Tell us about your brand and what inspired you to start roasting?
Personally, an investigation into why my cup of filter coffee tastes good one day and like dirt the next, led me to specialty coffee. There is a lot of coffee in Chennai but very little from it, is done with care. I only realised that when I brewed a cup using the coffee from Kalledeverapura estate.
Being a nature nut myself, a visit to Yercaud and Chikmagalur to see the coffee estates then triggered the idea of roasting coffee myself, just to see how it turns out. Initial success with roasting in a wok emboldened me further and that’s when I decided to start Kapi kottai.
The attempt with this venture is to highlight how good Indian coffee can be , when done with care both at the farm and the roasteries. Hopefully, we can also foster a community around this idea and make specialty coffee more accessible in off beat areas like Chennai.
What were your main challenges when you started out as a coffee roaster?
Well, pretty much everything. I’m self taught as a roaster and got to whatever level of proficiency I’m at through trial and error(read burnt and under developed beans).
I also didn’t know whether there was even a market for specialty in Chennai that is worth pursuing. Initial response was also very lukewarm which made me change a lot of plans.
Access to roasting knowledge was rather limited. Also, I had taken a call to not pump too much money into the venture initially so we always were cash strapped. This limited how many estates I could work with.
What did you do to overcome these challenges?
For the roasting, it was trial and error. I just roasted a lot of coffee, figured out that the wok wasn’t efficient or scalable. Now I roast out of a modified oven toaster grill and a roaster is on its way soon.
The owners of coffee farms and estates have been really kind and empathetic to me and understood my financial constraints. Quantities were never an issue and that’s how I got to work with 4 estates.
The better my roasting got, I found that people were liking my coffee more and more. Word about me spread and now thankfully I m in reasonably comfortable place.
I learnt to be adaptable (something that I didn’t think I was). Initially I wanted this to be a Chennai only venture(to keep costs down and keep my carbon footprint low). But that changed quickly when I started getting orders from Bangalore and Mumbai. Thankfully, now the Chennai crowd has warmed up to me a lot more and have a good bank of local clientele.
What is your biggest commitment as a coffee roaster?
Time. I m also a classical musician. There are phases when either I want to drown myself in the music or the coffee. Finding a balance between the two is really hard but I m getting better at it.
As a roaster, how are you helping or contributing to the coffee farming industry?
First up, it’s a policy of mine to not haggle with farms. I have a lot of demands with regards to the coffee and the environment it’s grown in(tree cover, spraying ,etc), so the least I can do is to not shortchange the growers.
I also make sure that my clients know where their coffee comes from and highlight what pains the growers had to take to get to this level. I encourage them to go make a trip to the estates and farms themselves and take it all in for themselves.
I make sure I buy as much coffee as I can in one go from farms to do my bit to help with their cash flow situation. It can be a strain on my own finances at times , but I’ve seen that I can make up for the shortfall quickly.
I have plans to work with smaller growers. They are very seriously underrepresented in the specialty scene here. I m in talks with a few of them. Hopefully, next year will be the year where this happens in a big way.
Do you have any favourite processing method and why?
Naturals. They put me on the map! I find the overt fruitiness and jam like texture very appealing as a black coffee. The good folks at South India coffee company do a really good job with this. I’ve found that this fruitiness has even made a lot of people who were mistrustful of black coffee, give it a shot.
How can your customers help you in difficult times like this?
Orders have understandably dried up. Pre-ordering a pack of coffee goes a long way in helping with the cash flow situation. Also just spreading the word and engaging with us over at Instagram will give us a much needed boost to rise up stronger when this Covid induced situation gets better
How do you feel about being part of this Coffee Community?
Estatic! It’s always good to know that there are people to fall back upon. Especially in times like this! The community has been really helpful in both sharing knowledge and spreading the word about us. It feels really good to be accepted with open arms :).