I could not believe it! Having been an outdoor person from childhood, being locked inside because of the pandemic was a bitter pill to swallow for me. My countless, unplanned solo road trips came to a halt in 2020.
Over time, I got acclimatised to the reality of being cooped up at home. I began to believe that the days when I was free to roam about would not return anytime soon. The batteries of my motorcycles started to drain out as one lockdown after another made me postpone my plans to hit the road.
But, life is never short of surprises. Even as I was anticipating a terrible third wave, I got an opportunity to ride with Royal Enfield on an experiential tour called Uncover 2021. It was a first-of-its-kind, five-day road trip that explored coffee growing, processing and brewing, on Royal Enfield’s latest model —the Meteor 350. Neither Royal Enfield nor coffee plantations were new to me. But, I was still excited because there is a new wave happening in both.
The Royal Enfield Classic series is considered the second wave in the brand's history after it introduced the UCE (Unit Construction Engine). With the arrival of twins and refined meteor engines, Enfield is entering a new wave. The new wave in coffee is specialty coffee and brewing it right by understanding the art and science behind it. So, from living in dread of the third wave of Covid-19, I went to ride the new wave of both Royal Enfield and Coffee.
The motley group of 16 Meteor riders started the well-charted trip from Mysuru — the cultural capital of Karnataka — early on December 8. The oldest rider in the group was Yogeshwarun Balakrishnan, a 55-year-old professional from Chennai, whose bike was fitted with a music system with four waterproof speakers. “Meteor rekindled my passion for riding after decades,” he said, repeatedly, to whoever appreciated his bike. The youngest rider was Saru Krishna, a 21-year-old college student from Kanyakumari.
We also had four coffee experts. Chennai-based Viggnesh V., a coffee genius who is a consultant for many coffee growers and cafes in India; Suhas Dwarakanath, founder of Benki Brewing, a specialty coffee brewing tools seller from Bengaluru; coffee roasters Arul Futnani, who runs a restaurant called The Farm on the outskirts of Chennai, and Sandesh G.H., who runs a website which sells specialty coffee through a portal called total.coffee along with Suhas. Yuvaraj, a mechanic who had been on several Enfield rides, was also part of the group.
The first stop was Kanamad Estate, near Virajpet in Coorg, a 120-year-old coffee plantation situated at 4000ft above sea level. I was riding a Meteor for the first time. Having been accustomed to the Classic 500’s noisy and vibrating engine, this first ride felt buttery smooth.
I have lost numerous items like snapshot cameras, water bottles and wallets while riding the Classic 500. My phones have fallen off many times from the ram mount due to the vibrations. So, the first test I put the bike through was placing the phone on the ram mount and keeping items in my jacket and saddle bag pocket. If all the items remain in place, then the Meteor passes the ride experience test.
At Kanamad Estate, Viggnesh introduced riders to two varieties of coffee grown in India — Arabica and Robusta. Arabica has sporadic distribution of coffee cherries in a plant and Robusta has a cluster of fruits. Arabica gives a smoother and sometimes berry-like taste, whereas Robusta gives stronger and bitter notes. On the drying yard, we got a chance to touch and feel the coffee berries which were being sun-dried.
After lunch, we left for the Mooley Manay coffee estate near Suntikoppa, where the couple Akshay Dashrath and Komal Sable run the South India Coffee Company. We had to cross Madikeri town and take a gravel road to reach the estate. Gautam Menon, who was leading the pack, took us to the route he had marked during his reconnaissance trip. But, on the way, a villager stopped us and said there was no road ahead! On Gautam’s confirmation we went ahead, only to return after seeing that the narrow road was completely blocked by a concrete mixer truck. After tail-sweep rider Bala’s research, we found an alternative route and reached Mooley Manay in the evening.
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Though the ride was comfortable, we were all exhausted from wearing riding all day. At the estate, we witnessed multiple methods of coffee fruit processing. One is called “naturals”, where the whole fruit is slowly dried in a polyhouse, and another is called “honey” processing, where mucilage of the cherries is retained partly around the beans and dried in the same method. The third way of processing is called the “washed” method, where all cherries (without being completely sorted) are put in an industrial pulper. This goes out as commercial coffee. Viggnesh educated us about how sorting quality fruits after evaluating the Brix value (sugar content of a liquid solution) creates a batch that is uniform in its taste; the value had to be over 12 per cent.
