Saturday, February 2, 2013

We Visited Chikmagaluru – Kapi! Kapi! Kofi, Bisi Coffee!

Any write up on Chikmagaluru is incomplete without exalting the virtues of ‘coffee’. The history of coffee goes at least as far back as the thirteenth century. The story of Kaldi, the 9th-century Ethiopian goat herder who discovered coffee while searching for his goats, did not appear in writing until 1671 and is probably apocryphal. It is said that he discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night. From Ethiopia, coffee was said to have spread to Egypt and Yemen. Today, some 70 countries produce coffee. Brazil leads the table by contributing 30% of world production and India 4%.Coffee is not just a drink. It’s a global commodity. As one of the world’s most traded products—second in value only to oil.

Figure 1 - Word of Coffee

Interestingly Kraft, Nestle, Sara Lee, Procter & Gamble and Tchibo control 50% of the global coffee trade. More than 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed each year, making it the most popular beverage in the world.USA consumes a humongous 24% of all coffee production. No wonder Starbucks have introduced their ‘Brenta’ which contains nearly 916 ml of coffee. Read Incidentally, a bottle of beer has 750 ml. Coffee is worth over $100 billion worldwide.

The French statesman Talleyrand (1754-1838) sums up coffee as
Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love”.

Coffee production in India is dominated in the hill tracts of the South Indian states, with the state of Karnataka accounting for 53% followed by Kerala with 28% and Tamil Nadu with 11% of a total production of 8,200 tonnes. Indian coffee is said to be the finest coffee grown in the shade rather than in direct sunlight, anywhere in the world. The Indian context started with an Indian Muslim saint, Baba Budan, who, while on a pilgrimage to Mecca, smuggled seven coffee beans (by tying it around his waist) from Yemen to Mysore in India and planted them on the Chandragiri Hills, now named after the saint as Baba Budan Giri (‘Giri’ means “hill”) in Chikmagaluru district – Wiki.

Robert H Elliot in his book,”Gold,Sport and Coffee planting in Mysore – 1898 notes, “the earliest notice I can find of coffee in India is in a Dutch Editors Preface in “Letters from Malabar” is 1743.It is evident that coffee must have been introduced five to six years earlier ……I can find no other allusions to coffee till we come across Heyne’s Tracts published in 1800 – "Coffee was sold in the bazaars of Bangalore and Seringapatanam" …. This plant was finally called “chick” variety of coffee and the  name was taken,I believe,from the town of Chickmagalur…. 

My memory of coffee drinking dates back to my childhood days. My grandmother used to get her coffee seeds from the Chikmagaluru estates of Koppa and Javali her birth place. . The coffee seeds were roasted at home and thereafter sent for grinding. Bangalore was a much colder place than what it is today. Especially in winters, it used to be full of mist and one could feel the cold on the skin. Drinking coffee served in silver lotas (cups) was a memorable experience. Even in my parents place, coffee occupied the pride of place and was the first beverage to be consumed. The day started with a cup of Kapi. I still continue to buy my coffee from ‘Flavor Coffee Works’ Vishweshpuram, Bangalore – a combo of P Berry and Plantation A - in equal proportions with 10% chicory.

Figure 2 - A must in every South Indian Home

Figure 3 – traditional way of mixing coffee before it is served

Traditional coffee decoction is prepared in a two tier container – Termed ‘Filter’ hence the name ‘Filter Coffee’ – the elixir of many South Indians. Times have changed and the poor filter is slowly being replaced by its modern, sophisticated cousin, the coffee maker. I like my coffee slightly bitter, thick and dark and unlike Starbucks, in very small quantities – around 130 ml. Decoction once made should never be reheated and never ever be filtered twice. Coffee grounds can be used to remove any odor from the microwave oven or fridge. One of Bangalore’s USPs  is its ‘one by two’ coffee. One cup shared by two persons.

Coffee Tidbit. Kopi Luwak, or Cat Poop Coffee, is made from beans eaten, partly digested, and then expelled by the Indonesian civet cat. Civets, which live in the foliage of plantations across South East Asia, are said to pick the best and ripest coffee berries. Although kopi luwak is a form of processing, not a variety of coffee, it has been called the most expensive coffee in the world with retail prices reaching up to US $ 700 per kilogram.
Aptly named ‘Coffee Decoction Friends’ – Sunder, Nair, Dore and self along with our respective spouses Saroja, Sudhi ,Lalitamma and Jai decided to visit the Coffee Town for a quiet R and R during the Republic Day weekend. We booked Kadur Club – established in 1887 by an Englishman planter, M A Allardice, the first president of the club - as our base. The hidden agenda being golf at the ‘Chikmagaluru Golf Club’.

Chikmagaluru City takes its name from the word "Chikamagala Uru" which literally means younger daughter's town (in Kannada). It is said to have been given as a dowry to the younger daughter of Rukmangada, the legendary chief of Sakrepatna. Another part of the town bestowed on the elder daughter is known as Hiremagalur. The town is at an elevation of 1090 meters (3,400 feet) and the hill stations around are famous summer retreats since they remain cool even during summers. The temperature of the city varies from 11-20 °C during winter to 25-32 °C during summer. Around Chikmagaluru there are a number of resorts and home stays for a quick get away from Bangalore. We left the outskirts of Bangalore at 0600 in a Tempo Traveler and reached the club at 1030 after a sumptuous breakfast at the Kamath’s in Chenarayapatna,after covering 226 Kms.

The club itself is very old (116 years) and the colonial ambience makes it an ideal place to unwind. The club area is huge and full of old trees, which are home to many varieties of birds. This is evident as the sun sets and the birds chirp their way back home. Dusk is pleasantly noisy till the birds rest.

Figure 4 - Great setting

Figure 5 – The long table reminded me of a Hollywood film 'Salt and Pepper' with Mr Salt at one end and Mr Pepper at the other end. By the time the waiter serves food, the one sitting at the other end would have grown a beard.

The main halls of the club reflect the lives and times of planters from a bygone era. Long tables, stuffed animals adorning the walls, candelabras, trophies and period furniture provide a glimpse of club life. The rooms are in an excellent state; however the food needs to be improved. A short orientation course with the naval cooks will do a lot of good. (Lunch by the sea). Coffee at the club was delicious – very earthy with a long finish.

Figure 6 - So realistic (sic)

Holidays with good friends are therapeutic and if one adds golf, it becomes divine. Three days were well spent with golf, long walks, idle banter, laughter and a fair amount of ‘elbow bending’. The idea is to find an excuse and push off from Bangalore every now and then. This is the best way to keep alive the spirit of life.

Figure 7 - A view – our rooms at the far end

Figure 8 - View from our room

Figure 9 - Dore and Lalitamma about to take off in Kemangundi- shades of the Titanic 

Figure 10 - The clan

Figure 11 - Tee off at the 7th hole – Chikmagaluru Golf Club

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