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Coffee, community, creativity – coffee expert Ajay Redij on new frontiers of innovation and entrepreneurship >

by Team [July 24, 2023]

Leading up to the World Coffee Conference and Exhibition in Bangalore in September, the platform presents a range of activities and insights into the coffee opportunity.

Ajay Redij is a Q Arabica Grader professional coffee taster from Ratnagiri, India. He has an MSc in biotechnology from Mumbai University. He is a highly sought-after consultant in the coffee industry, from roasting and tasting to blend development and barista mastery. 

He recently conducted a coffee experience session at Starbucks (Vittal Mallya Road), Bangalore. Ajay joins us in this chat on trends in the homebrewing movement, entrepreneurship opportunities, and the upcoming World Coffee Conference and Exhibition.

To get involved in the coffee movement, please email us at How did you get to be such a coffee guru? What was your passion, and professional path?

Ajay Redij: From an early age, I have always had a strong affinity for coffee, and it was my mother who served as my primary source of inspiration to pursue a career in this domain. After spending two years working in the field of Molecular Biology, I felt compelled to follow my dream path in the realm of coffee.

Initially, while undertaking the PGDCQM (Post Graduate diploma in Coffee Quality Management) course offered by the Coffee Board of India in Bangalore, I began contemplating the idea of eventually establishing my own café. However, during the course, I realised the importance of honing my sensory skills further.

This realisation prompted me to enroll in the prestigious Q Arabica Graders course offered by the Coffee Quality Institute. Through this comprehensive program, I gained valuable insights and underwent rigorous calibration, aligning my abilities with the international standards set by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). How has the coffee industry evolved over the years? It seems to be everywhere and even in home kitchens!

Ajay Redij: Coffee, an ancient elixir that has evolved into a global phenomenon, carries with it a rich cultural heritage. Beyond being a mere beverage, coffee has given rise to distinct waves of appreciation, brewing techniques, and sociocultural significance.

Each “wave” in coffee culture represents a unique period of growth and transformation in how coffee is perceived, brewed, and consumed. This write-up delves into the three prominent waves that have shaped coffee culture over time.

First Wave -The Rise of Accessibility (19th to mid-20th century): The First Wave represents the inception of mass-produced and easily accessible coffee. Beginning in the 19th century and gaining momentum throughout the 20th century, coffee became a commodity available to the masses, mainly through the proliferation of instant coffee and canned coffee.

This wave laid the foundation for coffee to become a staple in households around the world. It was marked by the emergence of well-known coffee brands that focused on convenience and standardised flavor profiles, making coffee a daily ritual for countless individuals.

Second Wave: The Coffee Shop Culture (1970s to early 21st century): The Second Wave of coffee was characterised by the emergence of specialty coffee chains and a renewed focus on the craft of brewing and roasting. Spearheaded by companies like Starbucks, this wave introduced espresso-based beverages to the mainstream and popularised terms like “latte” and “cappuccino.”

Coffee shops became spaces for social gatherings, creative work, and relaxation, transforming coffee consumption into an experience. Additionally, the Second Wave emphasised fair trade and sustainable sourcing, heightening awareness about the origins and ethical aspects of coffee production.

Third Wave: The Pursuit of Coffee Excellence (late 20th century to present): The Third Wave represents a shift towards a deeper appreciation of coffee as an artisanal product with unique flavors and terroirs. It places a strong emphasis on the journey from bean to cup, including single-origin sourcing, direct trade relationships, and meticulous roasting profiles. Coffee enthusiasts and baristas became akin to sommeliers, discussing intricate tasting notes and brewing methods.

Manual brewing techniques, such as pour-over, siphon, and AeroPress, gained popularity, allowing individuals to explore the nuances of various coffee beans. This wave celebrates coffee as an art form and has led to the proliferation of independent specialty coffee shops, micro-roasters, and barista competitions worldwide. What are the areas in the coffee ecosystem where you see lots of innovation and entrepreneurship happening?

Ajay Redij: In the coffee industry, we observe a myriad of areas experiencing significant innovation and entrepreneurship. The coffee ecosystem is vast and multifaceted, presenting numerous opportunities for advancements.

Firstly, innovation is prominent in coffee farming, with the mechanisation of operations and the development of strategies to combat challenges such as the impact of global warming on coffee production and quality. Organisations like UTZ Rainforest Alliances, National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP), Demeter – Biodynamic Federation Demeter International, and the Bird Friendly® Coffee Program | Smithsonian Global, are actively engaged in promoting sustainable agriculture and traceability in the coffee supply chain.

Another area of innovation lies in the processing techniques employed to enhance the taste and quality of coffee. From hulling and peeling to polishing and grade separation, there are continuous efforts to improve the coffee bean’s flavour profile and overall experience. Furthermore, both large and small-scale coffee industries are continuously exploring innovative machinery for drying and milling coffee beans, preparing them for the roasting stage.

Roasting, a critical stage in the coffee production process, is also witnessing remarkable innovation. Companies invest heavily in research and development to create roasting machines that offer precise control over parameters such as heat source, airflow, drum material, and drum speed. These advancements cater to a wide range of needs, from home mini roasters and coffee shop equipment to large-scale industrial roasters.

Brewing, another vital aspect of the coffee ecosystem, is an area teeming with innovation. Notably, there have been remarkable improvements in coffee grinders, manual brewing techniques, espresso machines, and the emergence of new brewing methods like cold brew and nitro brew.

Furthermore, the instant coffee industry runs parallel to traditional coffee production and has also seen its share of innovation and entrepreneurship.

