren’t necessarily restricted to buying property either; with other potential uses being purchasing a mode of transport such as a car or motorbike, or even for the medical expenses of a worker or their relative. By providing these loans, Nishant is ensuring that the local community thrives, that his workers have improved quality of life, and further incentivises them to stay dedicated to producing quality coffee at Sethuraman Estate.
Travelling to India as a representative of the Veneziano team was a unique experience that very few are lucky enough to partake in, and the ongoing role that I will be playing in the continuous relationship between Sethuraman Estate and Veneziano is a position that I am proud to hold. Seeing first-hand how coffee is picked and processed at origin was extremely valuable to my knowledge of the coffee production process; however, more importantly was how it opened my eyes to the lives of the people that produce the coffee which we love to drink. The direct relationship that Veneziano has with Nishant and his farm could not exist without a great amount of respect and mutual appreciation for the role that each of our organisations play in the coffee production process, as well as the importance of every single person that touches the coffee in its journey from plant to cup.