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Coffee Varieties

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Types of Coffee

There are basically two types of coffee consumed most commonly worldwide - Arabica and Robusta - that grow from the two main species of coffee plants: Coffee Arabica and Coffee Robusta respectively. Although there are numerous varieties of coffee plants, Arabica and Robusta are the most important from a commercial standpoint.

Arabica Coffee

Arabica coffees (or Arabicas) have a delicate flavour and balanced aroma coupled with a sharp and sweet taste. They have about half the amount of caffeine compared to Robustas. Arabicas are harvested between November to January, and are typically grown on higher altitudes ranging from 600 to 2000 metres in cool, moisture-rich and subtropical weather conditions. They require nutrient-rich soil to be able to conform to the highest international coffee standards.

Four popular varieties of Arabica coffee are:

  • Kents Coffee
  • S.795 Coffee
  • Cauvery Coffee
  • Sln.9 (Selection 9) Coffee

Robusta Coffee

Robusta coffees (or Robustas) have twice the level of caffeine compared to Arabicas. Robusta coffees have a very strong taste, a grainy essence and an aftertaste somewhat similar to that of peanuts. It is possible to grow this variety at lower heights. Robusta coffee plants are harvested from December to February, and can better withstand the onslaught of unfriendly weather and plant pests.

Robustas have a better yield and take less time to bear fruit than Arabicas. Although the Arabica variety is preferred in international markets, high quality Robustas are also highly sought after in espressos due to their strong taste and the crema1 that they help generate.

Two popular varieties of Robusta coffee are:

  • S.274 Coffee
  • CxR Coffee

Important Coffee Varieties1 – By Plant Type

Kents Coffee

Kents – the earliest variety of Arabica coffee – was selected by an English planter with the same name during the 1920s. It remained popular with planters until the 1940s due to the lower susceptibility of this particular coffee plant to rust. Although it is currently grown in a few areas only, Kents coffee is known for its exceptional cup quality.

S.795 Coffee

The most popular variety of Arabica coffee in India, S.795 was launched in the 1940s. The S.795 coffee plant is known for its superior quality, high yields, bold beans and better relative tolerance to leaf rust. The S.795 coffee plant was developed using the Kents Arabica coffee plant, known for its top quality. A widely cultivated Arabica variety, it has a balanced cup with the subtle flavour notes of Mocha coffee.

Cauvery Coffee

Also known as Catimor, the Cauvery coffee plant is a hybrid descendent of Caturra (a natural mutant of the high quality Bourbon variety) and Hybrido-de-Timor. The Cauvery coffee plant inherited the superior quality attributes of Caturra and the tough resistance of Hybrido-de-Timor.

Sln.9 Coffee (Selection 9 Coffee)

The Selection 9 coffee plant is a hybrid between Tafarikela (an Ethiopian Arabica collection) and the tough and resistant Hybrido-de-Timor. It boasts of all the superior cup quality traits of Tafarikela, and won the Fine Cup Award for best Arabica at the Flavour of India – Cupping Competition 2002 organised by Coffee Board of India.

Important Coffee Varieties – By Region

13 different varieties of Indian coffee can be identified based on their origins.

  • Major Arabica producing regions include Anamalais, Bababudangiris, Biligiris, Araku Valley, Brahmaputra, Shevaroys, and Pulneys
  • Major Robusta producing regions include 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 regional varieties of Indian coffee are given below.

Coffee from 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

The Anamalais region is known for its wildlife sanctuaries – with spotted leopards and elephants. This medium altitude mountain range on the southern tip of the Western Ghats experiences high rainfall. The plantations are home to high-grown Arabicas, including the exotic Kents. The Arabicas here are finely grown large beans that are greyish green in colour, and tend to be more balanced with a strong aroma coupled with a citrus essence.

Coffee from 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

Home to colourful parrots, the Araku Valley is situated in the Eastern Ghats of northern Andhra Pradesh and southern Orissa. 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. Coffee from Araku Valley is characterised by medium body, medium to sharp acidity and intense aroma with spicy notes.

Coffee from 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 birthplace of Indian coffee, Bababudangiris is named in honour of the legendary saint Baba Budan1 – who brought coffee to India. With a peak altitude of 1500 metres, the region is frequented by spotted deer. The coffee plantations here produce full bodied Arabicas, which ripen at a relatively slower pace due to 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.

Coffee from 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.

Coffee from the Brahmaputra Region
  • 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 is grown in the all the 8 states of Northeast India – Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Sikkim and Nagaland. The Brahmaputra river – which flows across Assam and Arunachal Pradesh – is the lifeline of this region which is home to the mighty one-horned rhinoceros found in Kaziranga National Park. Although current production levels are relatively low, the Arabica coffee from this region is unique with a medium to full body, a uniquely fruity essence, mild levels of acidity and a pleasant aroma.

Coffee from 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 (among other species) 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 produces coffee that has a medium body coupled with a light acidity and flavour, and medium to intense aroma.

Coffee from 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 is India's largest coffee producing district. The district, which is also popular for its honey, 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. The Arabica coffees from Coorg are lightly acidic with a mild flavour and strong aroma, while the Robusta coffees are soft and neutral, with hues of chocolate.

Coffee from 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. Although it is a small region, the mixed shade Arabicas produced here are among the best, and planters in the region are known for employing innovative technologies. Coffees from Manjarabad have a medium to full body, mild acidity, medium to intense aroma and pleasant flavour.

Coffee from 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 some of the best Kents Arabica (as well as high quality teas). The coffee beans are bold and bluish green in colour, and ripen slowly in the mild climate. Nilgiri coffee has a full body, sharp acidity, striking aroma and mild flavour.

Coffee from 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, 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.

Coffee from 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. 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.

Coffee from 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.

Coffee from 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 the largest Robusta producing region in India with medium altitude, gently sloping hills with 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. Wayanaad coffees are prepared from the washed Arabicas of Chikmagalur, Coorg, Biligiris, Bababudangiris and Shevaroys. The coffee beans are large, bluish-green in colour and have a clean polished appearance. The CxR and S.274 Robusta varieties from Wayanaad are popular for their soft to neutral essence, full body and strong aroma with hints of chocolate.

Coffee Growing Regions of India

India's coffee growing regions can be divided into three categories:

  • Traditional coffee growing regions, such as Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu
  • Non-traditional (i.e. relatively new) coffee growing regions, such as Andhra Pradesh and Orissa on the Eastern Ghats
  • North-Eastern coffee growing regions, such as Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh

Coffee in India is grown in different geographies, under varying degrees of rainfall (ranging from 800 mm to 4500 mm) – and altitudes (ranging from 700 m at Chikmaglur to 2000 m at Pulneys). These differences bring subtle but exciting variations to the flavour Indian coffee.

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