Home/ Opinion / Online-views/  A story worth repeating

Every time Manoj Kumar opens his chest of India stories, my head spins like Alice.

This time we zip through the lush, Maoist-friendly Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh to, of all places, Mozambique—with a quick pit stop at Mumbai’s favourite chain of delis.

Family matter: Men and women are equally engaged in this horticultural revolution; and (right) Araku’s Forest Trail costs Rs 360 for 200g.

Over the past few years Naandi has helped some 100,000 illiterate tribals who are part of an extremely successful cooperative society clamber out of poverty. Kumar says most of the children in the area now go to school. The initiative has come a long way from the early years when Naandi actually raised money to pay the local farmers wages to work their own fields until the coffee crop began yielding dividends.

From 25 July, Mumbai Monsoon will be sold at deGustibus Hospitality Pvt. Ltd’s Indigo Delis across the city at Rs950 for 200g. “It has lots of fruit nuances," says Menon, who always sounds like she’s talking about wine, not coffee. Deli regulars are probably familiar with two other Araku brands—Red Earth (for the French press and a cappuccino) and Forest Trail (for an espresso)—that are already available on the menu and for sale.

Malini Akerkar, director at deGustibus, says the two blends have become popular since they were launched six months ago. “I think what makes the coffee so interesting is also that it is chemical-free and is a result of the passion of indigenous farmers who have put in their heart and soul in nurturing this and have infused the best practices garnered from across the globe," she says over email.

The idea to sell the coffee locally first came up two years ago. Araku coffee, like most of the exciting coffee in India, is produced for the export market. But in 2010, Naandi set up a social marketing company (industrialists and foundation life trustees Anand Mahindra, K. Anji Reddy and Rajendra Prasad Maganti provided the $1 million, or around Rs5.6 crore now, equity required) to retail a tiny portion of the small batch coffee (annually 130-180 metric tonnes are produced) in the domestic market under the name Araku Originals Ltd. Mumbai seemed like the perfect laboratory to experiment (how many times have I said it’s India’s only real city, dear readers).

While most of us who frequent cafés for cappuccinos or lattes might now recognize the Illy brand and are eagerly awaiting the launch of Starbucks, we don’t really spend too much time thinking about the origin of our drink. “Even farmhouse weddings now offer golgappas with coffee but in northern India when you talk about coffee, nobody really knows anything about the estate the coffee comes from," says Keshav Dev, proprietor of Devan’s, an iconic store that has been trying to encourage Delhiites to drink good tea and coffee since 1962.

Maybe more of us will hear about the Araku project after it travels to South Africa and Mozambique. Kumar and his colleagues are just getting set to repeat their experiment in these countries with the soon to be formed Naandi Africa Foundation. Jay Naidoo, a South African of Indian origin (his great grandmother migrated from Andhra Pradesh as indentured labour) who served in Nelson Mandela’s cabinet from 1994-99, became a fan of the Naandi Foundation’s small farmer movement. He pitched the idea to the former president of Mozambique, Joaquim Alberto Chissano, and now both countries have invited Naandi to work with their farmers to grow not just coffee, but paddy, avocado and citrus too.

But that’s not surprising. Araku’s story is clearly a story worth repeating.

Write to me at lounge@livemint.com

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Updated: 13 Jul 2012, 09:50 PM IST
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