Around 1600 AD, Mocha, a port city of Yemen, was a trading hub for coffee and was the source of the popular Mocha coffee beans. Around this time, Baba Budan, an Indian Sufi saint, went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. On his return journey, at Mocha, he experienced coffee for the first time and described it as a dark and sweet liquid which he found very refreshing. The Arabs were very protective of their coffee industry and so Baba Budan secretly brought back seven coffee beans from Mocha by strapping them to his chest and the rest is history.
Baba Budan's Courtyard, Chikmagalur – The Birthplace & Origin of Coffee in India
After returning from his pilgrimage, Baba Budan planted the seven seeds of coffee in the courtyard of his hermitage in Chikmagalur, Karnataka – the birthplace and origin of coffee in India. The coffee plants gradually spread as backyard plantings, and later on to the hills of what is now known as Baba Budan Hills. Since then coffee plantations have become established in the region, extending south to Kodagu or Coorg.
Coffee Cultivation & Commercial Plantations
Coffee cultivation grew and thrived in India during British rule and beyond. The Dutch began to grow coffee in the Malabar region. Still, a significant transition happened when the British led a relentless drive to set up Arabica coffee plantations across the hilly areas of South India, where they found the climatic conditions to be apt for the crop. Coffee became an established commercial crop by the turn of the 19th Century and was exported to Europe via London.
Formation of Coffee Board of India
The coffee industry suffered a huge setback during the Great Depression. The government stepped in by setting up the Coffee Cess Committee, which later became the Coffee Board of India. Initially, the Board provided funding to exporters. When World War 2 sealed export routes, the Board began to buy coffee from planters and took upon itself the responsibility of marketing the produce.
Coffee Today in India
Coffee grown in the forests of India, the world’s sixth largest producer of coffee, is cultivated under thick canopies in the Western Ghats — a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots. Today, India is home to 16 unique coffee varieties. Indian coffee is traditionally grown in the Western Ghats and a majority of the country’s coffee is grown in the three southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. Nearly 53 of the total production comes from Karnataka, while Kerala and Tamil Nadu contribute 28% and 11% respectively. Over the years coffee cultivation in India has expanded rapidly to non-traditional areas like, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha on the Eastern Coast, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh in the North East. Most of India’s coffee exports go to Europe, Japan and the Middle East
It has been estimated that almost 10000 tonnes of coffee is cultivated by more than 210,000 coffee producers in India annually.
Traditionally India has been known as a tea drinking nation, coffee as a staple beverage has been largely confined to South India. In the last decade or so things have started changing. We are now seeing a gradual shift towards consumption of coffee, however, coffee still has a long way to go before it catches up with tea.