Indians and coffee have a long history to trace. As India is recognized to be a tea-drinking nation with its excellent tea gardens in Darjeeling, Bengal and Assam, it is a relatively unknown fact that coffee was cultivated long before tea, primarily in the northern parts of India.
Today coffee has turned out to be one of the most potent and satiating caffeinated beverages in India and around the world.
South Indian filter coffee
The local coffee brewed extra strong with plenty of sweetened milk and served in ‘dabarah’ which are steel cups that sit atop containers, have been found in parts of South India for centuries now. Let's find out more about this amazing South Indian Filter Coffee.
The beginning of the saga of coffee in India
The history of Coffee in India is rather interesting.
Baba Budan, who was an Indian Muslim saint, smuggled seven coffee beans from the town of Mocha in Yemen to Mysore in India, while he was on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and planted them on the Chandragiri Hills. To take a green coffee seed out of Arabia was considered an illegal act. But the saint’s act of carrying seven coffee beans was considered a religious act as number seven is a sacrosanct number in the Islamic religion. To prevent the germination of coffee beans, Arabs had exercised strict control over its export to other countries by not permitting coffee beans to be exported in any form other than as in a roasted or boiled form.
Coffee Beans - Raw and Roasted
Baba Budan’s first planting of the seeds in 1670 A.D was soon followed by systematic cultivation, mostly by private owners and the first plantation was established in 1840 around the Chandragiri Hills and the hills surrounding it in Karnataka.
But this well-circulated story of Baba Budan may not be the first introduction of Coffee in India.
It was first said to have emerged along the Malabar Coast by the courtesy of the Arab traders. In fact, in 1616 A.D, a quote by Edward Terry in the court of Jahangir demonstrates the presence of coffee even in Mughal India.
Soon the Ottomans lead the charge of spreading coffee all around the world.
The Indian hills that became the haven for coffee
Mullayanagiri is the highest mountain peak in Karnataka and became the first recorded place in India to cultivate coffee when it was introduced to hillsides from Yemen around the mid to late 1600s. This peak forms a part of the Baba Budangiri (on the name of the saint who smuggled the seeds) range of mountains, which form a part of the greater Western Ghats.
Coffee Plantation. Credit: Indiaonline
Coffee as a commercial crop
By the 19th Century, coffee was an established commercial crop and was exported to Europe via London. India is the world’s sixth-largest producer of coffee, and the coffee grown in the forests of India is cultivated under thick canopies in the Western Ghats, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world.
Arabica Coffee Bean Plant
India produced around 5.5 million bags of coffee in the 2016-17 season. The major coffee producing states in our country are the three southern states- Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, followed by Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Arabica and Robusta are the two commercially important species of coffee in India and are grown under a heavy shade that is believed to contribute to the flavor profile of the coffee, along with other geographical influences such as the monsoons, spices that grow around coffee, and the various fauna that thrive alongside.
Freshly Brewed Cup of Black Coffee
India’s shade-grown coffees and it’s long-standing history with the humble brown bean is worthy of promoting and preserving. The coffee culture in India is beyond just enjoying a beverage - it has a rich history and hopefully a promising future.