Portland Roasting Coffee’s Nathanael May In India

Perhaps because of its scarcity in North America, we’re fascinated by the coffee growing and grading culture in India, a topic we’ve covered previously through the work being done by our partners at 5 Senses and the Nanhi Khali Project. At last year’s Let’s Talk Coffee conference in Colombia, it was our distinct honor to meet and cup with Dr. Sunalini Menon, the matriarch of modern Indian coffee whose work has been recognized by CQI, the SCAA, and the SCAE for a variety of awards. Her Wikipedia is literally awesome, in that it inspires awe. Robusta was the focus of our cupping at Let’s Talk Coffee, but fine arabica is also grown in Araku.

Similarly awesome is the first in a series of blog posts from Nathanael May, USBC judge and trainer at Portland Roasting Coffee. Mr. May recently attended the Araku Originals Awards in the Araku Valley, located in the Visakhapatnam district of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. That’s him in the incredible Wes Anderson-esque photo above (taken with permission from Facebook), and his first-person account of first-time travel in the bustle and blur of India makes for joyful reading. Here’s an excerpt:

We made our way through the bustling streets of Bangalore, flanked by buses and vans and bikes and carts and pedestrians, each close enough that I could have touched them had the windows been rolled down. A keen sense of controlled chaos surrounds you as you drive, and becomes even more pronounced as the streets fill up with traffic.

In less than twenty minutes, we arrived at the lab, and I had my first meeting with Sunalini Menon, a woman of significant stature in the coffee industry worldwide, and an absolutely monumental figure to coffee in India. She has been working to improve Indian coffee for decades, and her lab in Bangalore is a history lesson in 20th and 21st century coffee equipment. Walls were filled with hand grinders, mugs, small packages of coffee from around the world, and various other implements and knick-knacks.

Sunalini herself is a delightful woman, maybe 5’3, with short grey hair and a ready smile. She is elegantly beautiful, but carries herself with an endearing humility that belies her deep knowledge and place of honor in Indian coffee. From the moment I met her, she seemed very grateful that I was there, and I was in turn very grateful to her for inviting me. She made some apologies about the size of her facility (which were totally unnecessary), and we set about the business of cupping the coffee.

Read the whole thing right here via Portland Roasting Coffee’s blog, and watch for more updates from Nathanael May in the coming days. For those located in the Pacific Northwest, Portland Roasting will be hosting a cupping of rare Indian coffees at their SE Portland lab & roastworks. Dates will be announced soon, and you’d better believe we’ll be there.

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