After the processing plant tour, Viggnesh conducted a brewing session, where he ground six varieties of good, average and bad coffee beans to test our coffee knowledge. He said day one is for calibrating your taste buds just like you get acquainted on the bikes. In the coffee tasting session, riders chose different brews as their favourite, but, one cup, which did not taste anything like coffee, was left out.
That night we stayed at a resort adjacent to Mooley Manay estate, where villas are set amid coffee plants and large trees and one could touch the coffee fruits from the windows.
We had a relaxed start the next morning, We hit the Chikkamagaluru road via Hassan. For 160km, it was a ride on the plain roads. We got ample time to test our Meteors on highways. The bikes were sailing like gliders. I found the need for a sixth gear when the speed was constrained at 120kmph. When we stopped to rehydrate, Suhas and Viggnesh started a conversation about coffee. In fact over the entire trip, I hardly noticed them talking about any other subject!
I joined them this time and told the riders that we are about to enter the birthplace of coffee in India. A Sufi saint named Baba Budan returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca with seven smuggled coffee beans. He planted them at a place where they would grow well—the hills of Chikkamagaluru.
The day went by travelling to Chikkamagaluru from Coorg. Viggnesh took out his coffee brewing kit, made us coffee which re-energised us after hours of riding. The coffee he brewed was perfect with a plum-like flavour. I liked the after taste of that brew.
Next day we rode to Salawara Estate near Belur, a British era estate. The owner Krishna Kumar and his son, Sharan, welcomed us with filter coffee. They had readied a tractor to ferry us to the section where workers were harvesting coffee fruit. After a two-kilometre tractor ride, it was our turn to wrap a plastic bag around the waist and pick the fruit. A plantation worker picks around 50kg of berries a day. We were given the same target. After an hour, all of us together had harvested 22kg. Only two people picked 100 per cent ripe fruit, the rest had green, yellow and imperfect fruits.
After the processing tour, Viggnesh and Suhas set up a coffee brewing masterclass, which lasted hours. Each rider took out their coffee tools and learned how to extract the right amount of essence from the coffee powder. By now, a few of us had started to feel the exhaustion of the laborious coffee harvesting and brewing. For many, the coffee they made kept them active. I was wondering how the sense of smell and taste play a major role in learning about a perfect coffee.
The following day, we ventured into a leech-infested stream in Halli Berri Estate in Chikkamagaluru. This time, we roasted the green bean in a home roasting machine provided by the estate owner Tejini Kariappa. Despite the overdose of coffee gyan, at the end of the session, each rider was walking with the pride of having learned much about coffee. At least, the four days we spent with coffee experts and growers put us on the path to becoming coffee connoisseurs. While saying goodbye, I curiously asked Suhas “What is bad coffee?” With a smile, he replied: “The coffee you don’t like is bad coffee!”
On my return, I found that all my personal belongings were intact. After riding on the highways, the winding ghats and semi off-roads, my wallet and water bottle were still in place.
There are several methods to make coffee. If you want to grind your own coffee, hand-crafted, portable grinders are available with variable granule settings. Coarse-ground beans are advised for extracting the coffee. Coffee can also be extracted using percolation or immersion methods; whether to brew cold or hot is a personal choice. Coffee connoisseurs usually enjoy coffee without sugar. But one can add sugar and milk, too. Apart from growing, harvesting and processing the green coffee beans, roasting and brewing play a major role in making the finest coffee. Incorrect roasting of a good quality bean can spoil the essence of the coffee. Similarly, while brewing, over extraction or under extraction can ruin the flavour. Each step from crop to cup matters when you want to enjoy a coffee that suits your taste.
METEOR 350: THE NEW REFINED MACHINE
Meteor 350 is the latest addition to the Royal Enfield fleet. The cruiser-style bike houses a single cylinder 349cc engine with bottom-end torque. Sails smooth on the asphalt and semi off road. The Meteor produces 20hp at 6100 RPM. The five-speed gear behaves well on long rides. Comfortable riding position for touring, with amazing turn radius, it handles curves with ease. Dual channel ABS stops the motorcycle safely. The ground clearance is admirable—on the entire 500km road trip, the bike’s underbelly never touched any humps on highways or potholes on off-roads. The bike connects to the Royal Enfield Tripper app to give turn-by-turn navigation. A USB power point for mobile charging is another plus. The 15 litre fuel tank ensures you have less stops for refuelling.