The man who is promoting Indian Coffee online - Business Standard, 19th January, 2013

 Want to savour a cup of home-brewed coffee, admired across the world, that has been delivered to your doorstep? Kunal Ross’s, a portal for selling coffee online, offers just that. Ross believes that India has a treasure trove of coffee plantations, yet people hardly get to enjoy the produce.

“Most of the good quality beans are exported — currently the figure stands at 60-80 per cent. The lack of 100 per cent pure Arabica coffee makes it harder to find the coffee we all crave,” he says. Which is why Ross travelled to the coffee estates of Kodaikanal and Coorg and tied up with farmers to supply him with single plantation beans. In August last year, he began spreading the word across social media. In November, he sent out his first shipment of coffee.

“We now have [coffee chains like] Starbucks and a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf [in India]. But it is not financially feasible to go there everyday. The import prices of the beans make their coffee expensive,” adds Ross. “There is a huge gap in supply for Indians who wanted good quality Indian coffee. That’s where we come in.”

Single estate coffee is much like single malt whiskey — made in one estate to ensure quality, aroma and taste. The Indian Bean currently sells two varieties — Frowner’s coffee from Kodaikanal and Appa’s from Coorg. Frowner’s is a non-certified, organic coffee grown in the Pulney region on a single estate interspersed with fruit trees — avocado, jackfruit, orange, banana and berries. Appa’s, known as the “baap of all coffees”, is a certified non-organic variety. Soon, the website will also sell Watapi, a non-certified, organic coffee from Mysore. Each variety, says Ross, is distinct from the coffee beans grown in South Africa or southeast Asia.

A 250 gm pack of Appa’s costs Rs 270 while Frowner’s sells for Rs 350. Both are available in 500 gm packs too. The Indian Bean is one of the few ‘e-sellers’ of coffee; Delhi-based was launched last year. The Indian Bean distributes coffee in Mumbai for free and accepts cash on delivery; Ross plans to deliver pan-India by the end of the month and accept netbanking, credit card and debit card payments as well.

Once acquired, the beans undergo quality control by Ross and his team and then a chemical analysis at the labs of the Coffee Board of India, where they are periodically sent for testing. On receiving an order, Ross ensures that the coffee is roasted according to the customer’s choice. This depends on how the coffee will be used — in an espresso machine, in a French press or in a percolator. The packs are delivered in two to three days. Since roasting is done only after the order is received, the fixed costs are minimum. Even then, the company needs daily orders of at least 20 kg on an average to break even by the end of this year. Currently, the order size is usually around Rs 300-Rs 400 from the eight or nine buyers who shop from the site daily.

With an investment of Rs 3-Rs 4 lakh, Ross has tie-ups with five farmers. He hopes to add at least 10 more this year, stick to his revenue target of Rs 36 lakh this year and around Rs 1 crore in the next. “With steep rents in Mumbai, fixed costs go up. But luckily, the farmers and I have a good rapport. They save the good stock for me,” he adds. The website encourages socially-conscious farming; Ross has been updating social media pages to promote home-brewing methods.

Currently, most of the website’s visitors are 30-40 years of age. Using social media and digital marketing, Ross is targeting a younger crowd. He also plans to make his presence felt in farmer’s markets, coffee expos and food festivals. Currently, Appa’s and Frowner’s are available only in Mumbai’s Leaping Windows (a comic-book library and cafe). It remains to be seen whether The Indian Bean can make a space for itself in a sector already teeming with options for a cuppa.

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