A coffee aficionado uncovers secrets to human-nature harmony at one of India’s leading coffee hubs
By Sudrisha Goswami
Set amidst the densely forested cover of the Western Ghats, Coorg sits drenched in exotic foliage and fauna of Karnataka. In pursuit of bonding with the wild, India’s leading coffee connoisseur and trainer, Suhas Dwarkanath maps out a road trip to the coffee country renowned for its world-class robustas and eco-conscious traditional farming practices that eludes a unique flavour profile in every sip. On long drives such as this one, steeped in the bounty of nature, the Hyundai TUCSON munches down on miles, breezing through hairpin curves and rocky terrain. Suhas is armed with Hyundai’s SmartSense ADAS features like the Smart Cruise Control that backs him up with convenience and safety on the road by maintaining a preselected distance from any vehicle as he inaugurates his inter-state journey from Wayanad to Coorg. His venture brews coffee explorations in the lush estates dotted by encounters with endemic lifeforms that narrates tales of unity.
The feature-packed Hyundai TUCSON comes armed with all that is needed for a memorable road trip. Photo by: Siddharth Kejriwal
The coffee district of Coorg is credited with producing almost 35 percent of the total coffee production in the country, earning it the nickname ‘Coffee Cup of India’. A defining characteristic of the much loved Coorgi robustas is a bold and striking flavour profile with spicy undertones, a go-to for enhancing the flavour of milder blends. Its vibrant flavour is owing to the traditional cultivation methods that farmers of the land have stayed true to for centuries. “Open sunroof,” Suhas instructs and on command, the state-of-art smart tech responds by unfurling views of the sprawling sky and blue rolling hills through the panoramic sunroof that eliminates boundaries between him and the luxuriant Shola jungles. Suhas navigates his way to the Rainforest Retreat nestled in the Mojo Plantation, 10 kilometres shy of Madikeri, to uncover tales of the quintessential Coorgi robustas that is an instant cure for morning blues.
The Mojo Plantation is surrounded by scenic valleys and tropical montane forests. Unadulterated coffee plantations thrive in the midst of thick manes of native trees while streams dribble through the damp lands that are replenished by high rainfall of 2,500-3,500 millimetres annually. Natural woodlands are cleared of undergrowth for growing coffee, as well as an array of spices and fruits such as cardamom, black pepper, vanilla, cinnamon and turmeric, leaving the natural vegetation undisturbed. Ardent believers of intercropping, flavours from surrounding crops seep into the incipient coffee beans as their roots intertwine, reflecting unmatched flavours, praises of which ring across the world. Many such small holdings dot the coffee country, a stark difference from the commercial Chikkamagaluru estates which are converted into farms.
At Rainforest Retreat in Coorg, coffee investigations and lessons on human-nature interdependence await Suhas Dwarakanath. Photo by: Siddhart Kejriwal
Suhas pilots the Hyundai TUCSON through muddy trails lined by unmanicured farmland on both sides. Despite uneven tracks, the HTRAC All-Wheel Drive and Multi-terrain modes make easy work of tackling the tricky terrain, even as Suhas admires his tranquil surroundings.
The natural woodlands of Coorg where coffee cultivations thrive also serve as connecting corridors for wildlife. A stroll through the forested cultivations could mean chance encounters with barking deer, porcupine, Nilgiri marten, mongoose and the famed civet cat of the region. The familiar name of the mammal can be traced to the most expensive coffee in the world, the civet coffee. “The civet cats, during the harvest season, head down to the coffee farms, pick out the ripest and the tastiest of the cherries and eat them,” Suhas says. Unable to digest the coffee beans, they go through the digestive system of the cats, mixed with enzymes that ferment the beans and return to the forest floor as droppings, which are then processed and brewed into civet coffee that exudes a unique musky flavour.
Aside from mammals, a myriad of reptiles, insects and migratory as well as resident bird species grace the verdant cover of the region, knitted with over 100 species of flora in one site alone. Malabar grey hornbill, Malabar barbet and White cheeked barbet are a few endemic avians thriving here. In fact, over 25 percent of India’s overall feathered population graces the region. Coorg’s coffee farms are exemplary of nature’s astounding self-maintenance.
Enroute Coorg, the panoramic roof of the all-new Hyundai TUCSON offers breath-taking views of the Shola forests. Photo by: Siddhart Kejriwal
Traditional farming methods in the coffee district are largely dependent on the thick canopies weaved together by the mingling of towering greens. Known as tree-shade farming, the technique supports biotic processes that propel plantations to bourgeon while nurturing the environment of the region. The lush canopies build an abode for a host of lifeforms, entwining a complex food web. “Predators and prey are required in the farm to control pests such as stem borer, fruit borer, berry borer etc. which are not welcome at coffee farms,” explained Suhas. A healthy agri-ecosystem is inclusive of diverse varieties of organisms at every trophic level. This helps in balancing the energy levels at each successive level.
Perched on hilly folds, the roots of verdure clench the soil, reducing soil erosion while simultaneously stabilising hilly slopes. Fallen leaves, among other plant litter, as well as wildlife droppings, play the role of nourishing the soil as natural compost, freeing farms from chemical fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides demanded by the sun-grown method of cropping.
Slithering into the rainforest for a night-trek could record chance encounters with the checkered keelback snake, among a diverse range of flourishing wildlife. Photo by: Siddhart Kejriwal
Despite the organic benefits of tree-shade farming for coffee drinkers and the environment alike, sun-grown coffee is increasingly taking over the Coorgi coffee scene due to commercial benefits and ease of cultivation. Sun-grown coffee plantations undertake slashing down trees so as to make way for sunlight to reach the coffee baubles. This also creates more space for coffee plants, which is synonymous with higher yields. “If a commercial plantation is able to produce thirty bags of coffee, hypothetically, conservationist farms will only be able to produce twenty, resulting in a hike in prices. Roasters paying larger sums for the coffee aids in helping estates continue conservation and not destroy the local flora and fauna,” says Suhas.
In partnership with nature, Mojo Plantation combines time-tested traditional methods with modern scientific innovations to maintain healthy environmental conditions. The holding sustains a forest-like canopy at the top while a bushy ground cover of weed and mulch shields the delicate top soil. “Listen to the land,” reminds Dr Sujata Goel, owner of Rainforest Retreat, who has incorporated her knowledge from years of expertise in ecological sciences to conservation farming and sustainable agriculture, to future planters.
In the second largest coffee producing region of India, Suhas serves himself a cup of classic Coorgi coffee as prepared by traditional households, one of the healthiest among countless cuppa concoctions across the country. The coffee is brewed in a traditional South Indian filter before being sweetened with black jaggery, one of the healthiest forms of sugar in the world.
For journeys where roads unfold at the brim of passion and adventure, a feature-rich compact SUV like the Hyundai TUCSON is the perfect travel buddy to tackle any stumbling blocks along the way. Suhas sips on the deep gold liquid that packs an explosion of flavour with molasses undertone, while overlooking the vast spreads of the fragrant beans, wondering where his profound love for the aromatic beverage will lead him next.
Embraced by the lush verdant mane of the estate, Suhas brews himself a quintessential cup of Coorgi coffee. Photo by: Siddharth Kejriwal