Despite the morning cold, 15 people of all ages are gathered around a room at the Academy of Coffee Excellence. In front of each of them is a cup of coffee from across the world. Some have been brought from South America, some from the Philippines and some even from Ethiopia. Each of them is asked to find and analyse all of the basic flavour characteristics and taste sensations including the beverage’s body, fragrance/aroma, acidity, bitterness, sweetness, and aftertaste/finish.
The process is rigorous. But, these people, who work in different segments of the coffee value chain, do not care because most of them are there to learn the basics of sensory skills.
“It’s a bit too much, but this training is important,” says Rajan Sharma, one of the participants. “They are teaching us what are the attributes that a good drink should have so that we here in Nepal can make better drinks here.”
Nepal hardly has people who are trained in sensory skills. Nepal Coffee Producers Association says the country has only four people who know how to judge coffee based on taste and smell. But, as the industry wants to produce specialty coffee and as the coffee culture is growing in urban areas, the need for this number to go up is important as experts believe the country can only produce good coffee if more people are trained in sensory skills.
“We need people to know this skill because they are the ones who will give feedback to people in the trade about what needs to be done to make the drink better,” says Pranit Gurung, senior project officer at the association.
For that purpose, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce’s EU Nepal Trade and Investment Programme being implemented by the International Trade Centre organised an intermediate training programme to develop sensory skills of Nepalis who are from different segments of the coffee value chain recently. In the training programme, they chose 15 participants and trained them on how to assess coffee based on its smell and taste, by perceiving and interpreting coffee samples.
The programme’s national coordinator, Vidur Ghimire says they did it to help the coffee industry grow. “Our main goal is to reduce the trade deficit and we believe that Nepali has the potential to help us reduce it to some extent. Be we can only do that if we produce good quality coffee,” he said.
That is why most of them were eager to learn because they know the importance of being able to know what good coffee should taste like. A lot of people involved in the trade feel there is unhealthy competition in the market and they think they can help it get resolved, with their skills.
“There are so many traders around the country that bring coffee from India and sell it to people, stating it’s Nepali,” says Santa Bahadur Ghale, a shop owner, who is also a farmer. “As most people don’t have the skill to grade it, Nepali farmers pay the price.”
He says it is great that the people in the business in Nepal are interested in taking training like this as it helps the industry to grow.
Kumud Singh from Kathmandu Coffee also agrees as he says such training will help the farmers get more prices for their produce. He says as there are no coffee tasters, people pay the same price for a batch of beans even if one is superior to the other.
“It’s a problem that needs fixing, but it’s going to take time. Training like these will help us because it’ll develop a skill set,” says Singh.
Possibilities and promises
Singh started his enterprise in 2008 during a time when there were hardly any shops selling the beverage. But, today has been different and he says such training is more helpful.
“This helps the entire scene because this is knowledge and the more you share knowledge, the better it is,” says Singh, hoping more people involved in the sector get into this as it is better for the industry.
Even Gloria Soh, the instructor who flew to Nepal from Singapore to teach these people like Singh and Ghale, is chuffed by the response she and her fellow instructor Shaun Ong are getting. She says sensory skills training is important because of what they get to learn.
“We’re teaching them what coffee should be like. First, they should understand what qualities a good drink should have. When they do that, only then will they know how to produce such a drink,” she says.
She says Nepali coffee does have high potential but adds that it does need work, especially during processing.
“They talk about special drinks, but that shouldn’t be the focus right now. The focus should be on producing it for Nepal itself. The export can wait as specialty coffee is a niche market,” she adds.
Soh says the number of young people interested in these training programmes is also a positive sign as it is they who will lead the industry in the future.
“Seeing women involved in this is also nice. The future for the industry does look bright,” says Soh.
Gurung from the association says such training will help the industry in the long run as it will generate interest which will affect how the beans are produced and processed in the future.
“There were a few producers too and hope after this, they will be encouraged to produce better beans that we then can market it to the world.”