The main reason is due to the exorbitant price. With the innovation by some coffee experts working in the district, they have come up with ideas to valorise coffee by-products to be used in tea-like drinks and artisanal spirits

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks worldwide.

It is believed that more than 400 billion cups are consumed each year.

Nepalis are now understanding the importance of coffee farming, which has now spread to more than 40 districts.

Coffee farming, however, remains a rather young practice in Nepal, although it was introduced in Apchaur of Gulmi in 1995 BS (1938 AD). The following historic milestones are notable in popularising coffee farming in Nepal: the Agriculture Development Bank (ADB/N) initiated coffee farming, imported seeds and distributed them to smallholder farmers.

I/NGOs were also engaged in coffee cultivation in the hilly ecological belts to prevent soil erosion and as an environmental protection measure.

But it took almost four decades for coffee to see commercial trading, with Nepal becoming a certified producer for export. It has found a niche in the international market, with exports reaching Japan, America and Europe.

Analysing the potentiality of the coffee crop, the Government of Nepal (GoN) established a Tea and Coffee Development Section under the Fruit Development Directorate of the Department of Agriculture in 1993 to promote coffee production by area.

In 1993, the GoN brought the Coffee and Tea Development Board Act (1993), under which the National Tea and Coffee Development Board was formed. In 1994, for the first time, dry processed green beans of Nepali coffee were exported to Japan.

Given the long history of coffee plantation, smallholder farmers perceived that the crop was easy to grow, required limited inputs and could be cultivated on marginal uplands with minimal irrigation and minimal effort.

Understanding its economic, environmental and social characteristics, the government along with international development partners promoted coffee production initiatives by expanding areas and supported its capacity and institutional development.

In order to promote coffee farming, a coffee cooperative was established in Sindhupalchok in 2013, which now has more than 2,400 active smallholder farmer members and groups.

The place located on the foothills of Jugal Mountain, at an elevation ranging from 300m to 7,080m, has been found to be very suitable for coffee farming. Almost all the members have their own coffee farms with five to 500 plants. Being a cash crop, the money is paid instantly, so lots of farmers are showing interest in coffee farming.

The harvesting time is between December and January. After that, coffee cherries are washed in water and then sent through a pulping machine that separates the coffee beans from the fruit.

The beans are then stored separately for the fermentation process, which includes washing for a few more times. Another process involves drying in the shade for two to three days before taking them in the sun for the same amount of days. It is then transferred to a huller machine that crunches off the parchment skin of the coffee beans, and they are ready to be sold.

Another important aspect of the coffee cooperative is that it provides free coffee fertiliser, gotten from the parchment skin of the coffee beans, to the farmers, which has resulted in enhanced farm productivity in the region. Also, the cooperative is promoting coffee production through different subsidiaries, and providing the farmers knowledge to get more benefit from coffee production by organising various trainings.

Coffee consumption in Nepal, however, is not doing as well as it should be.

The main reason is due to the exorbitant price. With the innovation by some coffee experts working in the district, they have come up with ideas to valorise coffee by-products, which could be a trendsetter for innovation of tastes, and counteract coffee prices.

That added value of the coffee plant could increase social and economic prosperity in poorer coffee-growing areas. In the initial trial phase, they have started promoting coffee by-products in tea-like drinks and artisanal spirits.

The leaves and parchment skins of the beans used to be discarded in the past, as the by-products were believed to be of no use.

But the leaves of the coffee plant are being used to prepare tea-like drinks.

Cascara, or the skin of coffee cherries, is also popular in tea preparation. Before preparing the drink, there are different processing methods to obtain coffee leaf tea. Most of them include leaf steaming, rolling and drying.

However, some manufacturers work under a protective gas atmosphere to preserve the ingredients from oxidation. Alternatively, the leaves can also be fermented. In some production methods, a roasting process supplements the drying process.

To produce the drink, the tea must be extracted with water.

The concept has been flourishing in West Sumatra, Ethiopia, Yemen, Jamaica, India, Java and South Sudan. Additionally, coffee leaf tea is now the first coffee by-product to receive EU approval.

Improvisation of coffee-flavoured liquor by adding the parchment skin can also lead to better yields. Making liquor isn't a big task due to availability of ingredients, and the process isn't very tough. However, adding coffee flavour to millet or rice spirits could be challenging.

Though still in the trial phase, it has already gained popularity, as many people have liked its unique taste.

The demand for the spirit has increased, and even at the governmental level, its exploitation for international marketing is currently being considered.

Coffee liquor and tea concepts have been tested and succeeded in various parts of the world. Though coffee-flavoured millet liquor may not exactly match the trend, it is likely to provide that unique taste, good enough to make it one-of-its-kind.

In the context of Nepal, exposure and branding are needed to give it an international market, as the taste has already been loved by many with the pilot study showcasing positive results.

Coffee consumption in Nepal, however, is not doing as well as it should be.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 16 2021, of The Himalayan Times.