Did you know that Bengaluru is considered to be India’s coffee capital? And that in 1996 the first outlet of Café Coffee Day opened its doors on Brigade Road which paved the way for ‘a lot can happen over coffee’ culture in the city?
But Bengaluru’s love affair with coffee goes a long, long way before suave cafés and boutique roasteries became the in-thing. A lot of credit goes to the iconic restaurant chain, Indian Coffee House, whose white cups and saucers continue to hold a nostalgic value for its faithful and loyal clientele since the fifties.
But as much as Bengalureans swear by coffee, it is actually hill stations like Chikmagalur, Kodagu and Sakleshpur that meet the demand for the fragrant brew that keeps Bengaluru awake! Interestingly, if one is to compare the topography of these places, Bengaluru does have a climate hospitable for coffee plantation.
Before you start thinking that this is a joke, let us tell you that there are quite a few individuals who have been growing coffee in our very own Namma Ooru. And we even visited one in the midst of the industrial stretch of Peenya.
Sounds contradictory right, a coffee plantation in the middle of a well-known industrial area? But Belmar Estate in Nagasandra will douse all your suspicions and misgivings!
With about 350 coffee shrubs spread across three-fourths of an acre, nurtured in shade in the traditional way, the Belmar family has never had the need to purchase coffee for over three decades now.
“My father is an agriculturist, because of which we had a diverse range of plants and crops growing across our land as part of his experiments. It all began with a visit to Chikmagalur about 25-30 years ago, when he picked up few saplings from his coffee planter friends with the intent of growing these. He’d planted and nurtured them under the shade of trees. Though we were all hopeful, we weren’t entirely sure about the plants until we starting seeing the blooms,” recalls Arjun Belmar to The Better India.
Shortly after, the father-son duo visited Chikmagalur again and this time they brought back a few hundred coffee saplings. “Since my father had many friends with plantations, they helped him with guidance and plant care. Shade for coffee is particularly important which the trees across our land provided along with the necessary amount of sunlight that the coffee plants needed to grow. From then on, we have been growing coffee in our own land and grind them ourselves,” he adds.
Explaining about the taste difference between their homegrown coffee and ones in the market, Belmar said that the coffee sold in markets come mixed with chicory in ratios ranging from 10-30 per cent.
“That we don’t do here. So, you get the aroma of pure coffee and the feeling is totally heartening as we get to consume what we have grown ourselves. It’s like a feel-good factor,” Belmar happily shares.
Interestingly, it is widely believed that Belmars are one of the first families to begin coffee farming in the city.
“My father is one of the very first persons to grow coffee here as most people believed that only hill stations like Coorg or Chikmagalur had the right climate for its plantation. My father’s experimentation disproved this myth. These people were unaware of the fact that coffee could be grown here. In fact, after we started growing our own coffee, even our neighbours wanted to try it. Each coffee plant gives around 1/2-1 kg of coffee fruit. So, in a year, we get close to 75-100 kgs. Today, I believe there are quite a few people who are growing coffee in Bengaluru,” he shares.
To further understand what goes behind the process of coffee production, we ask Belmar to share the nitty-gritties.
“The process is very simple. First the plants start blooming, and then the buds start forming. Shortly after, we have the berries that are initially green that ripen with a reddish-purple tinge. Then we either pluck them from the plants or pick the ones that fell on the ground. These are then kept for a few days, for the skin to dry up a bit. Later we skin these to procure the beans. We sundry the beans for few days and then store these in boxes. So, whenever we need the coffee, we get the required amount ground at a mill in the city,” he explains.
The family doesn’t sell any of their coffee and the excess is always distributed amongst their friends, who are smitten with their produce, shares an amused Belmar.
“Over the years, we have been enjoying our own coffee but you should hear what our friends, with whom we share it, have to say. In fact, many have come from Coorg to our plantation and have maintained that our coffee is very tasty! My wife consumes the most of it at home because of her love for the beverage. I would say that she lives only on coffee—morning 2 cups, afternoon 2 cups, and evening 2 cups! She doesn’t eat anything at all during the day except for one meal,” he jokes.
To take care of the coffee plants, Belmar shares that they have employed a few labourers who have been specifically trained for the purpose.
“They have been taking care of the plants with regular pruning and other requirements. Earlier we used to spray pesticides but in the last 10-15 years, we have gradually advanced to organic practices by switching over to natural remedies like neem oil and cow’s urine. So our coffee is also 100 per cent organic now,” Belmar adds.
Besides coffee, the Belmars also engage in beekeeping. “This too, was started by my father, who had been an active member of the Bangalore Beekeepers’ Association, which I believe is still active today. Having bees in our land is good for not just for coffee but all the plants. In addition to that, we get to have our own, fresh honey, whose flavours range from season to season depending on which tree’s blossoms the bees have procured the nectar from. Though over the years, our stocks have reduced in numbers with falling bee population, we still distribute the honey to people—sometimes even for medicinal purposes,” adds Belmar.
If you wish to visit the Belmar Estate or need advices for growing coffee in Namma Ooru, Arjun Belmar is up for all enquiries. You can give him a call at 9900255555.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)
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