Going beyond coffee’s third wave
Coffee growers and roasters are trying processing techniques like cold-smoking and fermentation for that differentiated cup
Coffee growers bottle up new ideas for eight-nine months because the only time you can experiment and try out new techniques are the three months of the harvesting season, and the whole process of releasing a new grind or differently processed beans gets all scrunched within that time. It’s like releasing a film," says Ashish D’abreo, a qualified barista and co-founder of Maverick & Farmer, an artisanal coffee brand which runs a coffee estate in Pollibetta, Coorg, as well as a roastery and café chain. It took the three founders of Maverick & Farmer, who were also behind The Flying Squirrel, one of India’s first artisanal coffee brands, over a year to come up with, and perfect, three new coffee varieties—among them a unique cold-smoked coffee bean. Their Ol’ Smoky, possibly the world’s first-ever cold-smoked coffee, uses an unusual technique—exposing freshly picked (and still green) Arabica coffee beans, which are kept in a smokehouse, to cold smoke generated by the burning of locally available wood from fruit trees for 14 hours before processing it in the usual way. “Smoked coffee tastes beautiful but the problem with the conventional method, which is to roast the mature bean at high temperatures, is that it loses other flavours, for instance its fruitiness. So we came up with this idea of smoking the green bean using cold smoke, which doesn’t heat the bean but only infuses the smoky flavour into it," explains D’abreo.
“As Indian coffee growers, we are interested in pushing the boundaries of roasting techniques. We are right at the beginning of the whole coffee cycle, so to be following trends that emerge in the West is a bit strange. We should be at the forefront of innovation," says Sreeram G., one of the other co-founders of Maverick & Farmer.
While the world is still in the grip of the “third wave of coffee"—the era of conscious consumption and experimental roasting and brewing techniques—some believe that India can now lead the charge in ushering in the next wave. Coffee growers and roasteries in India are testing new methods, such as lactic acid fermentation and anaerobic fermentation, to create a differentiated cup; customers, in turn, are trying out new brewing techniques at home and awareness of provenance and techniques is growing exponentially. Now coffee packets go beyond mentions of light and medium roasts to highlight production processes like 30-90 hours fermentation.
“Giving more information fulfils the goal of transparency. Three years ago, the question would have been why is it important to put the roasting date. Now, it has become a norm," says Mithilesh Vazalwar, CEO of Corridor Seven Coffee Roasters, which sells, among other varieties, the Riverdale Estate N72, a coffee grind processed with watermelon. When the coffee cherries are put in the fermentation tank, fresh, cut watermelon is added so that the fruit’s sugars add complexity to the final flavour. Vazalwar is also experimenting with yeast to accelerate the fermentation process. The Ratnagiri Estate Anaerobic coffee retailed on Corridor Seven has distinct strawberry notes, while Savorworks Roasters’ Fruit bomb is redolent with blackberry and apricot flavours.
Meanwhile, Maverick & Farmer’s Orange You Curious? packs in the refreshing taste of the fruit by fermenting the beans with orange juice, and Mumbai-based SUBKO specialty coffee roasters offers a 30-hour fermented coffee from Ratnagiri estate with notes of maple syrup. Their menu explicitly mentions fermentation. “I want people to ask why we have fermented our coffees," says Rahul Reddy, founder of SUBKO, who believes deepening product knowledge is essential to opening up a larger market.
“Coffee has taken a lot of cues from the wine industry," says Bengaluru-based Suhas Dwarakanath of Benki Brewing Tools. He points to barrel-aged variations such as the Whiskey barrel-aged speciality robusta by Dope Coffee Roasters and Amrut cask aged coffee by Koinonia KC Roasters.
The mind-boggling diversity in coffee processing is a hallmark of the fourth wave. In coffee vocabulary, it can be loosely translated as a global trend which puts the spotlight on getting geeky about the production process to understand what was done after the coffee was harvested. This wave has also ushered in an interest in coffee equipment. Dwarakanath, who retails brewing tools, says his customers have realized that better-quality coffee comes from better equipment. “People are experimenting left, right and centre. They are hungry for better coffee, and to learn more."