A coffee tour that begins from picking up coffee cherries and ends in freshly brewed coffee. I was intrigued! The tour, operated by Assa Coffee in Kathmandu, aims to educate people on coffee farming in Nepal and shows them how much effort it takes to create a cup of coffee.
The coffee tour started early when we got in a local bus that played Bollywood hits and Nepali folk songs as we headed towards Kavrepalanchok district. During the one and half hour trip to the farm, the bus made several stops. Every stop brought in local vendors into the already crowded bus as they haggled over local cauliflowers to imported Redbull.
When we arrived at the farm, one of the coffee farmers’ daughter offered us lemon tea in a typical stainless steel glass, which has become the standard Nepali cup for the past few decades. Nepal is nation of tea drinkers. A cup of tea is offered every time you visit someone’s home, even the home of coffee farmers.
In summary, the coffee tour can be divided into seven parts: coffee cherry picking, pulping, hulling, roasting, grinding, dripping/tasting, and planting your own coffee seedling. During each leg of the tour, the coffee guides will provide you an informal lecture with accompanying infographic panels on different facets of coffee, usually related to the task on hand.
Highlights of the seven parts:
A major chalenge is that there is no income for five years until you harvest the cherries. This is a significant risk and investment for small farmers. But the biggest problem for the coffee farming right now is the lack of water. Small coffee seedlings need a lot of water. One of the goals of the tour is to generate enough profit to be able to provide a water tank to the local farmers.
We were encouraged to taste (chew and spit out) the coffee cherries while picking them. They tasted sweet and very fibrous, with obviously no coffee aroma. If you are lucky enough, you will see the pulping process by the machine as well. The pulped cherries are fermented in a sack from 24 to 48 hours, and dried to obtain green coffee beans with parchment.
To prevent wasting the picked cherries, guests were asked to make bead necklaces. While making the necklaces, the guide talked about the origins of coffee from its accidental discovery by Kaldi in Ethiopia to its renaissance in Italy, and its trip to Nepal via Myanmar. We were then taken to plant a year-old coffee seedling. We were also given a white plank accompanying the seedling to write down our personal messages.
The hulled green beans were roasted on a stovetop in a simple metal pot by us. The beans were constantly stirred with a wooden stick broom to get even roasting. The roasted beans were quickly cooled by fanning them in the air. The goal here was to see how beans transform during the roasting process. First I smelled the fresh vegetable-like earthy smell coming out of the green beans, and then as they roasted, I could smell the familiar coffee flavor developing. We could roast according to our preference. I roasted mine to medium while the others did a dark roast.
The tour concluded with a meal under the shades of coffee trees. It was great to see the coffee farm, meet the farmers and talk to them, see the harvest, and get involved in the full process of coffee making. The coffee tour may have started with a cup of tea, but ended with complete appreciation for most of our favorite drink.
Most importantly, this coffee tour revealed to me how much effort goes into making a cup of beverage that has become a daily routine I take for granted.
Source: Abridged and edited version of DesiGrub's post on Assa Coffee.
Video source: Vimeo-DesiGrub.