History & Origin of Indian Coffee

coffee in India

The history (and origin) of coffee in India dates back to around 1600 AD, when the Indian Sufi saint, Baba Budan, went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He made his ‘legendary’ journey from Mocha, a port city of Yemen that overlooks the Red Sea, to his homeland.

Besides being a trading hub for coffee, Mocha was the source of the popular Mocha coffee beans. Baba Budan discovered coffee in the form of a dark and sweet liquid called Qahwa1 on the way. He found the drink refreshing and secretly brought back seven coffee beans from Mocha by strapping them to his chest since the Arabs were extremely protective of their coffee industry.

Origin of Coffee in India

Baba Budan’s Courtyard in Chikmagalur – The Birthplace & Origin of Coffee in India

After returning from his pilgrimage, Baba Budan planted the Seven Seeds of Mocha1 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.

Indian coffee

The History of 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.

Commercial coffee plantations in India started with an ambitious and enterprising British manager named JH Jolly, who was working Parry & Co., a trading company. He felt that the coffee beans growing in the plantations of Chandragiri had tremendous potential, and sent a petition to the Mysore government of the day for 40 acres of land to grow coffee.

The success of this endeavour encouraged more people to take the plunge into the coffee plantation business and led to the proliferation of plantations across the region. Slowly but steadily, a vibrant ecosystem also began to evolve.

How the Coffee Board of India Was Formed

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 Cultivation and Plantations after 1947

The pooling of coffee produce was the norm in the first decades of independent India. However, the coffee industry gathered pace in the post-liberalization era (i.e., after 1991), when the government allowed coffee planters to market their products, rather than selling to a central pool.

  • Today, India is home to 16 unique coffee varieties.
  • Indian coffee is grown under a canopy of thick natural shade in ecologically sensitive regions of the Western and Eastern Ghats.
  • Indian coffee is traditionally grown in the Western Ghats spread over Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.
  • 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.

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.

This biodiversity available in Indian coffee

The Indian populace is not only cost-conscious but also quirky and widely different from their international counterparts. For Indians, hanging out in a cafe is more a lifestyle statement and choice rather than a habit.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.

Today, the Cafe business in India is studded with homegrown and international cafes chains alike, each adopting a different approach, varied target group, and multi-layered positioning to capture the market share and have a larger share in the pie.