At Omo, a newly-opened eatery in Gurugram’s swish Galleria market, the smell of coffee pervades the senses as soon as you enter. However, there is nothing usual about the cuppa served here. The eclectic beverage menu features coffee from the northeast of India—with Robusta and Arabica beans sourced directly from producers in villages in Assam, Nagaland and Meghalaya. Powered by the brand, Ngarum, which literally means ‘coming together’, the coffee at Omo is single-origin and organic, grown in the shade of natural forests at an altitude of 1050-1480 metres. One can get citrusy and fruity notes from the varietals, making them especially perfect for innovative cold beverages. The Ngarum coffee is in sync with the ethos of Omo, launched by Rajan Sethi of Bright Hospitality, which focuses on soul-soothing and handcrafted experiences.

Both the food and beverage menus are led by women, with Chef Vanshika Bhatia having curated the 100 percent vegetarian fare, and Grace Muivah crafting the beverage selection. The two are looking at a community-driven, and a ‘farm-to-fork’ philosophy.

Grace Muivah works directly with the farmers, eliminating the middlemen
Grace Muivah works directly with the farmers, eliminating the middlemen

Muivah, a first-generation entrepreneur and a brand leader at Bright Hospitality, worked on Ngarum through the pandemic. She hopes to build a community, which understands and appreciates premium coffee. In the past 3-4 years, coffee from the northeast has come into sharp focus due to the efforts of entrepreneurs such as Muivah. The crop has had a chequered history in the region. It was first introduced in Meghalaya and Assam’s Cachar district in the 1850s. However, the labour intensive processes and lack of technical know-how led to the locals veering away from coffee. 

In the past couple of years, public-private partnerships have led to people rediscovering coffee in the northeast. Take, for instance, Naga Coffee Private Limited, a public-private partnership between the department of land resources and Noble Cause, a South African venture by Pieter Vermeulen, a certified coffee taster and roaster. It has been working towards instilling pride in the local beans. Then there is Dasumarlin Majaw, who started Smoky Falls Tribe Coffee in Meghalaya.

One can get citrusy and fruity notes from the Ngarum varietals
One can get citrusy and fruity notes from the Ngarum varietals

“The Coffee Board of India has been supporting entrepreneurs. State-of-the-art machinery is coming in due to the various public-private partnerships. Farmers now have the incentive to grow coffee,” says Muviah. She started working on Ngarum after Sethi came up with the concept of Omo. The latter wanted only the most premium of coffees, and Muviah suggested getting varieties from the northeast. 

“We got in touch with brands from the region, but they were not willing to give  huge quantities. So, I thought of starting my own brand and Rajan supported me in every way,” she elaborates. Muviah delved into her childhood memories of coffee in Nagaland. Her mother was posted in the Mon district of Nagaland, where certain farmers would grow coffee for personal consumption. “I decided to work directly with such small growers in the northeast such as those in Assam’s Dimasa hills or Mon in Nagaland, eliminating the middlemen. These are all microlots, with a single grower giving 50 to 100 kilograms. It’s heartening to see the quality that we are getting,” says Muivah.