The Journey Of Coffee In India
Image Credit: Source: Unsplash

In India, the history of coffee is fascinating. While on a journey to Mecca, Baba Budan, an Indian Muslim saint, sneaked seven coffee beans from Mocha, Yemen, to Mysore, India, and planted them on the Chandragiri Hills. It was considered forbidden to take a green coffee seed out of Arabia. However, because the number seven is a sacred number in Islam, the saint's act of bringing seven coffee beans was considered a religious deed. To prevent coffee beans from germinating, Arabs strictly controlled their export to other countries, only allowing them to be shipped roasted or boiled. The first plantation was developed in 1840 around the Chandragiri Hills and the hills around it in Karnataka, following Baba Budan's first planting of the seeds in 1670 A.D.

However, the narrative of Baba Budan may not be the first one to have introduced coffee to India. It is thought to have initially appeared near the Malabar Coast, thanks to Arab traders. Indeed, a quote from Edward Terry in the court of Jahangir in 1616 A.D. proves the availability of coffee in Mughal India. Soon after, the Ottomans took the lead in distributing coffee throughout the world.

Mullayanagiri is Karnataka's tallest mountain peak, and it was the first spot in India where coffee was planted after it was brought from Yemen in the mid to late 1600s. This peak is part of the Baba Budangiri range of mountains, which are part of the wider Western Ghats and are named after the saint who smuggled the seeds.

Coffee was a well-established commercial crop by the nineteenth century, and it was exported to Europe via London. India is the world's sixth-largest coffee grower, and coffee grown in India's forests is grown under dense canopies in the Western Ghats, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the world's most important biodiversity hotspots.

Coffee was really grown long before tea, primarily in Northern India. This is a little-known fact because India is recognised as a tea-drinking country, with outstanding tea gardens in Darjeeling, Bengal, and Assam.

India produced 5.5 million bags of coffee in the 2016-17 season. The three southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala produce the majority of the country's coffee, followed by Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, which was once part of Andhra Pradesh. Karnataka accounts for over 65 per cent of total production, with Tamil Nadu contributing about 15 per cent and Kerala accounting for around 20 per cent. More than 210,000 coffee growers are reported to exist in India, the bulk of whom are small farmers with plots of less than two hectares. India, like other producing countries, uses both the washed (or wet) and natural (or dry) methods to process coffee.

India is known for its exceptional shade-grown coffee. Arabica and Robusta, the two most economically important species of coffee, are cultivated under a dense shadow, which is thought to add to the flavour profile of the coffee, as well as other factors such as the monsoons, spices that grow surrounding coffee, and the varied fauna that flourish alongside it.

The combination of species in this bio-diverse growing habitat minimises soil erosion, and falling leaves degrade into rich humus, preserving the forest ecology. Because it is produced at higher altitudes, Arabica grown in the Indian Rainforest is unique in its attributes and sought after for its flavour and features.