The journey of Indian coffee originates from a fairy tale in an interesting and unique journey made by a Sufi saint, Baba Budan, from India over 400 years ago, while on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He made this ‘now famous’ journey from Mocha, a port city of Yemen that overlooks the Red Sea, to his homeland. Besides being a trading hub for coffee, it was the source of the popular Mocha coffee beans. Baba Budan discovered coffee in the form of a dark and sweet liquid called Qahwah on the way. As he found the drink to be quite refreshing, he decided to bring it back home; and secretly brought back seven coffee beans from Mocha by strapping them to his chest (since the Arabs were extremely protective about their coffee industry). He planted these beans in Chikmagalur, in Karnataka, which was the real genesis of the Indian coffee industry. The hills where he planted these beans are now named Baba Budan Hills.

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Subsequently, coffee plantations continued to thrive in India over the period of British Raj and beyond. The Dutch began to grow coffee in the Malabar region, but a major transition happened when the British led a relentless drive to set up Arabica coffee plantations across the hilly regions in South India, where they found the climatic conditions to be apt for the crop. It all started with an ambitious and enterprising British manager named J H Jolly, who was working for trading company Parry & Co. He felt that the coffee beans growing in the plantations of Chandragiri had huge potential, and sent a petition to the Mysore government of the day for 40 acres of land to grow the crop.

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. However, the industry suffered a huge setback during the Great Depression, and 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. Pooling of coffee produce was the norm in the initial decades of independent India.

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The industry gathered pace in the post liberalisation era when the government allowed coffee planters to market their own produce, rather than selling to a central pool. Today, India is home to 16 unique varieties of coffees that are sourced from 13 distinct coffee growing regions. Coffee in India is grown under a canopy of thick natural shade in ecologically sensitive regions of the Western and Eastern Ghats. Coffee is traditionally grown in the Western Ghats spread over Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Coffee cultivation is also expanding rapidly in the non-traditional areas of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha as well as in the North East.

COFFEE VARIETIES

Coffee growing regions in India are divided into three categories – traditional (Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu); non-traditional (Andhra Pradesh and Orissa on the Eastern Ghats) and the northeastern region (Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh). Coffees grown in different geographies within India, from the Western Ghats to the North East region; experience varying degrees of rainfall, from 800 mm to 4500 mm. This contributes to discernible differences in the end product. They are also grown at varying altitudes from 700 m at Chikmaglur to 2000 m at Pulneys.

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Arabicas have a delicate flavour and balanced aroma coupled with a sharp and sweet taste. They are typically grown on higher altitudes ranging from 600 to 2000 metres in cool, moisture-rich and subtropical weather conditions. They also require nutrient-rich soil to be able to conform to the highest international coffee standards.Robustas have twice the level of caffeine as compared to Arabicas. This variant is identifiable with a very strong taste, a grainy essence and an aftertaste that reminds you of peanuts. It is possible to grow this variety at lower heights, and these plants can better withstand the onslaught of unfriendly weather as well as plant pests. They also have a better yield and take lesser time to bear fruit as compared to Arabica. Although the Arabica variety is preferred in international markets, high quality Robustas are also sought after in espressos, due to their strong taste and the crema that they help generate.

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Thirteen different varieties of coffees from India can be identified based on their origins. The Arabica producing regions include Anamalais, Bababudangiris, Biligiris, Araku Valley, Brahmaputra, Shevaroys, and Pulneys. The major Robusta producing varieties come from Wayanaad (largest producer of Robusta) and Travancore. In addition, Coorg, Chikmaglur, Nilgiris and Manjarabad are famous for both the Arabica and Robusta varieties. The details for each of the 13 varieties of Indian coffee are as follows:

Regional varieties of Indian coffee:

Anamalais (Tamil Nadu)
  • Elevation: 1000-1400 m MSL
  • Rainfall: 2500-3000 mm
  • Main coffee type: Arabica
  • Total area under coffee: 2,500 ha
  • Average production: 1,500 MT
  • Main varieties: S.795, Cauvery, Sln.9
  • Main intercrops: Pepper, Orange, Banana

Elephants are widely found in the Annamalais, a medium altitude mountain range on the southern tip of the Western Ghats that experiences high rainfall. The Arabicas here are finely grown large beans that are greyish green in colour. The coffee from these beans tends to be more balanced with a strong aroma coupled with a citrus essence.

