29 Dec 2017 - 4 jan 2018 #890

Riding coffee’s Third Wave

Something is brewing in Nepal as the coffee fad morphs into a culture
Sikuma Rai

Ryan Chang

Coffee connoisseurs are touting the Third Wave of the beverage: moving beyond the coffee-shop culture epitomised by Starbucks to one that values knowledge of the cherries and beans from the plant to the cup, served up via independent cafés.

Like craft beers and boutique hotels, specialty coffee is sweeping the world. In Nepal, however, the Nepal Tea and Coffee Development Board continues to label all coffee ‘The Himalayan Specialty’ without first doing a proper quality check, which is misleading consumers and risks leaving local producers shut out of global markets. But an increasing number of growers in Nepal are waking up to smell the coffee.

“I am continuously hunting for the best coffee origins in Nepal,” says Q-grader Nima Tenzing Sherpa of Lekali Coffee Estate, who believes producing Specialty-grade beans is the only future for Nepal’s coffee industry. “The potential is there, but the perspective of farmers towards coffee needs upgrading because they are the first one handling the cherries.”

Nepal’s geographic and climatic conditions are ideal for growing the finest quality coffee beans: shaded hills situated between 1,000m and 2,000m with both ample sunlight and rain. Farmers have been quick to recognise the potential of this global beverage: 32,186 of them in 41 districts are now growing coffee.

Lekali coffee estate

Producing Specialty-grade coffee starts with selectively picking the red cherries, then storing the green beans away from moisture. Experts like Raj Kumar Banjara Himalayan Arabica Coffee, which has been Speciality-certified, says currently there are weaknesses all along the supply chain.

Banjara is Nepal’s first ‘Q-grader’, certified by the Specialty Coffee Association of America to rank Speciality Arabica coffee, and says that without more such growers and laboratories to quality test them, Nepal’s coffee will continue struggle for consistency. The effects of climate change have added another complication to that quest.

According to Sanat Raj Thala, roaster and brewer of Coffee Time:“If the whole process of producing and packaging of Nepali coffee was done with more scientific research and stricter standards, not only international but domestic markets would be able to enjoy its own product.”

Thala does concede that it will take time for local consumers, used to instant coffee heavy on milk and sugar, to appreciate the Specialty coffee flavour. Coffee culture is still young in Nepal though the country counts more than 1,200 cafés today. Converting the nation of tea devotees to coffee lovers is a major challenge, which would have obvious impact on the tea industry.

Another hurdle making local producers bitter is a burgeoning black market in lower-quality Indian coffee beans that undercut the Nepali beans. All these challenges will need to be overcome if Nepal’s product is to become part of the global, highly profitable, Third Wave of coffee.

What is the Third Wave?

First Wave: Profit-driven, mass marketing, air tight containers and instant coffee. Consumption of coffee worldwide starts growing.

Second Wave: Artisan-driven, origin and roasting style become important, epitomised by Starbucks and espresso.

Third Wave: Characteristics of the beverage take centre stage: origin of the beans, consistent processing techniques and roasting style. Independent coffee shops demonstrate craftsmanship and knowledge of coffee beans from plant to the cup, promoting ethics and transparency.

The Coffee University

It has been less than two months since Università Del Caffé inaugurated its 28th branch, and first in Nepal. Yet, it has already completed three Coffee Expert and Coffee Lovers course. The Italian coffee university located at the Silver Mountain School of Hotel Management, is dedicated to upgrading Nepalis’ knowledge of coffee, starting from the coffee plantations to the processing right up to training baristas.

Ryan Chang

The university offers four courses: Coffee Lovers is for those who seek knowledge about the types of beans and their origins. Coffee Expert, including two days of internship, is beginner-friendly, while Master Barista includes tastings. Tailored Consultancy is offered as a customised workshop for those with unique needs.

According to Moreno Faina, director of Università Del Caffé,what sets the institution apart is its scientific laboratories, research and intensive field works. “The results are translated to fit the understanding and knowledge level of the Nepali market,” says Faina.

With a café-like ambience showcasing various brewing equipment, coffee cups and coffee from Illy, the founding brand of the university, this little hub is a great place to start a conversation about coffee over a cup of coffee.


Coffee flowers are white, small and fragrant.

The plant starts bearing cherries after 3-5 years of plantation.

Cherries are sun-dried or wet-processed for pulping.

Pulped seeds are fermented, washed and dried again.

After the outer layer is removed, beans are graded and sorted.

Green beans are roasted to achieve various chemical properties.

Roasted beans are grounded right before brewing for best results.

Who is a Q-Grader?

A Licensed Q-Grader is a highly trained and calibrated coffee expert who professionally grades Specialty Arabica coffee under Specialty Coffee Association of America protocols. They are authentic on tasting, cupping and evaluating coffee quality very objectively.

Raj Kumar Banjara, Nepal’s first Q-Grader who recently returned from China after renewal of his license.

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Coffee Culture, Foo Chee Chang