I, to this day, remember when my father brought home a coffee sapling and planted it in our backyard. Me, being a curious kid of merely 3 or 4 years, stood there watching my dad plant this mysterious crop. “Please let it be mango” – I said to myself. That night, before going to bed, I prayed for the plant to fruit soon. And for the next few days, it was customary for me to ask my parents when the plant would actually fruit.
It was only after a few years when I first noticed the plant giving these strange red fruits. I was still happy settling for apples.
One fine Saturday, my dad put on his work jeans, and went to the backyard and started plucking these now-ripe red cherries, they were a big basket full. I stood there and watched the entire process, as he later washed them, peeled them off, and let them dry in the sun. I sneaked out and tasted one of them quite cautiously, hoping no one would catch me. The taste was strange – I spit it out.
“These are coffee beans, once we process them, followed by roasting and grinding, we can make coffee – a beverage like tea”, my father explained it to me. That was a sad end to my dreams of eating mangoes every day. However, I was now excited about this drink my father was talking about.
My father, a conservationist by profession, had immense knowledge of nature – flora, fauna, and the ecosystem. He always wanted me to pursue environmental science as my career, which I did not. But that’s a story for some other day. He would bring with him plants of all sorts, plant them, and take care of them, with passion and love evident in his eyes.
He explained how a man brought home a coffee plant – the first of its kind in Nepal, almost a century back, and thanks to him, coffee is a growing culture now in Nepal. While still peeling off yet another layer of the coffee beans, he narrated this story – Coffee was discovered by a goatherd named Kaldi, in Ethiopia. He noticed his goats going frisky upon eating these strange red beans. Surprised and confused, he took the beans to his villagers. When they ate the beans, all of them were exhilarated. Words spread quickly and people from around the region started making a drink of their own after roasting these beans.
From the middle-east to Europe, to North America and finally, to Asia, coffee beans made their route. In the tropical climate of Asia, plantations of these beans fostered, and soon they were planted in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, India, and Myanmar (then Burma). However, in Nepal, the coffee plantation is still a new adventure, the history dating back to 1938 AD.
Hira Giri, a hermit from Nepal, on his expedition to Myanmar (then Burma), noticed these plants. And on his way back, he brought along seeds of coffee from Sindhu province of Burma. He cultivated these seeds around the hills of Aapchaur, in Gulmi district. The plant remained unnoticed for quite some time, but later, the plants and the cherries attracted the attention of many farmers from around the district. Giri, being the generous man he was, gave the seed to his fellow farmers. And shortly, from one farmer to another, the trend of cultivating coffee got along.
Fast forward to 2021, and coffee is now commercially cultivated in over 976 hectares of land in 32 districts. As much as 7000 farmers are actively benefiting from the coffee plantations, and over 96% of these farmers grow completely organic coffee. Kavre and Sindupalchowk alone contribute to more than 30% of the national production of coffee. The total annual quantity too scales up to an astonishing 1573.6 tons, and over 15% of this production is exported to many different countries around the globe. Locally crafted Nepalese Arabica beans have already made their name in the global coffee market, for authenticity – best described as rustic in the cup with a mild acidity but perfect taste, flavor, and body collectively called perfect aroma coffee.
From a country of tea-drinkers, Nepal is slowly shifting its gears to coffee-lovers. Specialty coffee shops are growing businesses, with over 350 coffee shops and outlets registered. These coffee shops are commonplace for dates, meet-ups, meetings, workspace, and whatnot. Nepal is quite literally brewing success when it comes to coffee, with its economy gaining significant share from the coffee industry alone.
There still is a long way to go for the Nepalese coffee community, as we still have to work over multidimensional factors like fair trade, sustainable farming, gender equality, but it sure has been a roller-coaster ride from 1938 to 2021 for the coffee community.
As I sit here picking yet another batch of coffee cherries in my backyard, I recollect the first coffee drink I ever had – the one my father prepared. He was waiting with bated breath, all eager for me to try my first ever coffee drink. And today, it’s my turn to make my father a wonderful cup of joe. Although, this cup is going to be in honor of Hira Giri, a selfless man.