Food & Beverage

Sep 1, 2016


Very few people could imagine their lives without coffee. At breakfast, or after lunch, either an expresso, or a double – black, no sugar, coffee has won pride of place in the day-to-day life of great part of the World's population. It is produced in various places throughout the world, but today, we will tell you a little bit of history and production of coffee in India.

The existence of coffee is surrounded in mystery of which very few records exists. The plant is native throughout Africa, and is also thought to be indigenous to Arabia, so it is not possible to attribute a single place or time to its use before mid-XV Century. The records of its use or existence that survived, are from that time, in the Sufi monasteries – a branch of Islam, in Yemen, Southern Arabia. Coffee was exported in beans from Ethiopia to Arabia Felix, present-time Yemen, where it was cultivated and marketed, and from here it spread to other countries. By the XVI century, it would have reached the whole Middle-East, Persia, Turkey, and North of Africa, from where it would reach Europe, and thus the rest of the world.

In India, coffee also came from Yemen, but it was not imported. The legend of how they got here says that, in the XVII century, the merchants were very protective of their coffee, so they only sold it already toasted and ground, or even infused. An Indian Sufi called Baba Budam was on a pilgrimage, and upon his passing through the coffee trading city of Mocha, Yemen, he discovered the drink, named qahwa, and decided to bring the beans that brewed it back home. He secretly tied seven beans of coffee to his chest, and planted them in the hills in Chikmagalur, Karnataka, in the Southwest of India. Today, these hills are called Baba Budangiri - Baba Budan Hills.

Here is where the cultivation of coffee in India was born. Throughout the following 400 years, the coffee industry developed in a more or less stable rhythm. The coffee plantations multiplied, in such a way that they even created its own vibrant ecosystem. In the XX century, the industry suffered some drawbacks, with the World Wars and the trading embargos, but it managed to recover, and is today the origin of 16 unique varieties of coffee, that come from diferent areas of production. Of these, three are specialty coffees: the Monsooned Malabar, the Mysore Nuggets, and the Robusta Kaapi Royale.

Starting with the Monsooned Malabar, it is a humidified coffee, that has its origin in a contretemps: several centuries ago, when the coffee was being transported in ships to Europe, the monsoon winds caused the grains to swell, as well as change colour, and attributed an intensely mellow aroma. Today, this effect is reproduced in curing areas especially made for this purpose, in the West Coast of Southern India. In the curing areas, the monsoon winds circulate freely through the open bags, infiltrating in them, allowing the beans to absorb humidity.

The Mysore Nuggets is an exotic coffee, prepared with washed arabicas, cultivated in the regions of Chikmagalur, Coorg, Biligiris, Bababudangiris and Shevaroys. These coffee beans are very large, of a blueish-green colour, and a clean polish appearance. The infusion has a full aroma, medium to good body, good acidity and a fine flavour, with a hint of spice. It is a rare premium coffee that truly represents the best quality coffee from India.

Finally, the Robusta Kaapi Royale, which is prepared with grains of Robusta Parchment, from the regions of Coorg, Wayanad, Chikmagalur and Travancore. The beans are bold, round with pointed ends, and bluish-grey in colour. The brew brings a full body, and a soft, smooth, and mellow flavour.

Even before it is harvested, Indian coffee already features a unique and privileged origin. Here, the plantations grown under a dense natural shade, like a canopy of trees, which have the function of preventing the erosion of the soil in uneven terrains, enrich the soil by recycling nutrients of deeper layers, besides protecting the coffee plants from seasonal temperature fluctuations, as well as sheltering diversified flora and fauna. There are nearly 50 different types of shadowy trees in these areas.

There are also various spices, as a wide variety of spices and fruit crops, such as pepper, cardamom, vanilla, orange, and banana, grow around the coffee plants.

India exports almost 80% of its coffee production to over 45 countries, among them Germany, Russia, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia, United States of America, Japan, Greece, Netherlands, France, and Italy.

Although it has been mainly an export product, there has been a growth in domestic sales. The coffee consumption in India has more than doubled (it is estimated that it went from 50,000 million tonnes in 1998 to 115,000 million tonnes in 2011), leading to a series of national and international Indian coffee retail chains to set up shop in this country.

There are approximately 280,241 coffee growers in India, 99% of which are small, and the 1% are medium to large growers. In 2015-16, the coffee plantations in this country employed around 632,993 people on a daily basis.

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