The History of Indian Coffee
Coffee was first introducted to India in the 1670s, by Baba Budan, an Indian who had been on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He smuggled seven coffee beans out of Arabia, and planted ithem in Karnataka. It was not until much later, however, when the British Raj arrived in the 1800s, that commercial coffee farming became an important activity in India. During those early days Arabica was the primary crop, but disease and crop blight encouraged a lot of farms to switch over to hybrid and Robusta crops.
Today, India has a huge coffee industry, with 388,000 hectares of land devoted to the crop. The majority of the farms are smallholidngs, and 90 percent of the crops are produced in the southern states of the country. Many farms use a two-tired mixed shade system, growing both coffee and fruit crops on the same farm. Most of the farms are at a high altitude – between 700 and 1,200m above sea level.
Common Indian Blends
India is primarily a producer of robusta, but it also makes a small amount of Arabica coffee. The most popular bends are Cauvery, which is a descendent of Bourbon, Kent (a Typica which dates back to the 1920s), and two hybrids – S795 and SL9.
The Indian coffee harvest takes place between November and March, and coffee is usually either processed naturally or washed and then dried in the sun. Some bigger estates do use mechanical driers, but simple sun drying is far more prevalent.
To give Indian coffee its potent and distinctive cup, some farmers use a process known as the “monsooned Malabar”. This processing method aims to replicate the conditions that Indian coffee was initially exposed to when it was transported by sea, in damp and humid conditions, back to England. The farmers store their natural, sun-dried coffee in open-sided warehouses located near to the coast. Over a period of several months, the beans absorb the moisture in the air and begin to swell to about double their original size. They lose a lot of their natural acidic flavour. When they dry out, they take on a pungent aroma and have an earthy taste. This is the flavour that our ancestors associate with Indian coffee, and is the reason why their specialty coffees remain so popular to this day.