Touring the coffee estates (as plantations are known here) was the agenda for yesterday. Unlike tea, which is grown in high elevations on terraced fields with no trees (to maximise sunlight), coffee is grown at a slightly lower elevation among trees and other plants (it needs some shade). The low lying areas in a coffee estate are planted with cardamom, ginger can be planted among the coffee bushes, and almost ubiquitously you’ll find black pepper corn vines growing up the shade trees. (As in salt-and-pepper, not chilli peppers.) Some estates have cinnamon trees for shade. However, since the bark needs to be harvested, no pepper vines are grown on the cinnamon trees and they are a less common sight in Coorg.
The coffee here used to be mainly Arabica, but certain pests and market conditions are driving the replacement of those plants with the hardier Robustia coffee. The owner of the estate we toured predicts Coorg will be entirely Robusta in time.
The coffee plant has shiny, leathery dark green leaf and the coffee beans are in green bundles this time if year. They are manicured to grow about waist high, or a little taller to facilitate harvesting. (Ideally without any ladders!)
The black pepper has pale green heart shaped leaves and the peppercorn berries form on strings that drape like branches from a willow which the locals called catkin. The pepper was harvested a few months ago, so the new crop is just starting to take form. A unique –unstable looking — ladder is used to harvest the pepper growing up the trees. It’s one vertical upright with horizontal steps jutting from the sides.
The estate we toured was about 40 acres divided roughly in half into the “old estate” and the more recently acquired “new estate” (although they are contiguous), both of which are planted with Robusta coffee. The old half of the estate is very tidy and manicured. The new half of the estate seems a little over grown & more wild (to my untrained eye), but the estate manager has big plans for getting it into shape.
The old part had a small temple, which we learned is quite common in estates. The temple is not to a famous god written about in religious text (not Shiva, Ganesha, Kali, etc), but rather to the nameless god of the estate which is widely understood to just be there and to be specific to this estate. (It’s unquestioned that the temple on the old estate will also govern the new estate, which is temple-less. I guess the god keeps up on local real estate transactions.) When I asked the god’s name, the manager looked confused and said, “It’s the estate god for this estate.” (I guess it’s very Western of me to try to label everything. )
After the pruning & weeding, they plan to do some repair work on the little temple, whose masonry base needs some restoration. And at that point they intend to sacrifice a small pig, a chicken, and offer up some “spirits” (likely the local moonshine: high octane rice wine) to This Estate’s God. The owner & manager are still debating about the sacrifice: the owner thinks such killing is senseless & unnecessary, while the manager is quite convinced that — regardless of the owner’s taste– This Estate’s God needs the animal sacrifice. The implications for failure to make the sacrifice go unstated but hang heavy in the air. I get the impression that the pig & the chicken are goners, whether or not the owner knows it… But I understand the sacrificed animals will be eaten, probably by the estate hands. If you think of it more like a company BBQ for team building & moral raising, it seems less odd.