To keep up with global demand, coffee in India is primarily produced via conventional agricultural methods. Over time, this results in depleted yields and compromised quality that negatively impacts the longevity of the land and the farmer’s livelihood. This is different for Alilu Estate, a family-run farm with three generations of experience.
The estate consistently employs local villagers as well as neighbours from the surrounding forest, to maintain and harvest coffee and other crops year-round. Blessed with perennial springs that supply the farm with fresh water, the farm grows not just coffee but also other crops such as figs, pepper, ginger and bird's eye chilli. In 2019, we were privileged to have Leo Soriano and Catherine Ganapathy, intermediaries who made this coffee accessible to a global market, visit us with not just coffee samples but also pepper grown on the coffee farms.
The intercropping of other produce increases biodiversity and stability of the land, with benefits like weed suppression and improved soil structure. The coffee is also shade-grown, under the cover of taller trees like coconut, jamun (a type of plum native to India), mango, jackfruit, fig, and avocado. All these make for a diverse environment, with over 40 bird species, and elephants, squirrels and tigers being frequent visitors.
Alilu means squirrel in the local language, and this squirrel in the photos has been a resident of the estate for years, if not decades. The grandmother of the family that runs the estate knows the squirrel well, and the workers watch the behaviour of the wildlife around the farm to tell whether the soil needs tending or the plants need water, staying in tune with the animal residents.
During harvest season, the workers go through 3 rounds of selective picking, choosing only the optimal ripeness. Cherries first enter a siphon tank, with the floaters removed. The outer skin of the cherries are then removed by the depulper, and then the mucilage. The pulp is collected and later used on the farm land. The coffee goes on to dry under a shade net, on terracotta then concrete courtyard, until it reaches an optimal moisture level of 11-13%. Before export, the dried parchment is sent to a dry mill nearby, to get rid of any defectives beans and undergo a final round of color sorting.
The resulting cup is clean and high quality. With quality-focused farms such as Alilu Estate leading the charge, it has impacted other producers in India to do the same, stepping up quality and introducing sustainable practices. We are glad to be part of this evolution of specialty coffee in India.