As a coffee professional, I am personally involved in various initiatives aimed at advancing coffee knowledge, promoting innovations, and raising awareness about the coffee industry and its global impact. The collective efforts of entrepreneurs, researchers, and organisations have significantly contributed to the continuous growth and evolution of the coffee ecosystem. What kinds of activities are being planned for the upcoming World Coffee Conference in Bangalore?

Ajay Redij: The World Coffee Conference is the 5th edition of this global congregation, scheduled from September 25 – 28, 2023 in Bangalore. It will pull together the leading minds of the coffee fraternity for a four day intensive programme. WCC2023 will bring together leaders and decision-makers from more than 100 countries to discuss, debate and collaborate towards building a sustainable coffee industry, right from bean to cup.

Sustainability through Circular Economy and Regenerative Agriculture will be the underlying theme for the week-long event which will include a three-day conference and B2B exhibition, skill-building workshops, global CEO conclave and a plethora of networking events.

Over 100,000 visitors are expected to visit the event which will be held at the historic Bengaluru Palace. WCC 2023 is promoted by the International Coffee Organisation and is organised every four years.

There are so many activities happening here, such as discussions and debates though speeches delivered by international and national delights, promotions and awareness about speciality coffees of India, growers’ conclave, and workshops which are based around different coffee technologies and parallel commodities. All in all, it is a feast for anyone and everyone who has cravings for coffee – be it the brew and the knowledge about it.

WCC2023 will also feature exciting and prestigious competitions, highlighting the immense talent and creativity within the coffee industry. These competitions play a vital role in encouraging innovation and providing a platform for baristas to showcase their skills and expertise while also promoting their products and services.

The National Barista Championship 2023 will showcase the finest baristas from India, competing to demonstrate their mastery of coffee preparation and presentation. The competition will emphasise not only the technical skills involved in making exceptional coffee beverages but also the ability to craft unique and delightful coffee experiences for customers.

Similarly, the National Latte Art Championship 2023 will celebrate the artistry and precision of baristas who can transform a simple latte into an exquisite work of art. Participants will demonstrate their talent in creating intricate and visually captivating latte art designs.

The Women Star Brewer Skills Championship 2023 is a commendable initiative that will highlight the outstanding contributions of women in the coffee industry. This competition will showcase the diverse talents and skills of female baristas, roasters, and brewers, promoting gender equality and recognition in the coffee world.

Furthermore, the introduction of the new Indian Filter Coffee Championship adds an exciting dimension to the event, celebrating the traditional and beloved method of preparing coffee in India. This competition will not only honour the heritage of Indian coffee but also encourage innovation and experimentation with this cherished brewing technique.

Participating in these competitions provides baristas with valuable exposure, as the champions will go on to represent India at the respective world championships. This opportunity allows them to engage with international coffee enthusiasts, gain insights from global trends, and contribute to elevating the reputation of Indian coffee on the global stage.

In addition to individual recognition, these competitions also serve as a means for coffee brands and businesses to showcase their products and services. By aligning with skilled and talented baristas, companies can effectively position their offerings in the market and foster a positive brand image.

Overall, these competitions are instrumental in fostering creativity, promoting excellence, and furthering the growth of the coffee industry in India. WCC2023 is undoubtedly a comprehensive and enriching event, encompassing various dimensions of the coffee ecosystem and providing an excellent platform for the industry’s stakeholders to come together and thrive. What are three key emerging trends in the coffee space in India?

Ajay Redij: There are broad and deep trends in coffee processing, brewing, and platforms.

1. Speciality Coffee Processing Technologies: Indian coffee producers are increasingly adopting speciality coffee processing technologies to enhance the quality and uniqueness of their coffee beans. Speciality coffee refers to high-quality coffee beans that are carefully grown, harvested, and processed to preserve their distinct flavours and characteristics.

By using advanced processing methods, such as natural, honey, or anaerobic fermentation, Indian coffee growers can create coffees with exceptional flavours that appeal to the international and domestic coffee community. These efforts are helping raise the overall image of Indian coffees and positioning them as premium offerings in the global market.

2. Innovative Brewing Equipment: The coffee industry in India is witnessing a surge in the availability and adoption of innovative brewing equipment. These cutting-edge brewing devices are designed not only for their functionality but also for their aesthetics and ability to enhance the overall coffee-drinking experience.

From precision coffee makers to pour-over setups and advanced espresso machines, these new brewing tools allow baristas and coffee enthusiasts to explore various brewing techniques and extract the full potential of the specialty coffee beans. The emphasis on flavour and presentation is elevating the customer experience in coffee shops and cafes across the country.

3. Online Platforms and Accessibility: The digital revolution has played a significant role in the growth of the coffee industry in India. Online platforms have made it easier for coffee producers, roasters, and cafes to reach a broader audience.

Direct-to-consumer models, online coffee subscriptions, and e-commerce platforms dedicated to coffee have enabled consumers to access a wide range of specialty coffee offerings from different regions in India. This increased accessibility has contributed to the growing popularity of specialty coffees, as consumers can now explore and purchase unique coffee varieties from the comfort of their homes. What is your message to the audience?

Ajay Redij: Did you know that coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, right after petroleum? In ancient times, India was renowned for its education and knowledge centres. Sadly, that legacy faded away with time. But here’s the exciting part – coffee has the potential to help India regain its prestige as a hub of learning!

By spreading awareness and knowledge about coffee, we can create a positive impact. It can inspire us, fuel our creativity, and motivate us to explore new horizons. Imagine a future where coffee plays a role in transforming India into a prestigious destination for knowledge.

Let’s come together to sip from the cup of knowledge and embrace the cultural richness of coffee. With every sip, we can revitalise the spirit of education and wisdom in our nation.

Cheers to a brighter and smarter India, powered by the magic of coffee!