Araku valley (Andhra Pradesh)
  • Elevation: 900-1100 m MSL
  • Rainfall: 1000-1200 mm
  • Main coffee type: Arabica
  • Total area under coffee: 20,000 ha
  • Average production: 3,100 MT
  • Main varieties: S.795, Sln.4, Sln.5, Cauvery
  • Main intercrops: Pepper, Mango, Jackfruit, Vegetables

The Araku Valley situated in the Eastern Ghats of northern Andhra Pradesh and southern Orissa is inundated with a vibrant and colourful population of parrots. The development of coffee plantations here is more recent, and has been a boon to the tribal populations here, since it has provided them with a viable alternative to their traditional methods of shifting cultivation. This region produces coffee with medium body, medium to sharp acidity and intense aroma with spicy notes.

Bababudangiris (Karnataka)
  • Elevation: 1000-1500 m MSL
  • Rainfall: 1750-2200 mm
  • Main coffee type: Arabica
  • Total area under coffee: 15,000 ha
  • Average production: 10,500 MT
  • Main varieties: S.795, Sln.9, Cauvery
  • Intercrops: Pepper, Cardamom, Arecanut

The region where the story of Indian coffee was born is named in honour of the legendary saint Baba Budan. With a peak altitude of 1500 metres, the region is frequented by spotted deer. The plantations here produce full bodied Arabicas, which ripen at a relatively slower pace due to the mild weather conditions. The coffee from these carefully selected beans, which are processed through natural fermentation, has a full body, acidity, mild flavour and unmistakeable aroma with a hint of chocolate.

Biligiris (Karnataka/Tamil Nadu)
  • Elevation: 1500-2000 m MSL
  • Rainfall: 1100-1200 mm
  • Main coffee type: Arabica
  • Total area under coffee: 800 ha
  • Average production: 700-800 MT
  • Main varieties: S.795, Sln.9, Cauvery
  • Main intercrops: Orange, Banana, Pepper
  • Major wild life presence: Sambar

The literal meaning of Biligiris is ‘white hills’, and these hills in south-eastern Karnataka get the name because their peaks are covered with silver clouds and white mist for most of the year. They are among the highest altitude coffee growing regions in India, and the most famous variety coming from this region is the high elevation S.795 Arabica. The coffee ripens slowly under a mild shade of silver oaks and fruit trees, and has a full body, extremely sweet aroma and a uniquely mild flavour.

Brahmaputra
  • Elevation: 800-1200 m MSL
  • Rainfall: 1500-2000 mm
  • Main coffee type: Arabica
  • Total area under coffee: 5,000 ha
  • Average production: 300 MT
  • Main varieties: S.795, Cauvery
  • Main intercrops: Pineapple, Pepper, Jackfruit, Vegetables

Coffee growing in the seven sister states of Northeast India – Assam, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur, Sikkim and Nagaland has been taken up in more recent history for uplifting the tribal communities in the region. The Brahmaputra river flows across these states, where it is common to find the mighty one-horned rhinoceros. While these states are all located to the south of the Himalayas, each of them has their own distinct identities. Current production levels are small, but the Arabicas from the region are unique because the coffee from them has a medium to full body, a uniquely fruity essence, mild levels of acidity and a pleasant aroma.

Chikmagalur (Karnataka)
  • Elevation: 700-1200 m MSL
  • Rainfall: 1000-4500 mm
  • Main coffee types: Arabica, Robusta
  • Total area under coffee: Arabica – 37,000 ha, Robusta – 23,000 ha
  • Average production: Arabica – 29,000 MT, Robusta – 30,000 MT
  • Main varieties: Arabica – S.795, Sln.5B, Sln.9, Cauvery
  • Robusta – Peridenia, S.274, CxR
  • Main intercrops: Pepper, Cardamom, Arecanut, Orange, Vanilla

Chikmagalur in Karnataka is especially renowned as a tourist paradise with dense forests and wildlife sanctuaries (with an abundant presence of beautiful and colourful peacocks) apart from huge coffee plantations. It is home to the Central Coffee Research Institute and is also called the Coffee Country of India. The Arabica beans from this region produce coffee that has a medium body coupled with a light acidity and flavour, and medium to intense aroma.

