The Bean Quest: A chef-led coffee trail into the heart of Coorg
It’s a bright and crisp Friday morning in early November and we find ourselves somewhere on a calming expanse of wild green along the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway. Our bus, an air-conditioned plush affair, has taken a deviation off the road and is now parked in what one can only describe as the middle of nowhere. Guided by noted chef Anthony En Yuan Huang of JW Marriott Bengaluru we are on a coffee trail to Coorg. And this is our breakfast stop — true five-star luxury, despite being in the wilderness. Covered up to our knees in tall blades of grass, we whip our phones out for some Instagram-perfect shots of our breakfast laid out on foldable butlers tables. The spread, including fresh fruit, freshly baked croissants, muffins, cookies and parfait, is a regular affair back home in the city, but here, in this picturesque spot, it is truly alluring.
A quick escape to Coorg, stunning though it is, may sound a bit commonplace to most
residents of Bengaluru, who’ve been there on multiple occasions. But when the objective of the trip is to experience the region’s coffee culture guided by an award-winning chef no less, it is a hard offer to pass up. And so we made our way to the hotel the night before the trail, all set to look at the holiday destination with a fresh perspective, one driven by coffee and food rather than by a need for respite from all the noise and pollution, though one can’t deny that those were added bonuses.
The trail begins on a promising note, with an elaborate dinner and luxurious stay at the hotel, the night before it was expected to kick off. Post our dinner at the JW Kitchen, we head to our rooms, for a restful night before the early morning drive into Coorg, which included a stop for breakfast, lunch and a plantation walk, before driving onwards to our homestay. We are expected to be on the road for over 12 hours. Waiting in the room, overlooking UB City, are little treasures from Coorg — pepper still on the vine, coffee beans and some coffee-inspired dessert, to offer a peek into what the next day holds. It really couldn’t get more Coorg than that, we suppose.
On the road
The day begins at 6 am. And as we drive from the centre of the city towards Mysore Road, we make use of the time to catch up on some sleep. When we come to, we’re welcomed with the pleasing wilderness, combined with the aroma of fresh croissants. We wonder, could this trip get better than this? Well, turns out it did. Back on the bus after breakfast, taking great pleasure in the knowledge that all we are expected to do is sit and soak in the experience, we lose ourselves in a book, but not enough to keep us from taking the occasional shot of the charming country life that passes by, a different reality that one sometimes wishes they could escape into.
We stop for lunch at a gem of a place in Gonikoppal in Virajpet Taluk. A sleepy town, it is all the more deserted on the day of our visit due to a district-wide political strike. The restaurant, Cuisine Papera, is unmistakably charming, with its quirky decor elements that include vintage pots, pans, wicker baskets and ladles, aside from wooden cradles. Yes, the kind that babies are put to sleep in! The quirkiness however, does not reflect on the food, which is true to the region’s cuisine. We sample an assortment of pork dishes, a fiery preparation with bamboo shoot and a host of other creations, which were mopped up with warm akki rotis.
Back on the bus and in transit, the straight and wide roads slowly turn into narrow winding lanes gently rising higher and higher as we drive past paddy fields and coffee plantations. The sun is just making its way back to the other side of the world, when we stop at the coffee plantation of one of Chef Anthony’s friends, Tarun Cariappa, a third-generation planter. At the Udayagiri Estate in Chettalli, we find him supervising his staff as they pick coffee beans. “Early November is an unusual time to harvest the beans. But this year, we had some unexpected rain, which resulted in ripening being advanced,” explains Tarun who lives with his wife, kids and mother on the estate.
Tarun’s plantation has mostly Arabica, the premium bean. He takes us through the process: after picking, the beans are extracted from the berries in a large processor. We watch as the processor spews out sage green beans which are collected in perforated basket. Post this, the beans are laid out in the sun until they turn brown. Once evenly brown, they are graded according to the size, colour and various other factors before being sold.
The plantation also grows jackfruit, orange, ginger and pumpkin. This, Tarun says, adds to the flavour of the coffee. He also informs us that the jackfruits attract elephants, who often destroy the shrubs and trees in their quest for the sweet, leathery fruit.
Our homestay for the night is The Bungalow 1934, a quaint and sprawling traditional Coorg house. Here, Chef Anthony, holds a masterclass with dishes inspired by our plantation walk — coffee-rubbed drunken chicken for the non-vegetarians and coffee-infused pasta for the vegetarians. The in-house cook of the bungalow then lays out a spread that features chicken and pork dishes. The deliciousness of a nice home-cooked meal is discussed as the food is devoured by the exhausted guests.
It’s not difficult to fall asleep, especially after sitting around a warm bonfire and having been on the road for the most part of the day. The next morning, we head back to the city but the trail is not over yet. Back at the Marriott, we have whisked away to their spa, for a coffee-inspired treatment. One can choose between a coffee wrap and a coffee-infused scrub. We pick the latter, which is done with blended robusta beans. The 90-minute session is truly blissful as the masseuse works on our tired muscles and limbs with gentleness but applying pressure when required. Feeling refreshed and energised after an hour and a half, we head to JW Kitchen for the last part of the trail, a decadent Coorg and coffee-inspired spread, which included Pandi Biryani, White Miso and Coffee Marinated Tiger Prawns and Kozhi Fry. After dinner it’s time to check out of our rooms, say our goodbyes and head back home and draw the curtains on what has been one of the most interesting escapes to Coorg — an eye-opener into the quintessential morning drink that most people can’t do without.
The writer was invited by JW Marriott Bengaluru.