Coffee Board of India Arabica Plantation A Review

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India Coffee PackageBefore all the holiday craziness I received an email from the roaster who contracts with the Coffee Board of India (!) asking if I would review their Arabica Plantation A coffee (it turns out that “Plantation” is the word they use for washed/wet-processed coffees and “A” is the size of the coffee, with AA being the largest). Of course, I would never turn down coffee to review, especially something that I have never seen talked about or reviewed anywhere else. In fact, to the best of my knowledge I’m not sure I’ve even had Indian coffee unless it was part of a blend. I waited this long to post the review because I was waiting for additional information about the coffee from my contact. I found the coffee to be better than I expected, consistent, not exciting and yet comforting to drink.

Disclaimer: The Coffee Board of India provided this sample to at no charge. The complimentary nature of this coffee did not affect the outcome of this review. This coffee is currently not available on the US market, but it could be via online purchase within the first quarter of 2015. More details on that toward the end of the review…

So, I’ll talk about the cup first, and then give the info I found about the coffee itself and what the Coffee Board of India is doing by sending out samples. I have to admit I am the worst at judging books by their covers. Anyone who follows my social media knows I am a big sucker for packaging. I literally love packaging of all kinds, but especially the artwork that adorns bags of coffee. The large bag of coffee that arrived from India features relatively plain (although cool in it’s own way because it’s so different from what is trendy right now) packaging and I just ASSumed it would be nuked to death, super-black incinerated beans inside. There was a “packed on” date but not a roasting date, and since it came from India post-roasting it’s hard to say how far after roasting this sample may have been. That being said it seemed like a pretty good cup.

India Coffee beansI was extremely surprised, then, when I actually opened the package and found medium (on the darker side of medium, I would say) roasted beans that looked consistent and well-handled. I prepared the coffee in my Chemex as well as with an AeroPress and I think the AeroPress is the way to go (see the link under my logo to find my recipes). My impression of this coffee is that it is “low acid” (not much fruitiness in the cup or high notes) and therefore, to my palate, a little boring and a little understated. At the same time, there was no mistaking that this was a cup of COFFEE! The flavors tend toward the roastier side of things, with a little cocoa and a little caramel sweetness, but there was also an undertone of earthiness that was close to bordering on a musty character (although it didn’t taste like a defect to me). This earthy note was less pronounced in the AeroPress as it was in the Chemex. My Chemex cup picked up some bitterness as it cooled, too, which I didn’t find in the AeroPress, so my method as much as the coffee could be to blame. It was drinkable, regardless, and I think this coffee would be great with a shot of milk and some sugar, if that’s your thing.

Edit: I received another email from the roaster after posting the review, who said, “Coffee in India is usually roasted a bit darker because people rarely drink coffee without milk. Light roasts don’t hold up well in coffee with milk.” He went on to elaborate that, “Also, we have a relationship with Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation, Limited who grow India AA Elkhill Estate Coffee. When Willoughby’s did a light roast of this coffee, Kenneth David at gave it a very high rating of 95 – .India AA Elkhill Estate by Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea Review | Willoughby’s doesn’t offer this coffee anymore but we’re planning to offer our light roast version.” I should be getting some of this lighter roast coffee when it comes available, so I will look forward to reviewing that when the time comes!

While this coffee didn’t necessarily push my buttons (I’m really into fruity cups right now) I think it is a solid performer and I was overall pleasantly surprised by what I was finding. Again, I didn’t find it to be the most exciting and dynamic cup, but it was a good, solid tasty “cup of joe” and I think it would appeal to a lot of people in the American market who are coffee drinkers but not necessarily connoisseurs. How much of this is the roast vs. the beans themselves and etc. leaves a lot to be discovered by American roasters and cuppers. It’s impossible for me to tell.

Now, more about the Coffee Board of India, what the story is behind this coffee, etc. These questions were answered by a representative of the Coffee Board of India and are posted exactly as he answered them.

Can you tell me about the Coffee Board of India and your motivation for sending this sample? Is it available to purchase and, if so, how and what is the price?

To promote consumption of Indian coffee in India and around the world, the Coffee Board of India procures coffee directly from coffee plantations, both its own research plantations and from commercial growers. Selection of green coffee is based strictly on quality of the beans. The green coffee is roasted based on profiles determined by the Coffee Board to ensure the best aroma and flavour as per cupping and other quality checks.
A limited quantity is made available for sale to the public at a very reasonable cost to showcase the quality of pure Indian coffee, not to generate profits.
Presently, Indian coffee is mostly known in the US and Europe for specialty coffees like Malabar Monsoon, Robusta Kaapi Royale, Mysore Nuggets, etc. High quality, commercial grade Arabica coffee is not as well known outside of India.
If there is a positive response from reviewers like yourself for this high quality, commercial grade coffee, the Coffee Board of India would plan to make it available for sale online in the US by February or March 2015.
What can you tell me about the coffee? Where is “Plantation A,” where was the coffee grown?
For Indian coffee, washed or wet-processed coffees are referred to as ‘Plantation’; dry processed coffees are referred to as ‘Cherry’.
Letters at the end of the designation refer to the size of the beans – AA, A, B, C; Larger beans means higher quality.
Who roasted the coffee?
The coffee was roasted by our company, KN Trading Company, in Bangalore. Our company was awarded the tender to roast coffee for the Coffee Board after a series of rigorous technical and quality inspections.