A time to blossom

The heady aroma emanates … in what is a breathtaking sight, as coffee estates across the state’s coffee belt in Chikamagalur and Coorg spring into the whitest of white coffee blossoms, jasmine-like, only more bunched, burgeoning, garlands, as they coax aahs of sheer joy. Being a regular on the coffee trail, this particular season of coffee blossoms was something one had never ventured into as the summer can get quite sultry, and one would much rather go in the rains, or later, to get away to cooler verdant climes. We drove early morning towards the coffee county, regaled with tales of a drive from India to Denmark keeping us absorbed thanks to the affable, hospitable and witty Mickey and Susan Peris who gave us a ride. In four-and-a-half-hours, we were in those winding green roads that say hello with their steep turns, verdant leaves… Though, the lack of water was a sight that ached our hearts, as frequent tufts of the green had been replaced with barren or dried patches, and in some cases, even forest fires… something that our state needs to address promptly… We headed towards Avanti Estates and Prashanti Estates, banked on the River Bhadra… which thankfully gave this belt of estates some sustenance in the harsh, dry and drought-filled respiteless summer. We walked the Riverwoods Homestary trail towards the blossoms, and the Sri Honne trail that was a sight that we won’t forget ever.

The magic of Chikamagalur, we thought, was in the towering trees, perky green peppers winding their way across the protecting oaks, expansive and shaded Arabica and larger shaded robustas swaying in the sunlight, as their bright red berries took on coffee tenets, to give you that much-loved cuppa. But this magical sight of hills, vales, and winding roads on the Sri Honne estate stretched as far as the eye could see, with the most beautiful jasmine-like flowers that formed garlands on the coffee vegetation — it almost seemed snowed in, in perfect symmetry, with the heady aroma of a sweet jasmine that can get a bit overpowering too.

These flowers, coffee planter Andrew and Mrinal Peris, our hosts in the coffee country, informed us were fleeing sights across the length and breadth as they appeared for just a few days, spread their almost beatific presence and aroma and dried up to become coffee beans. Why hadn’t these blossoms been a part of a nature’s trail that everyone visited, we wondered? We go as far as Holland to see vivid coloured tulips, we trek to the Valley of Flowers to see the most myriad coloured petals dancing in the crisp nippy sunlight, but in our backyard is this sight that will stop you in your tracks, make your eyes misty at the beauty… Why? We were informed that since they appear almost spontaneously and disappear ever so fleetingly, it’s sheer luck to be a part of this vista. Or you could go bag and baggage to the many beautiful homestays across the belt, indefinitely and wait for your time in the jasmine like coffee blossom. (Take lots of books, trekking shoes and patience with you!) Capture these blossoms. Coorg’s belt sees these blossoms where the land of homestays will give you enough and more reason to smile, though we prefer the quiet expanse of Chickamagalur that is thankfully not yet “homestayed” in.

The coffee flower, we were informed by our hosts, the flower shoot and the fruit set of the coffee flower, has a fragrance, shape and colour reminiscent of jasmine, and apparently gives an indication of the possible quantity of the expected coffee crop.

Sadly, though, Karnataka’s coffee belt and agriculture is seeing a sad and drought-ridden season, apart from a few belts that have their own source of water, which is also fast drying, as they wait with bated breath for rain at the right time.

At its top the corolla of the coffee flower divides into five, in the case of robusta into up to seven pointed, short-stalked petals. The flower of arabica is approx. 18 mm, that of robusta approx. 30 mm long. The delicate white petals wither quickly, and can only be pollinated for a few hours. After three to four days, the flowers drop off. At the same time, the flowering period is comparatively long, divided into prebloom, main bloom and post bloom. The ovary develops into a normally two-seeded, roundish oval stone fruit with a diameter of 10 to 15 mm; the red skin of the ripe fruit surrounds the sweet, white yellowish pulp of a meaty gelatinous consistency.

The coffee plant usually flowers after the first showers of the rainy season, right after the dry season. An adult tree can have 30,000 to 40,000 flowers, so imagine the vista — a verdant lush green coffee plantation filled with jasmine-like white truffs almost huddled together in deep biological conversation — of their work for the day, to wither and bring forth that cheery red coffee bean.

When dried, these flowers make a beautifully complex and flavourful tisane (herbal drink) that captures many of the delicate aromatics of the coffee plant. As you walk, from one winding mud track to another, revelling in the intoxicating blossom’s aroma, the magic of coffee and its true essence makes you think back to when Baba Budan brought coffee beans to this area, which slowly flourished into Indian coffee that has its own regal stand in the market. The fast disappearing bees also have tenets of coffee in their honey, depending on where they are feasting. It stills your thoughts, brings you close to nature, which, sadly, we continue to plunder without thought for replenishment of these green hearts that give life, water and nature’s bountry, embellishing the earth. With water scarcity, and fields and fields of dried up crop, it is time to endow nature what it’s due, clean, organic, pesticide free, chemical free agriculture, that gives the earth a much needed rejuvenation, or we’ll find ourselves just dreaming of a bygone era where nature and humans thrived responsibly, and those coffee blossoms swayed perkily, with a wisdom that went beyond mere comprehension to give you coffee… beansfull.

Plan a trip Chikmagalur, Coorg or Sakleshpur soon as these flowers remain for a few fleeting days only. Stay at any of the home stays in the area, preferably near a river. Drive along the roads dotted by coffee estates. You could take the Kutta to Madikeri via Siddapur route or in Chikmagalur, the Sringeri from Chikmagalur or Chikmagalur to Horanadu one. The nature’s bountry of Kudremukh is also something that an Amazonian region in our backyard, you should take a drive and trek through the forests and peaks around.

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