Coorg (Karnataka)
  • Elevation: 750-1100 m MSL
  • Rainfall: 1000-2500 mm
  • Main coffee types: Arabica, Robusta
  • Total area under coffee: Arabica – 26,000 ha, Robusta – 56,000 ha
  • Average production: Arabica – 24,000 MT, Robusta – 69,000 MT
  • Main varieties: Arabica – S.795, Sln.6, Sln.9,
  • Cauvery; Robusta – S.274, CxR
  • Main intercrops: Pepper, Cardamom, Orange, Banana, Arecanut

Coorg, where huge swarms of honey bees are often found buzzing across plantations, is India’s largest coffee producing district. The district, which is popular for its honey as well, is the source of the Cauvery river and has a rich history associated with the brave Kodava warriors. The region produces both Arabicas and Robustas and also boasts of the highest productivity. A lot of intercropping of coffee plantations is done with spices like ginger and black pepper in Coorg. While the Arabicas from Coorg are lightly acidic with a mild flavour and strong aroma, the Robustas are soft and neutral, with hues of chocolate.

Manjarabad (Karnataka)
  • Elevation: 900-1100 m MSL
  • Rainfall: 1000-2500 mm
  • Main coffee types: Arabica, Robusta
  • Total area under coffee: Arabica – 31,700 ha, Robusta – 9,400 ha
  • Average production: Arabica – 21,000 MT, Robusta – 9,500 MT
  • Main varieties: Arabica – S.795, Sln.6, Sln.9, Cauvery Robusta – S.274, CxR
  • Main intercrops: Pepper, Cardamom, Orange, Arecanut, Banana
  • Major wild life presence: Jungle fowl

Manjarabad is a relatively small geographical coffee growing area between Chikmagalur and Coorg, with medium elevation mountains and rainfall ranging from 1000-2500 mm. The region is characterised by gentle sloping terrains and small streams, and is home to the jungle fowl. Though it is a small region, the mixed shade Arabicas produced here are among the best, and planters in the region are known to be very innovative in deploying new technologies. These coffees have a medium to full body, mild acidity, medium to intense aroma and pleasant flavour.

Nilgiris (Tamil Nadu)
  • Elevation: 900-1400 m MSL
  • Rainfall: 1600-2600 mm
  • Main coffee types: Arabica, Robusta
  • Total area under coffee: Arabica – 3,600 ha, Robusta – 4,000 ha
  • Average production: Arabica – 1,400 MT, Robusta – 2,800 MT
  • Main varieties: Arabica – S.795, Kents, Cauvery Robusta – Peridenia, S.274, CxR
  • Main intercrops: Pepper, Orange, Banana, Ginger, Vegetables
  • Major wild life presence: Spotted leopards

Nilgiris, or Blue Mountains, are situated on the Western Ghats and have elevations ranging from 5000 feet to 8800 feet. Besides its wildlife sanctuaries that host the spotted leopard, the region is known for high quality teas as well as some of the best ‘Kents’ Arabica. The coffee beans are bold and bluish green in colour, and ripen slowly in the mild climate. The beans produce coffee with full body, sharp acidity, striking aroma and mild flavour.

Pulneys (Tamil Nadu)
  • Elevation: 600-2000 m MSL
  • Rainfall: 1000-1600 mm
  • Main coffee type: Arabica
  • Total area under coffee: 14,000 ha
  • Average production: 7,500 MT
  • Main varieties: S.795, Sln.5B, Sln.9, Sln.10, Cauvery
  • Main intercrops: Orange, Banana, Pepper, Cardamom, Vegetables

The Pulneys hill range is situated adjacent to the popular Kodaikanal hill resort, which is on the southernmost tip of the Western Ghats. Among the unique features of this hill range is the bluebell-like Kurinji flower that is visible only once in 12 years. Some of the best Arabicas are grown here like S.795, S1n.10 and Cauvery. These coffees have medium body, medium plus acidity and a slight favour coupled with a citrus aroma.

