Coffee has been cultivated in India since the 17th century and has become one of the prominent plantation crops in India.
The way India grows coffee is unique – under a canopy of different varieties of shade trees which ensures that the canopy of tree cover is always maintained. These shade trees ( usually in 2 tiers ) provide a unique microclimate that enables it to sustain a wide variety of flora & fauna. In fact, very few countries have this type of “shade tree microenvironment”. This biodiversity available in Indian coffee plantations is quite simply phenomenal and Indian Coffee scores high on all environmental friendly parameters, when compared to not only coffee, is grown in other countries but also across all other farming/ crop systems ( agricultural crops like paddy, wheat, cotton, sugarcane or other plantation crops like tea, areca nut, etc )
India is also unique in that both the varieties of coffee – Arabica & Robusta are grown. While our Arabica is used in high-quality blends in most of the very sophisticated markets like Germany, Italy & Belgium; our Robustas are considered as the best in the world! In fact, Indian washed Robustas command a substantial premium in the world market and is used in making the world-famous espressos and cappuccinos. 70 % of our coffees are exported and almost all are at a premium. This is again unique when compared to other products exported from India which is usually at a discount.
Coffee cultivation changed from being small family farms into organized plantations primarily during the British reign. Coffee plantations as we know today is a result of painstaking hard work and efforts put in by legendary planters of the 19th and early 20th century. After independence, the ownership gradually changed hands to Indian owners who continued in the tradition of maintaining well-managed plantations.
Since coffee plantations were located in remote areas and hilly terrain; the only means of socializing was the local Club which has led to the unique plantation culture seen till today. Local communities in the prime plantation districts take pride in their respective Clubs which are often the hub of all socio-economic activities.
In Karnataka which produces 70 % of India’s coffee; the 3 main coffee growing districts are Chikmagalur, Kodagu & Hassan. One visit to any of these districts will awe the casual visitor of the sheer greenness and tree canopy cover present everywhere. In fact on most mountain slopes it is not possible to make out that there is coffee grown over there; such is the amount of tree cover found in India! This coupled with the numerous water resources that are preserved by the planters truly makes coffee plantations a biodiversity wonder that maintains the ecological balance and harmony like no other farming/business model!