International Coffee Day: Shruti Shibulal talks coffee and responsible hospitality

At Tamara Coorg, guests learn about coffee making—from blossom to final brew

shruthi-shibulal Shruti Shibulal

It was in 2012 that Shruti Shibulal, CEO and director of Tamara Leisure Experiences, started her first coffee plantation resort at Coorg. Ten years later, The Tamara Coorg, which is spread over 180 acres at 3,500 feet above sea level in the Kabbinakad estate, regularly features as one of the top luxury retreats for all coffee lovers.

Daughter of SD Shibulal, co-founder of IT giant Infosys, Shruti found her calling in the hospitality industry after an internship stint at the Shangri-La in Hong Kong. Named a "Young Global Leader" in 2017 by the World Economic Forum, the 36-year-old has carved a niche in the realm of eco-tourism with properties from Kodaikanal to Germany. An industry historically associated with high pollution, Shruti has been one of the leading figures in rethinking hospitality in India as a responsible endeavour.

Her company added three new properties in the first fiscal year of 2021 including an ayurvedic retreat in Alleppey, a 147-room hotel in Coimbatore and Moxy Bremen, a 128-room hotel in Germany, the fourth acquisition in the country. But it was in Coorg, India's own coffee bowl country, where the journey started. The Tamara Carnival this year in October-November will feature acts like multi-Grammy award-winning music composer and environmentalist Ricky Kej.

On International Coffee Day, Shruti talks to The Week about growing coffee, responsible tourism and the several waterfalls flowing through the estate.

Edited excerpts:

As an eco-resort trying to minimise your environmental footprint, what are some of the practical challenges of keeping up with commitments to sustainability? Could going on a luxury-leisure stay really protect the environment considering the demands for comfort and several other amenities?

Our offerings are authentic and harmonious with social and environmental well-being. For instance, our properties in Coorg and Kodai feature wildlife-sensitive LED lighting which preserves the natural ecosystem of both native and migratory species. This feature makes both estates a haven for rare and beautiful varieties of birds. Bird watching is among the most popular guest experiences we offer. In Coorg, rainwater harvesting tanks with the capacity of around 90 lakh kilo litre allow conserving rainwater which is used for resort operations and landscaping. Our guest experiences include plantation walks, cardamom and Rudraksha trails, etc., and learning about the process of coffee making from blossom to final brew.

What are the challenges of running a coffee estate resort, as Tamara Coorg is spread across 180 acres?

Considering the resort is built on steep terrains, we have Maccaferri walls for soil enforcement to prevent landslides. Cottages are constructed at varying heights on wooden stilts. In keeping with our ethos we have battery-operated buggies ferrying guests to their rooms and across the property. We have ensured not to divert natural water bodies flowing through the estate, rather have developed around them, to ensure their natural flow. Fencing around the property is created such that it provides a path for wild animals away from the property rather than hurt them in any way. Rainwater harvesting measures have been installed with a capacity of 1 lakh KLD which ensures self-reliance in running the plantation and for guests, without burdening the natural water table or communities downstream. These are just some of the many innovative ways we run a coffee estate resort.

Any outward collaboration was done to promote the coffee at Tamara Coorg?

At Tamara Coorg, we follow regenerative and sustainable farming practices like maintaining soil fertility and bio-diversity and cultivating coffee in a shade-governed environment to differentiate our coffee. Sustainable and organic cultivation processes like using bio-fertilisers, bio-pesticides and composts nurture and nourish the precious topsoil, the loss of which is of grave concern today. We have entered into knowledge-sharing and collaborative initiatives with renowned coffee brands in the country to share organic coffee farming practices and enhance how guests can engage hands-on with our coffee and plantation.

Can you tell us about some of the new initiatives introduced to help attract guests from a younger demographic slice?

Millennial and GenZ travellers are notably the most informed and conscious. Since their preferences align closely with our own values we find that our offerings across the board are meaningful to the younger demographic. With the rise in popularity for nature-centric, wellness and mindful travel, we’ve been able to experiment further with the experiences we curate.

Any new initiatives that you would like to highlight in the run-up to International Coffee Day?

A flagship experience on offer at The Tamara Coorg is the Blossom to Brew coffee experience where our coffee professionals take guests through every step of how coffee reaches us in a cup. One of the highlights is the seasonal cherry blossom picking. The experience culminates at The Verandah, our coffee bar and souvenir store on the property. Our focus will remain on promoting the Indian coffee brew experience.


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