Sheveroys (Tamil Nadu)
  • Elevation: 900-1500 m MSL
  • Rainfall: 800-1500 mm
  • Main coffee type: Arabica
  • Total area under coffee: 5,000 ha
  • Average production: 3,000 MT
  • Main varieties: S.795, Cauvery, Sln.9
  • Main intercrops: Orange, Banana, Pepper

The Sheveroys region has large lakes and tall peaks, where premium Arabica coffees like S.795, S1n.9 and Cauvery are grown at altitudes of up to 5000 feet under silver oaks. These plants are commonly intercropped with orange trees and pepper vines. The berries mature at a slow rate and acquire a bluish green colour. They produce coffee with a medium body, good acidity and slight flavour with a tinge of spice. The lower areas of the hills in the region are frequented by the Gaur or Indian bison.

Travancore (Kerala)
  • Elevation: 400-1600 m MSL
  • Rainfall: 2000-4000 mm
  • Main coffee type: Robusta
  • Total area under coffee: 13,000 ha
  • Average production: 9,000 MT
  • Main varieties: S.274, CxR
  • Main intercrops: Pepper, Banana, Ginger, Vegetables, Medicinal plants

Travancore is an erstwhile princely state in southern Kerala, where lotus flowers are often found growing in shallow waters. Two separate coffee growing areas are part of the region – Idduki (mostly Robusta) and Nelliampathys (both Arabica and Robusta). The mountains of Idduki are of medium to high elevation, and are also home to numerous plantation crops, spices and medicinal plants. Nelliampathys, on the other hand, is well known for CxR variety of Robustas. These Robustas have a full body and sweet taste with very little bitterness.

Wayanaad (Kerala)
  • Elevation: 600-900 m MSL
  • Rainfall: 1100-1200 mm
  • Main coffee type: Robusta
  • Total area under coffee: 67,000 ha
  • Average production: 54,000 MT
  • Main varieties: Peridenia, S.274, CxR
  • Main intercrops: Pepper, Banana, Ginger, Vegetables

Wayanaad in northern Kerala is popular as the home of the Indian tiger. In addition, it is the largest Robusta producing region in India with its medium altitude hills characterised by their gentle slopes and rich laterite soil. A wide variety of plantation crops are grown in the small coffee plantations in this region, including spices and condiments as well as staple foods like yam. The CxR and S.274 Robusta varieties from Wayanaad are most popular with their softish to neutral essence, full body and strong aroma with hints of chocolate.

HEALTH & LIFESTYLE

Coffee is loaded with antioxidants and beneficial nutrients that can improve health. Caffeine, a substance in coffee is scientifically proven to help improving mental performance. A small amount of caffeine in a cup coffee omits large amount of energy and mental boost, enough for us to embrace challenges for the day.

Coffee can improve energy levels and make you smarter

Coffee can help people feel less tired and increase energy levels. This is because it contains a stimulant called caffeine, which is actually the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world.

Coffee can help you burn fat

Several studies show that caffeine, a substance in coffee can increase fat burning in the body and boost the metabolic rate.

Coffee can drastically improve physical performance

Caffeine, a substance in coffee can increase adrenaline levels and release fatty acids from the fat tissues. It also leads to significant improvements in physical performance.

There are essential nutrients in coffee

Coffee contains several important nutrients, including Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Manganese, Potassium, Magnesium and Niacin.

Coffee may lower the risk of type II diabetes

Several observational studies show that coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of getting type II diabetes.

Coffee may protect from Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia

Coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease, which is a leading cause of dementia worldwide.

Coffee may lower the risk of Parkinson’s disease

Coffee drinkers have up to a 60 per cent lower risk of getting Parkinson’s disease, the second most common neurodegenerative disorder.

Coffee appears to have protective effects on the liver

Coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of developing cirrhosis, which can be caused by several diseases that affect the liver.

Coffee can fight depression and make you happier

Depression is a serious mental disorder that causes a significantly reduced quality of life. Coffee appears to lower the risk of developing depression.

Coffee drinkers have a lower risk of some types of cancer

Coffee appears to be protective against two types of cancer; liver cancer and colorectal cancer.

Coffee does not cause heart disease and may lower the risk of stroke

Coffee drinkers do not have an increased risk of heart disease, but a slightly lower risk of stroke.

Coffee may help you live longer

Several studies show that coffee drinkers are less likely to get many diseases, it makes sense that coffee could help you live longer.

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