Exploring Indian coffee from Riverdale Estate
India is a large country with a huge number of microclimates and plenty of variety in its weather as a result. Typically, however, coffee is grown in the southern parts of the country. As a coffee origin, India is mostly known for robusta production. However, in recent years, a focus on higher-quality arabica has started to emerge.
Here at Condesa, we’ve just recently begun sourcing coffee from Riverdale Estate – a specialty coffee producer based in the Shevaroy Hills in the state of Tamil Nadu.
Let’s take a look at the estate and the superb coffee it grows, as well as the Indian coffee industry in general.
Coffee production in India
Indian coffee is mainly grown in the states of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu – which are all regions where tea is also commercially produced. Overall, there are 210,000 coffee producers in India. In the 2020/21 crop year, Indian coffee production totaled some 334,000 tonnes.
Coffee from Karnataka is often washed, with a cup profile boasting a medium to full body and subtle acidity.
Additionally, producers in Karnataka are known for their “Monsoon Malabar” coffee, which is a process that originated on the Malabar Coast. It is such a signature of the region that it has since become designated with a geographical indication, which means that Monsoon Malabar can, by law, only be produced on the Malabar Coast.
The “monsooning” process entails leaving coffee beans out in open warehouses, where they’re exposed to rain and wind during the monsoon season, which can last for months. The final product is a pungent, full-bodied coffee that lacks much of its original acidity. The process also changes the coffee’s colour, making them a pale yellow.
Legend has it that this method originated when coffee was being shipped from British-controlled India to the United Kingdom, and its exposure to the sea air changed its flavour profile irrevocably.
The history of Riverdale Estate
Riverdale Estate is located in Yercaud, a forestry station situated high in the Shevaroy Hills of the Eastern Ghats. The farm sits at an elevation 1450 metres above sea level, with natural spring water flowing through it and a forest reserve around it.
Shade trees, including tall silver oak, peppercorn, jackfruit, sandalwood, and orange trees, are planted throughout the farm to prevent soil erosion.
The area is rich in biodiversity and wildlife, with Indian bison (gaur), monkeys, and peacocks living in the forest. The loamy soil found here is a combination of clay, silt, and sand, which is great for growing coffee.
Riverdale Estate has been a family farm for around 100 years and is now managed by a young farmer by the name of Prakashan Balaraman. He took over management of the farm in 2005, redeveloping it from the ground up to cater to the specialty coffee industry.
Prakashan loves working with nature and studying native tree species, micronutrition for coffee plants, and how to modernise coffee farming.
Prakashan’s brother, Mohan, handles sales and marketing for the company. He says that the estate aims to be open and transparent, with a focus on innovation and sustainability.
“We aspire to be a leader in the global coffee industry by creating an environment where innovation, quality and transparency all coexist,” he says. “We believe in building an ecosystem where roasters and farmers work hand in hand to push the boundaries of the coffee flavour in a sustainable manner.”
Riverdale Estate offers a number of washed, natural, honey, and carbonic maceration coffees. Mohan explains that their washed coffees are processed with natural spring water, while their naturals are dried on raised beds before being packed away in climate-controlled storage. The harvest season in this region runs from November to January, and the Estate’s trained staff handpick ripe fruit to ensure only high-quality coffee cherries are selected.
New projects and investing in coffee
Many improvements have been made around the farm in the last ten years, and new varieties such as Panama Green Tip Gesha, Red Tip Gesha, SL9, and SL5B have all been planted.
New infrastructure has also been built, including a cupping lab and temperature-controlled storage as well as raised drying beds. Riverdale is the only farm in India to produce those two Gesha varieties, which were sourced from Panama and Colombia.
“Prakashan travels all over India to learn about how to modernise coffee farming, implement the best soil conservation practices, and develop new irrigation methods to save water,” Mohan explained. “So far this year, we have used more than 20 distinct and unique processing methods.”
Training and education are also vital aspects of their farm philosophy, and Mohan and Prakashan work closely with the community to see where they can solve challenges together.
Furthermore, Riverdale covers all medical expenses for the families who depend on the farm for their livelihood. Furthermore, they offer free education for the staff’s children and free food and coffee throughout the day.
“Our strength is our staff; they work day-in, day-out with absolute dedication and care in everything they do,” Mohan explains. “In response, we take care of them everyday and create a safe and clean environment for them to work.”
This year marks the first year Condesa has sourced coffee from Riverdale Estate, and we’re excited to offer Indian specialty coffee to our roaster partners. The farm produces some unique coffees of incredible quality, and both Mohan and Prakashan are incredibly eager to share them with us.
Our team, meanwhile, is excited to work with the team and looks forward to this being the start of a long-term partnership. Get in touch with us here if you have any questions about the coffees we source from Riverdale.