How Tata Coffee is tapping into India's growing love for the beverage

Topics Tata Coffee | Coffee

Despite being the sixth largest producer of coffee in the world, India is a tea-loving nation. However, with disposable incomes rising, Indians are heading out of homes to enjoy fine blended coffee in cafes. In fact, coffee consumption in India has grown by 40 per cent in the past decade. “Cafes are now dominating the retail environment with the emergence of the Cafe Coffee Days, Baristas and Starbucks. There is also a growing acceptance of cafes as a casual meeting place. A lot of young companies are also running their businesses out of cafes not only in big cities, but also small towns,” said Devangshu Dutta, CEO of Third Eyesight.

Tata Coffee, which is one of the biggest exporters of monsooned coffee around the world, has identified a huge opportunity here. It is going aggressive with Monsooned Malabar -- a specialty coffee exclusively produced in India, which has a good fan following outside of India and also has a geographical indication tag to boot -- to build a loyal consumer base fan following in the native land, its 25 per cent price premium to regular coffee notwithstanding.

Tata Coffee is trying to de-commoditise this coffee so that it gels with local taste buds. The Indian market for monsooned coffee is still nascent at this stage. “We are primarily focused on serving some of the leading international roasters with our monsooned coffees. This is a great opportunity to promote a distinctly Indian specialty coffee to a global audience,” said the company.

With the out-of-home coffee experience growing, Monsooned Malabar is also finding place in café menus in India. It is now available in coffee chains such as The Blue Tokai and e-commerce websites like Amazon.

The company has expanded its Mangalore facility in the past two years and has invested in the revamping of the plant, the company’s in-house monsooning unit to give a boost to Monsooned Malabar production. “Our monsooned coffee production has also kept track with the market and our production has more than doubled in the same time frame,” said Amit Pant, senior vice-president, Tata Coffee.

Overall, India which is Asia's third-largest producer and exporter of coffee, shipped 48,330 tonnes during the first two months of 2019, a jump of 13 per cent from the previous year, according to the Coffee Board. The country had exported 42,670 tonnes in the year-ago period. India ships both Robusta and Arabica varieties, besides instant coffee.

According to the Coffee Board data, the shipment of Robusta coffee jumped 28.42 per cent to 34,090 tonnes during January-February 2019. Similarly, the export of Arabica coffee too increased by 14.39 per cent to 11,156 tonnes during the same period. Between 2012 and 2018, export of the differentiated blend of Monsooned Malabar has also almost doubled from 4,700 tonnes in 2012 to about 9,000 tonnes in 2018.

Tata Coffee, which is a subsidiary of Tata Global Beverages and Asia’s largest integrated coffee company, is also an exclusive supplier of roast and ground coffee to Tata Starbuck India. Its microlot coffees have also become the first ever Indian coffee produce to be selected for the Starbucks Reserve. The Bengaluru-based company has witnessed a 50 per cent increase in overall specialty coffee sales over the past year.

Tata Coffee has 19 coffee estates spread across 8,000 hectares in south India. It has two roastaries and three instant coffee plants, including one in Vietnam. The $50-million freeze-dried coffee plant in Vietnam was inaugurated in March and is expected to start production at full capacity of 5,000 tonnes within the first couple of years.

Apart from Monsooned Malabar, other coffee which have recently received GI indications are Coorg Arabica, Wayanaad Robusta, Chikmagalur Arabica, Araku Valley Arabica and Bababudangiris Arabica. This certifies that these varieties have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities that are due to that origin.

So what is Monsooned Malabar?

It was an accident of fate how Monsooned Malabar emerged. During the British Raj, the coffee beans export went down the Cape of Good Hope and then reached Europe. This involved a long marine transit and the coffee beans were exposed to monsoon through the voyage. By the time they reached Europe, they changed the shape, appearance, size and got mellower in taste. When the shipping routes were shortened with technological advancement, people observed that the coffee did not change appearance at all. There was something amiss. Hence, the Arabica A grade coffee were taken to well-ventilated warehouses in Mangalore bordering the Arabian Sea and exposed to the monsoon to achieve the gold colour and one-and-a-half time the normal size of an Arabica for a mild acidic flavour. The whole process takes 5-6 weeks. “The process is carried out between the months of June and September, without the interference of technology where monsooning establishes the primacy of nature,” said Pant.

This particular coffee, has a typical mellow taste because of the interplay of moisture, unlike the Arabica, which has high acidity and a pleasing bitterness to it. It is priced at 25 per cent higher than the normal Arabica coffee. “We have developed a deep insight into the art of monsoon seasoning, imparting coffees a softness and flavour that the roasters in Western Europe and Scandinavia cherish," said the company.

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