Jochen Weber - Photography |  Coffee Documentary


Baba Budan and the seven wonder seeds
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                       Short break while transporting in Kabbinakad

Workers unload the coffee at the drying spots                        


Some of Suresh Chengappa's fields are located at a distance from the main plantations. After harvesting, the coffee must be transported to the drying areas on the farm, which is done in part using fairly heavy bags. As the workers are paid according to the amount of coffee harvested, each coffee bag is weighed before the coffee is spread out to dry. The weights are noted per person as basis for weekly wages each Tuesday. A fixed worker gets 3 INR per kilo of harvested coffee cherries whereas a seasonal worker gets 2 INR per kilo*. On average they manage to harvest about 100-135 kilos of coffee cherries in a day. This is an approximate salary of 6,000-8,000 INR per month.
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*= At the time of writing in February 2014, the exchange rate was 1  € : 84 INR)
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Farm with drying areas

                                    Everyone has their own technique

Even the women carry heavy sacks                               

The coffee sacks are weighed ...

As previously described, the wages are traditionally paid on Tuesdays in this region, so that nobody shows up to work on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but instead on Saturdays and Sundays. As far as the low wages are concerned, it is also worth keeping in mind that many of the workers can live almost free of cost or at very low rates on the farm. In addition, the state provides school-going children with school uniforms and text books, as well as one meal a day at the school including transport to and fro school. Similarly, basic food and gas are also heavily subsidised by the state. As a comparison with the earnings per kilo of harvested coffee: In 2012 the average retail price of green coffee in Bangalore was 288 INR per kilo for Arabica Coffee and 130 INR per kilo for Robusta.

                    ... and the weight per person is entered in a notebook

          Tuesday is payday: after the work, Suresh Chengappa pays the wages 

After the harvest, coffee in India is processed using both “the dry and the wet processing” methods. The dry processing is the traditional method used by most small famers. As per this method, the coffee cherries are placed on a drying area immediately after harvesting, so that they dry in their pods under the sun. According to the wet processing method however, the coffee beans are first washed and soaked in water after harvesting, dehusked and then left to dry in the sun in their pods. The coffee lies in the sun for about a week and is turned over again and again to prevent it from turning moldy. In case the weather is rainy or unstable, the coffee is heaped together in the evening and covered with tarpaulins so that it doesn't get wet. Coffee that is collected from the floor is specially cleaned and separated from from twigs, stones and leaves.

The worker turns the coffee regularly to prevent mould formation


                  The worker cleans coffee collected from the ground ...

... throwing out earth, twigs and pebbles                               

                          She spreads the coffee in the sun for drying ...

... and covers it in the evenings to protect it from the rain                    

Once the coffee is dry, it is packed for transport to the 'Coffee Mill'

After the end of harvesting and before the next flowering season, the coffee beans are regularly trimmed. In this case, 3-4 workers work to remove all unproductive branches from tree to tree. Thus, before the next flowering season, all the fruitful branches have more vitality for the maturation of the coffee cherries, which increases the overall productivity. But I have to say that a clipped field is not a pleasant sight ...

                                Unproductive branches are hacked off ...

    ... which rot and are used as dung

The majority of India's coffee production is exported and the domestic industry mainly focuses its marketing efforts on the promotion of exports. Although the popularity of coffee is rising slowly in India, but the domestic consumption, which could increase demand significantly, has been stagnant for years and is still only limited to parts of southern India where coffee has traditionally been more widespread. The main drivers of the Indian coffee market are Indian filter coffee, served primarily in vegetarian restaurants ('darshinis') in South India - which is a good coffee, similar to the filter coffee in Germany, only a little bit less and stronger - as well as the consumption of instant coffee in many parts of North India, which tastes more like tea with a coffee flavor - provided one can taste the coffee at all through the large amounts of sugar!

Although cafés and coffeehouse chains are spreading slowly but surely in India, yet the annual consumption of coffee in 2012 amounted to no more than 25,000 60-kg bags, or about 1,500 tons. Cafés do not (yet) sell enough coffee to cause a noticeable increase in domestic coffee consumption. In the longer term, cafés are likely to play a significant role in changing coffee consumption and consumer attitudes toward coffee, but the immediate effects on consumption are still modest at the moment.

Portrait of a worker ...

        ... and another at the Coffee-Farm “Honey-Valley”, Karnataka 

Small farmers usually sell their coffee to on site 'coffee grinders', who dehusk and clean the coffee. These 'coffee mills' then re-sell the green coffee to exporters. Larger coffee farmers store their coffee prior to the sale, so that they can better respond to changing market prices and then sell their coffee at an opportune time through auctions or export it directly.

These 'coffee-grinders' are in fact named incorrectly, because they don't actually grind the coffee but 'clean' and dehusk it. Two enormous dehusking machines remove the shells of fifteen tons of dried coffee cherries each day. The workers unload and weigh the sacks delivered by the neighbouring coffee farmers. Then, they open it and pour the coffee into a canal, from where it begins its "dehusking journey" via an elevator system.

                                 Workers at the Coffee Mill in Napoklu  

            Unloading the coffee-sacks


          Here begins the coffee's “journey” to being dehusked

First, the elevator takes the coffee upwards to a sieve drum with sharp-edged openings on the side. The dry coffee fruits are pressed from the inside of the drum, through the sieve outside: this process separates the shells from the beans. The lighter, crushed shell parts are siphoned off by a vacuum and transported into the open, collected, and later used as fertilizer.

Next, the vibrating machine separates small, light foreign bodies such as twigs, tiny clods of earth or pebbles. The circular vibrating and swing movements causes the lighter particles to shift to one side so that they can be sorted. This process is repeated 2-3 times to increase its accuracy, and soon the coffee is much cleaner. Certain defects that can not be sorted through weight differences, such as black and 'burnt' beans, are pushed off to one side to be sorted later if required. The coffee beans fall down through a tube and are directed to a special room. Finally, one can see the clean, fairly uniform green coffee. 

Dehusked coffee in the Coffee Mill in Napoklu

I thank Mr. Suresh Chengappa and his wife for the opportunity to take photos on their
farm, and also for their friendliness and readiness to explain everything. I would also
like to thank the workers on the farm whom I bothered on occasion with my camera.

© Text and Fotos: Jochen Weber

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