The coffee grown in present-day India dates back to seven beans smuggled out of Arabia in the beard of a Muslim pilgrim.
Coffee is a very sensitive plant to grow. It requires ideal conditions of high altitude, adequate rainfall, shade, and a cycle of hot days and cool nights for a healthy crop. With the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats in the south of India providing these unique climate conditions, it is inevitable for Coffee to come to India and boom. India is currently the sixth-largest producer of Coffee in the world.
Two famous subspecies of coffee are widely consumed today. Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is the OG species and got its name from the "Arabia" region. The early consumption is debated but it has been documented since the 12th century in Yemen. The region closely guarded the coffee plant to establish a monopoly and trade was strictly forbidden. But the 16th-century conquest of Arabia by the Ottomans cracked the lines. Eventually, coffee was smuggled throughout the world.
Entry to India
Baba Budan, an Indian pilgrim to Mecca is known to be the first smuggler of coffee. He smuggled seven beans out of the empire by hiding them in his beard and planted them in hills of what is present-day Chikkamagaluru district.
The good old filter coffee
Initially, all plantations were private but with the British East India Company, coffee got a status of high-value export owing to high demand in the west and a low cost of production with cheap labor costs. Soon coffee was all over western ghats across Tamilnadu, Kerela, and Karnataka. With plenty of coffee to go around, it became super popular especially in the south of India and led to the advent of the infamous South Indian Filter Coffee.
Robusta to the rescue
It was smooth sailing until the coffee rust, a coffee fungus decimated production in the early 20th century across the world. Soon, Robusta, a robust species of coffee saved the day. Robusta is more resistant to disease, has higher yields, and can grow in lower altitudes compared to the Arabica.
Leading the way
Coffee production and consumption boomed even further after the liberalization of the Indian economy post-1991. Today, India produces over 350,000 metric tons of coffee. Over one-thirds is for domestic use and the rest is exported all around the world.
The third wave
The 2010s have seen the third wave of coffee in the full ring in India especially with high-quality coffee production so close to home. Gone are the days when all we have are commercially available low-grade coffee beans mixed with high amounts of chicory. Specialty coffee cafes are popping all over the metros. Though the road looks promising, there is a long way ahead for the mass market to forget the taste of sugary chicory coffee and appreciate the intricacy and the art that is Coffee.
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