Hilly folds carpeted by invigorating greenery announce Suhas Dwarkanath’s arrival at Araku valley, in the heart of Andhra Pradesh. Steering a 111-kilometre trail from Visakhapatnam, the coffee connoisseur’s pursuit of bean-to-cup investigations has landed him in the coffee country renowned as the treasure trove of world-famous arabica beans and home to the indigenous tribes. Taxing terrains of the Eastern Ghats bear no competition to the all-new Hyundai TUCSON, aided with the advanced Multi Terrain Modes, as it breezes in the forefront of a picturesque landscape.
Araku Valley is renowned for its scenic frames. However, few recognise it as the home to speciality baubles that have pulled Suhas here. Araku, translating to ‘red earth’ in the local language, is a non-traditional coffee growing region. From being a barren land with negligible hopes of cultivation to being titled world’s largest certified organic fair-trade plantation to grow 100 per cent arabica, Araku coffee has tread a long journey. While slashing long distances along this voyage of discovery, the Hyundai TUCSON’s intelligent Lane Keep Assist system backs Suhas with driver assistance by keeping the SUV centred on the road at all times.
Beyond brewing premium coffee, Araku Valley is also a precious indigenous habitat. Efforts to cultivate coffee here date back to British rule. “The British did try to grow coffee there but they gave up because back then, the skill set was not there to grow the coffee and producers couldn’t focus much as well because there was a lot of rebellion in that region,” elaborates Suhas. Upon vain endeavours, the limelight of coffee plantations shifted to Chikkamagaluru and Coorg, where coffee forests persisted, unlike the ones in Araku Valley, where the coffee estates had to be made from scratch. The Araku coffee chapter was reopened in early 2000s by the Naandi Foundation, fuelled by a mission that transcends good coffee.
Traversing through narrow lanes sandwiched between lounging paddy fields presents the coffee aficionado a chance to soak in the valley’s natural allure. On his way, the Hyundai TUCSON’s futuristic Forward Collision Avoidance Assist mode ensures safe travels by automatically applying brakes in case a car approaches at a road junction. The on-road safety of a premium SUV is unparalleled on passion journeys like the one Suhas has committed to. Coffee explorations have opened doors to acquainting him with fragrant brews as well as memorable interactions.
Araku brews owe a fraction of their unique flavours to the love and passion that goes into grooming the beans behind-the-scenes. Naandi Foundation began as an endeavour deeply engaged in the lives of the indigenous people, at first focusing on improving maternal mortality and providing education accessibility. “It all started when our CEO Manoj Kumar visited the region and met with the communities as he was exploring opportunities for any help that we could provide to the communities. Coffee came from the community as a request,” explains Anupama Sreeramaneni, President of the foundation.
The verdant valley is home to 19 tribes and more than 17,500 tribal families, arising a large potential workforce and simultaneously, a hope for a burgeoning coffee culture. The community had previously relied on barter trade for sustaining livelihood and held little to no money to access facilities such as healthcare and education. The missing piece in this puzzle was empowering the Araku population to lead sustained lives and create an income flow. The first step towards this goal was providing knowledge and training to the community on cultivating good coffee beans. The story of Araku coffee is a story of humble beginnings, with the initial farmer participation capped at 500.
Chief Agriculture Advisor at Naandi, David Hogg leads the way for Suhas into the coffee farms. The air is a gentle twirl of coffee flavours and soft birdsong spilling from dense canopies, hinting at a diverse biodiversity thriving in the region. David has been a key player in the success of Araku coffee. He formed a team of global coffee experts to introduce the know-hows of good coffee cultivation practices into the lives of tribal people. “How do you aggregate all of those people with the same practices and then centrally process the coffee to ensure that we can get all the nuances of the coffee here and make an Araku coffee name out of that? That was the challenge,” Hogg says. At Araku, each family harvests on one acre of land, extending detailed care to their own micro-plots and hand-picking the ripest of coffee cherries.
People from the local community as well as national and international coffee experts persistently collaborated to brainstorm ways to achieve the best quality beans. The nutrient-deficient soil is enriched by incorporating bio-active ingredients to form an organic manure mix to nourish the land. “It could be leaves, it could be cow dung, it could be the use of milk and yoghurt to create this mixture and make the land worthy of cultivation,” explains Suhas. Further, mango, pepper and jackfruit trees are easy to spot at coffee estates. Planting trees in coffee-growing regions safe keeps soil health, provides shade to the coffee plants, filters the sunlight that caresses the beans, supplies food and an opportunity to earn extra income for the people.
The unique flavour profile of Araku specialty coffee is also attributed to three distinct processing methods: natural process, washed process and the honey process. Suhas pays a visit to Deputy General Manager at Naandi, Vinod Hedge, who prepares samples for Suhas to experience the unique fragrance of each type. “You smell this, how the caramel and fruity notes come out,” he gushes.
Over the years, Araku coffee has emerged as a success story and travelled across the globe. A sip of the Eastern Ghats has established itself as a favourite among Parisian crowds, where the first Araku store was established in 2017. Only second to the cafe and roastery in the heart of Paris, Bangalore has earned its very own Araku flagship store recently. More importantly, the success of Araku coffee gave indigenous communities here something to call their own while also supporting their livelihoods. An absence of middlemen in the integrated economic model of the business ensures whole profits to farmers. Today, over 90 per cent of farmers who have worked at Araku Coffee for five years or more have experienced upward financial mobility. Despite big changes, the community remains true to their values of sharing and building relationships. “You have to build trust over the years and only then will they sell to you. If you have a better relationship with them, even if I go and say that I’ll pay 10 rupees extra per kilogram, they will say no to the business,” Suhas emphasises on their ardent faith in loyalty.
On his farewell journey across the valley, Suhas drives down to the adivasi villages of Gondivalsa and Doravalsa that house the Nookadora tribe and Kondadora tribe, and the Kodu tribe respectively. Access to education and healthcare, improved housing, electricity and communication are no longer far-fetched dreams but a reality the community has toiled to earn. Coffee has surfaced as a focal symbol of empowerment among Araku Valley’s local tribes and served as a cup of change. Suhas is aided by the Safe Exit Warning feature of the all-new Hyundai TUCSON that makes sure all roads are clear for him to exit the car. In tune with his verdant surroundings, Suhas sips on a cup of bubbling Araku coffee with a side of serene views.
Sudrisha Goswami hopes to connect people with engaging stories from spectrums of art, culture, design and communities. She can be spotted sipping a cup of hot chocolate on any given day with a book in her hand and her eyes scanning crowds for different journeys.