Meghalaya Can Grow High Quality Coffee
A research by one of the Zizira explorers lead us to an interesting piece of information about coffee beans.
Higher elevations produce hard, dense beans that are more sought-after than beans grown at lower elevations.
4,000 Feet and Higher is Considered High: Higher is, of course, a relative term. The highest-grown coffees in Costa Rica might come from farms that are 4,500 feet above sea level, while Ethiopia has farms that sit at 6,000 feet. Generally speaking, though, an altitude above 4,000 feet is considered high enough to produce the growing conditions that create dense, desirable beans. Source
This got the team thinking. Coffee is grown in Meghalaya and the forest and agricultural fields are at heights of over 4000 ft! Now, will that not make our coffee special? And, Coffee they say, comes with health benefits too (of course consumed within limits!). How come we do not hear about Meghalaya coffee? The team decided to go on an exploration to find out about Meghalaya coffee!
Team Zizira set out to meet with Mr. Ali of the Coffee Board of India in his office in Shillong in early November, 2015. Mr. Ali is in-charge of the Shillong Zone (mostly Khasi Hills). There is another office in Tura for the Garo Zone. Also present at the meeting was Mr. Gupta, Extension Inspector who looks after the field trips.
Before we tell you what Team Zizira learned from the meeting with Mr. Ali, why not some interesting information about Coffee in India?
Seven Coffee Beans Laid the Foundation of Coffee Cultivation in India
This is from the website of the Coffee Board of India:
The saga of Indian coffee began on a humble note, with planting of ‘Seven seeds’ of ‘Mocha’ during 1600 AD by the legendary holy saint Baba Budan, in the courtyard of his hermitage on ‘Baba Budan Giris’ in Karnataka. For quite a considerable period, the plants remained as a garden curiosity and spread slowly as back yard plantings. It was during 18th century that the commercial plantations of coffee were started, thanks to the success of British entrepreneurs in conquering the hostile forest terrain in south India.
A Little About the Coffee Board of India
The Coffee Board of India was set up by an act of parliament in 1942 to regulate sales and export, to conduct research and support coffee growers. Till 1995 all sales had to be through the Coffee Board. Now there are no restrictions on how and where the coffee is sold by the growers.
(Based on a wiki post)
Back to what Zizira explorers gathered from their meeting with Mr. Ali, in-charge of the Shillong Zone under the Coffee Board of India.
Area Under Coffee in the Khasi Hills Region
- Around 268.61 Hectares are under coffee in the Khasi Hills region, of which 145.90 Hectares have mature coffee bearing plants. (Data as of March 2015).
(Note: I Hectare – 10,000 Sq. Metres or 2.47 Acres or 107639 sq. feet)
- In Shillong Zone Coffee is grown in the following areas:
East Khasi Hills: Nongjri, Lapalang, Mawryngkang, Nongskhen, Myllat, which are the areas around Pynursla. And, Mynria which is in the Smit area.
Ri Bhoi: Marngar and Nongrim Jyrmi.
South West Khasi Hills: The Coffee Board has taken up a large project of propagating coffee cultivation in this district. They have started by planting of 1,60,000 seedlings in an area of 50 Hectares.
- In 2014-15 the Coffee bean production in the East Khasi hills area was 8 metric tons (8000 Kgs)
There are 2 types of coffee grown in Meghalaya:
Robusta: Grown in low altitude areas, between 500 and 1000 meters
Arabica: Grown in high altitude areas between 1000 and 1500 meters
Arabica coffee plant yield berries after the 3rd year whereas robusta takes 4 years. At some instances, the plant might yield berries earlier but with poor quality and hence non-commercial . This applies for both Robusta and Arabica coffee varieties.
Coffee plants bloom between February to April and the berries are ready for picking by October. Flower filled plantations are a very pretty sight.
Meghalaya Coffee Is From High Altitudes and Naturally Grown
Meghalaya coffee is cultivated at high altitudes of 1300 to 4000 ft and is grown naturally – making it totally organic and high quality coffee. Agreed there is no organic certification, but what better than knowing first-hand through our field visits that these are grown using organic methods!
Drying is important for quality
The drying process is an important one, to ensure high quality coffee. Mr. Ali and his team are training farmers and encouraging them to use recommended methods of drying so that moisture is within limits – else the bean can spoil. To ensure quality the growers have to be trained in drying methods. Mr. Ali and his team are doing their best to provide the necessary training. At times they have had to walk for 2 to 3 hours to reach a grower and provide training. But, none of this tires them. The joy is in seeing the farmers improve production and earn more.
We are educating the growers about quality, how to dry, how to cover at night. We have hanging mist, dew and drop in temperature at night. Excess moisture spoils the quality. Hence important to keep the produce covered at night. The main challenge is ensuring quality. We are trying to help the growers. Last year we did a lot of training and now quality is good, said Mr. Ali.
We are not fetching good price (for Meghalaya coffee), though organic, as quality is compromised due to poor drying. That is a pity. If drying is done properly then Meghalaya coffee can command a much better price. We are providing marketing related support to the farmers through the Market Support Scheme which looks after the transportation, processing, curing and auction” added Mr. Ali.
Even with quality, there is not enough quantity in the state to attract bigger buyers.
Zizira will keep coffee under its watch list. Knowing how popular organic coffee is and that too one grown in higher altitudes, we should be able to reach premium, high quality coffee beans from Meghalaya to coffee lovers in India.