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 with my guide Tirtha, who was in charge of setting up the tour. 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 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 a glass lemon tea in a typical stainless steel glass, which has become the standard Nepali cup for past few decades. Nepal is nation of tea drinkers. A cup of tea is offered every time you visit someone’s home, even home of coffee farmer’s.
The coffee seed was first planted in 1938 in Gulmi district by a monk named Hira Giri, who brought them from Myanmar. But it was only until the late 1970’s commercial farming slowly took off, finally picking up the pace in 1990’s. Currently coffee is farmed in about twenty-seven thousand small farms across Nepal. Due to attractive returns, small farmers are abandoning traditional crops like corn and replacing them with coffee, macadamia nuts, avocado, etc. Some corn remains, but only for personal use.
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 task on hand.
The first stop was coffee nursery of Krisha Prasad Timalsani. The guide informed us about challenges of starting a coffee plantation. A major challenge as we were told 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 lot of water. It was sad to hear farmer saying “Sansar Nai Sukyo Bhanhan” meaning “the whole earth is dry now”. One of the goals of the tour is to generate enough profit to be able to provide a water tank to the local farmers.
The excursion continued by picking fresh cherries in his farm. We were encouraged to taste (chew and spit out) the coffee cherries. It tasted sweet and very fibrous, obviously no coffee aroma. If you are lucky enough, which I was, you will see the pulping process by the machine as well. The pulped cherries are fermented in a sac 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 with them while being welcomed by freshly brewed lemon tea and cookies. While making 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 accompanied the seedling to write down our personal messages.
This was followed by an introduction to green beans and roasting. The dried coffee beans were hulled to remove its parchment cover. The beans were separated by hand to remove inferior and broken beans. While we were doing this, the guide informed us about the process of hulling and roasting.
The hulled green beans were roasted on a stovetop in a simple metal pot by us. The beans were constantly stirred with wooden stick broom to get even roasting. The roasted beans were quickly cooled by fanning in 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 it got roasted I could smell the familiar coffee flavor developing. We could roast according to our preference. I roasted to medium while the others did a dark roast.
After roasting, the grinding and cupping took place in Kedar Adhikari’s farm. Grinding was done with manual hand grinders. We were told about the grind sizes for different types of coffee drinks, and introduced to various brewing methods and the basics on coffee tasting.
Our freshly roasted beans were brewed with classic hand drip method. We could take the remaining beans we roasted with ourselves
This unique coffee tour is scheduled any day when Assa coffee tours has a minimum of two guests with knowledge coffee guides in coffee brown apparel.
The tour concluded with a meal under the shades of coffee trees. It was great to see the coffee farm, meet the farmers, 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.
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