By 1993, something else was brewing. I had already accumulated about 3,000 acres of plantation by then. Back in 1985, when I had started buying plantations, it sounded like a no-brainer – coffee prices averaged around $1.20 for 17 long years between 1970-85. In a frost year, it would hit $3 and if you had a bumper crop it would fall to 75 cents. But Indian farmers were getting only 35 cents because we were not allowed to export directly. If this changed at some point, the realisation would go up phenomenally – the payback could happen in a year’s time. I went with my gut and kept buying bit by bit.
But natural, I was delighted when the regulation changed in 1992. My father, being a wise man, wasn’t as overwhelmed. Finance minister Manmohan Singh didn’t waste time – apparently he asked the delegation that presented the case, “Why did you not come with this proposal before?” Allowing direct exports was far more efficient than for the government to buy coffee through the Coffee Board and sell it on barter to Russia and other countries. But my father could see how things would unfold. “It was great for the big guys but not for small growers, we will face the music soon. The Brits had created the board system only to save the growers from the clutches of the traders,” he said.
I was least interested in coffee trading – it was pale compared to the stock market. But then, we set up Amalgamated Coffee Bean Company to export coffee beans from our estates and from other growers. If there had been no frost in Brazil in 1994, maybe we could not have distinguished ourselves so early on…Coffee prices soared from 75 cents to $3, but we honoured all our contracts at the agreed prices and became the darling in the international market…people knew we will keep our word under all circumstances. In 1995, we became India’s biggest unroasted coffee exporter.
I did not expect that one dinner meeting, where I was dragged by my trader friend Raghu would change the cours