Bhubaneswar: Odisha’s tribal heartland of Koraput, ensconced in dense jungles and rolling hills with waterfalls of utmost beauty, has added a hot new feather to the state’s crown – a home-grown coffee now branded and marketed as ‘Koraput Coffee’.
Steadily rising online and retail sales of this new entrant in the coffee market just five days after its launch has filled the officials of Coffee Board, Tribal Development Cooperative Corporation of Odisha Limited (TDCCOL), Koraput district administration and coffee growers in the area with great hope.
A swanky sales outlet and lounge in Bhubaneswar set up by TDCCOL witnesses constant flow of customers lining up to have a taste of the famous ‘Koraput Coffee’ in the mornings and evenings. TDCCOL officials, running the lounge called ‘Adisha’, are busy answering people’s questions about this new coffee that is grown largely by Koraput’s tribal villagers.
“In order to dispel whatever apprehensions people may have about this new coffee, we grind the coffee beans in front of the customers and then add milk and sugar as per their wish before serving hot mugs of coffee to them. Demand is simply rising, mainly in the evenings,” said Gopabandhu Satpathy, a TDCCOL official.
Koraput Coffee is a 100% Arabica premium roasted filter coffee that started being packaged and sold in 250gm packets since a curing unit set up in Koraput was inaugurated on September 12. A joint venture of Coffee Board and TDCCOL, this small unit currently has a daily production capacity of 60 kg packaged coffee. There are plans to raise it to 200 kg in the next two months.
“As a longtime coffee drinker, I can say that the taste of Koraput Coffee is much better than the rest I know. When we started making coffee at our office, the aroma wafted around and filled all the three stairs in the building,” an excited Mansi Nimbhal, the managing director of TDCCOL told News18. She has been closely associated in setting up the curing unit and the branding of Koraput Coffee.
The superior taste of this “tribal coffee with a premium tag” has already attracted exporters’ attention. Nimbhal, an IAS officer, said an importer from Russia has held a round of discussions about getting bulk quantities of Koraput Coffee, which is made from natural shade grown, hand-picked red berries in the plantations of Koraput’s tribal farmers.
“I am sure this coffee will soon reach all parts of the country and the world due to its superior quality. We are upgrading our godowns as the export potential is huge. We have also shortlisted locations in Goa and Visakhapatanam to set up coffee bars for Koraput Coffee. More sites will be added soon,” said Nimbhal, who is leaving shortly for London to pursue a masters’ degree in public policy at King’s College.
The seeds of today’s Koraput Coffee were literally sown in the early 1930s. What started on an experimental basis by a royal of the time in southern Odisha’s tribal belt is now all set to pitchfork the state’s name onto the world’s coffee map.
It was the polyglot king of Koraput, Rajbahadur Rama Chandra Deo, who first planted the coffee seeds and grew a few small gardens. Deo, who loved sipping coffee, had played an important role in the formation of Odisha as a separate province on the basis of language on April 1, 1936. He had participated in deliberations with British officials in London in 1932 and 1933.
The Odisha government started promoting coffee cultivation in Koraput since 1960, three years before Deo’s death. Private planters joined the initiative in the following years. Of the 3,200 hectares currently under coffee cultivation in Koraput, private planters and Coffee Board hold 943 hectares and 10.54 hectares respectively, and the rest are with tribal farmers.
“Almost the entire subdivision of Koraput has conducive soil and climatic condition for cultivation of high quality coffee. Growing coffee along with black pepper boosts the earnings of growers. It also helps maintain ecological balance and reduces labour migration from this impoverished district,” said Ajit Kumar Rout, senior liaison officer of Coffee Board in Koraput.
Ishwar Chandra Panigrahi, chairman of Odisha State Seeds Corporation Limited and a coffee planter, said the setting up of the curing unit and the marketing of Koraput Coffee will ensure a much better price for the tribal planters and encourage more local tribal farmers to join coffee cultivation.
“The absence of an organised marketing channel had so far been forcing most coffee growers to sell their produce at low prices to agents coming from various states. Now we will sell the coffee of our own brand through TDCCOL’s Adisha outlets. TDCCOL will buy coffee beans directly from the growers and they will get the right price for their labour. There will be no distress sales. This will begin Odisha’s coffee revolution,” said Panigrahi.
Poor tribal farmers like Khidal Dami are optimistic that coffee cultivation will improve their financial condition. “Earlier, agents from Bengaluru and elsewhere were coming to buy our coffee. They were paying a lower price to us after claiming that our produce has higher moisture content. They were paying us between Rs 50 and Rs 100 per kg. Now we will get a much higher price,” said Dami of Kindiriguda village in Laxmipur block, who is one of a group of 40 tribal villagers who cultivate coffee on a two-acre plantation each.
“The processing unit in Koraput will give local coffee beans a sales boost. As the high sales on Amazon.com already indicate, Koraput Coffee is soon going to be on the world’s coffee map. The government has plans to bring 1.5 lakh hectares under coffee cultivation in both government and private levels in the next few years,” said Koraput district magistrate Madhusudan Mishra.
Nitin Kakkar, TDCCOL’s operations manager, said Koraput Coffee has a superior taste because very little fertiliser is used in growing this coffee. “The special packaging this coffee comes in has a degassing valve that keeps the aroma of the coffee intact and the moisture balanced,” he added.
(With inputs from Soumya Ranjan Sahu and Nirupama Behera)