Friday, February 22, 2013

Coorg Diary Part IV


The kids have declared after breakfast that they are not willing to join us for any sight seeing trip. They would rather stick to the resort and play in the fun zone. I try for a while to change their firm decision. My efforts turn futile and finally I give up. No kids means their parents can not make it too. That leaves only the senior citizens willing to go for the sight seeing. We finally decide to pay a visit to a waterfall nearby, known as Abbey falls. Instead of usual Genaral Cariappa square, we take another road, which goes through the main veggie market of 'Medikeri.' This road is quite a bit of horror as this entire stretch through town is filthy, grimy and mucky and very much looks like a garbage dump. It is a great relief that the stretch of the road beyond city limits again turns picturesquely beautiful. We pass through heavily wooded areas now and the road is mostly downhill.

Abbey falls are located at a distance of only 4 Km from the city and there is a large sized parking area for the vehicles. This parking lot is also stunningly beautiful with rolling green meadows around and deep and dark woods further in the background. From here, we start walking on a path that goes steeply downhill. Unfortunately, both the sides of this downhill stretch are again full of plastic garbage like empty bottles, bags and waste paper. The path becomes narrower as we go down further and now I can see fully grown coffee trees on both sides of the path. A suspension bridge now comes into the view while my ears pick up a roar, that has to be of falling water. As we move further down, Abbey falls come into view.

'Abbey falls' turn out to be a complete anticlimax compared to my expectations. I have visited so far many water falls around the world including the Niagara and Yosemite's Bridal veil fall in US. In Karnataka state itself, there are some excellent water falls like Gokak, Jog, Unchalli and Magode. It is hard to compare even, this Abbey fall with any of these. I feel that it is more or less like the water fall at 'Shivathar' near my home town Pune, with water falling down the rocks in small steps. There is no ferocity or savage fierceness, we normally associate with water falls. It is a gentleman's water fall and if the surroundings are kept clean, it could be a nice spot for picnic.

We are back on the road again to visit a coffee plantation. I look at my watch, which shows time as 4 o'clock in the afternoon. There are few more families coming along with us. We pass through General Cariappa square once again and take a curvaceous, twisty hilly road. Travelling about 12 Km, the cars stop near the gate of a coffee plantation. The owner of the plantation, Mr. Kiron, welcomes us at the gate. He would be taking us around the plantation personally. Since my knowledge about coffee beans and plants is very rudimentary, I find the information quite interesting. Obviously, being an owner of the plantation, Mr. Kiron, talks coffee, lives coffee, obviously drinks coffee and knows a lot about coffee production. But first, he shows us some rare trees, not easily found around


Vanilla vine with pods

Even though I like Avocado paste with my Taco or Enchiladas ( my favourite Mexican dishes), I did not know how a Avocado tree looks like. This fruit looks very much like our Desi fruit of Guava, but tastes quite different. After slowly baking Avocado fruit on burning coal covered with cinders and ash, the pulp of this fruit tastes great. To see an Avocado tree with fruits growing on branches is a rare site in India at least. Mr. Kiron has one such tree in his plantation and he shows it to us. The next rare tree is the Cinnamon tree. Even if we crumple few leaves of this tree with our hand, we can smell the typical scent of Cinnamon. After this, we go to see Mr. Kiron's Vanilla vine. Vanilla plants grow Vanilla pods and the extract is derived from the seeds. This entire process is very labourious and time consuming and makes natural Vanilla extract one of the most expensive plant product. For this reason, most of the essence is produced these days from coal tar which is a residual matter, left behind in distillation of crude oil. We turn to our main interest now; the coffee tree. Mr. Kiron makes the whole coffee production process appear so simple to me that at least for few minutes I feel like an expert coffee grower.

The mountain range in which Coorg hills are situated is known as Western Ghats and runs parallel to the western sea board of Indian peninsula. This range is known by different names in different regions. In the North, near the city of Mumbai, the mountains are known as Sahyadri. Down South, the range is known as Bramhagiri range. Coorg region is located on the eastern slopes of this Bramhagiri range. Coorg is much in the south, just back to back with state of Kerala.

India produces about 300,000 metric tons of coffee beans annually. Out of this, Coorg region alone, produces 120000 tons. Which means that little less than half of the total coffee produced in the country is produced here in Coorg, in scores of plantations like the one owned by Mr. Kiron and is being shown to us. One striking feature of coffee production of India is that almost two thirds of the production is exported with domestic consumption little on the lower side.

Technically, a coffee tree can grow anywhere. However, if you plant a tree in your back yard, the chances of its bearing fruits are rather remote. Even if the tree bears fruits, they are unlikely to have the aroma and the fragrance. This is simply because the ripened fruit have no aroma at all. The aroma comes from the processing and sun drying of the fruit. In this process it absorbs the moisture from the air. For this reason, coffee grown and processed at different locations and even at different mean heights from sea level, have different aromas and tastes. This is one reason for which, coffee plantations are found on lower slopes in Coorg region and not on hill tops. Two types of Coffee trees are now grown in India. Arabica coffee plants are smaller and delicate. The leaves also are smaller. Greater care such as maintaining proper soil salinity, needs to be taken for growing Arabica plants. Compared to that, Robusta coffee trees are taller and stronger. They require much less caring than Arabica. Precisely for this reason, almost 60% of Indian coffee is of Rubusta type.

smaller tree in foreground is Arabica

Coffee fruit or Cherries

Coffee fruits look red and cherry like when they ripen. Some of the fruits bear a single roundish seed. This seed demands higher price in the market and is called as Peaberry. Most of the coffee fruit or cherry bear two seeds and is sometimes called flatberry.

After ripened fruits are picked by hand, the outer pulp is removed by two methods. In the first method, the cherries are immersed into water and crushed to remove the pulp. The seeds with some pulp still attached to them, are then dried into sun. The beans produced in such a fashion are called plantation beans in India. In other method. The entire coffee cherry is dried in sun. While drying into sun, the weather, moisture in the air etc. all play a part giving a distinct aroma and taste to the coffee. Dried seeds are then graded, cleaned and polished and then sent to the market.

Enlightened with all this coffee talk and to be frank, a fairly exhausting walk around Mr. Kiron’s coffee plantation, I feel obliged when Mr. Kiron suggests that we have some coffee. Some freshly brewed coffee and biscuits are served to us. The brew is just divine. It is surely one of the best coffee, I have tasted for a long time. With the taste of coffee still on my lips, we visit a green house, where, Mr. Kiron grows Anthurium plants. He imports seedlings of this plant and grows them. The flowers fetch a good price and are durable.

With the coffee taste still lingering in my mouth, we return to the resort, everyone is now thinking about going home tomorrow. We would again travel to Bengaluru by our Innova SUV and then fly back to Pune.

Coorg days are over rather quickly, memories remain.


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