HumbleBean is on a mission to spread coffee education

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Bimal may seem like an ordinary barista. But he doesn’t just make and serve cups of coffee. He wants every customer to know what they’re about to sip.

“I make sure they know their cup of coffee. I ask about the type of taste they are looking for and the strength of their coffee. Most of the time they go ahead with what I recommend even if they have something else in mind,” he says.

After losing his job at an upscale restaurant during the pandemic, Bimal joined HumbleBean Cafe as a barista. Without any prior expertise in the industry, he was enrolled in a specialized course at HumbleBean. The course helped him better understand the drink, from its plantation to the multiple methods of brewing.

HumbleBean Coffee runs a small beer bar nestled under the lush green cover of Lavelle Road in Bengaluru. On a normal day, you might find Bimal sniffing and tasting a sample of every cup he brews.

HumbleBean Cafeis the result of Soomanna and Puja Mandepanda. Since 2017, the couple have been on a mission to make coffee drinking a more enjoyable and mindful experience. Their idea is to educate more people about the complexity and diversity of “a humble bean like coffee”.

In 2021, they launched the HumbleBean Coffee Academy in Coorg to spread coffee education among the masses. The academy offers short courses for coffee lovers, home brewers, hotel management students and coffee entrepreneurs.

The team of 22 people, including co-founders, beer bar staff and coffee academy experts, is based in Coorg and Bengaluru. Currently, HumbleBean has only one coffee bar in Bengaluru and an online B2C chain that sells coffee beans of different types and roasts. A new coffee shop concept is underway in Indiranagar which will replace the hand brew bar in a few weeks.

According to documents filed with the Registrar of Companies, HumbleBean had a turnover of approximately 1.1 crore rupees in FY21.

In July 2022, the coffee startup raised a round of angels Rs 4.5 billion undisclosed investors.

Today, as HumbleBean co-founder Soomanna brews his favorite pour, he recalls the days when he felt the need to clean up the coffee ecosystem.

“I wanted to enter the coffee ecosystem to create an Indian coffee business with global standards. I also wanted to steer farmers towards quality and help them stay invested in agriculture,” he says.

HumbleBean Academy, Coorg

Get to know the coffee

The main goal of the coffee academy was to ensure that everyone in the coffee ecosystem was knowledgeable about the drink.

The team started by addressing the lack of a feedback system for farmers growing coffee. A feedback mechanism was essential to bring about changes in their farming practices and improve product quality.

“Over 85% of coffee growers in India, mostly small and medium farmers, have never tasted their own coffee. They don’t know how much their coffee is appreciated around the world,” says Soomanna.

The coffee academy receives free coffee samples from over 100 farmers Across the country. The team prepares detailed reports on the quality of the sample and offers suggestions to farmers. Farmers make suggested changes in farming techniques and send new samples to the academy for further evaluation.

“We test the samples again and buy their batch if the quality meets our parameters. Most of the time, we ask farmers to quote a price instead of setting the price,” says Puja, co-founder of HumbleBean, who handles the B2C and hospitality side of HumbleBean.

The academy offers courses focused on the art of brewing, food and coffee pairings, and more. These courses can be as short as one day or three days (for drink lovers) or as long as three months (for students in hospitality management schools). They are priced between Rs 10,000 and Rs 35,000.

HumbleBean has partnered with a hotel management college in India to offer these courses for one semester.

Puja believes it is necessary to train baristas in the early years of hotel management.

“Being a barista is more than just serving a cup of coffee, especially today when hand brewing is finally recognized. That’s why we deliberately choose people who have no knowledge of coffee and who are more receptive to knowledge,” she says.

Puja takes care of the barista training course with Gaurav Ganapathi. A Q-certified grader (a type of coffee grader), Gaurav runs Coorg’s Coffee Academy. He has worked in the coffee industry since 2014 and previously worked with Tata Starbucks.

“Coffee is one of the most sustainable industries in the world; there is almost no carbon emission in the production process. The coffee academy helps all members of the ecosystem to better understand coffee as a plant – its diversity in terms of species and types, the different brewing techniques, etc. “, says Gaurav.

Pastry chef Sana Kabrawho joined the HumbleBean team in March 2022, works closely with Puja and Gaurav and leads the food pairing classes at HumbleBean.

“The wine pairing is an important part of the coffee experience. What kind of pastry would go best with a pour, what level of roast or grind should your coffee be to go well with a croissant…these things require conscious consumption and lots of trial and error. mistakes,” Sana said.

HumbleBean works with small and medium coffee growers across the country

Defeat the pandemic

Like any other physical business, HumbleBean has been hit hard by the pandemic. Their first manual beer bar in Residency Road, Bengaluru, launched in 2019, was closed due to operational difficulties.

Around the same time, the brand collaborated with a high-end retail company GoNative to set up his model beer bar on Lavelle Road.

The HumbleBean team took advantage of the pandemic to study and collect data on customer perception of hand-brewed coffees and coffees served in small and medium-sized operations, and studied the unit economics of a coffee brand. They also worked on creating a line of coffee drinks and the delivery mechanism.

“During this lean period, we have also consolidated our backend work, the academy, small and medium farm outreach, plantation management, flavor science as it relates to food and coffee pairings. We have built a strong core team of specialists in plantation management, roasting and flavor science. Most of them are third-generation small farmers who have spent time in large coffee companies,” says Soomanna.

Brewing a bright future

According to a report by Research and Markets, Indian retail coffee is largely dominated by the southern region and is expected to reach more than $253.8 million by 2025, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.04% from 2017 to 2025.

HumbleBean aims to tap into this growing market while competing with major global brands such as Starbucks, Barista, Tim Hortons and Indian brands such as Blue Tokai, Third Wave Coffee Roasters, Araku, etc.

“We know the competitive landscape, but we also know that everyone who walks into our cafe knows their cafe very well or wants to learn more about coffee. We mainly rely on word of mouth rather than other marketing strategies,” says Soomanna.

HumbleBean plans to launch its concept store in Indiranagar, Bengaluru. It would also serve as a second location for the coffee academy and a second hand brew bar.

The startup also plans to expand to other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

“The end goal remains the same: to establish HumbleBean as a sustainable Indian global brand rooted and invested in the place of production,” says Soomanna.

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