Until the year 2000, Indian coffee was considered a filler coffee and was being used by the International market to fill-in the crevices of the coffee cup! The marketing of Indian coffee was liberalised in 1995 and with it arose changes in its quality, in its domestic consumption and in the marketing strategy being followed by the coffee grower.
Since liberalisation of the coffee market, the Indian coffee grower has been traversing a long and arduous journey to improve and upgrade the quality of his coffee, arising not only out of sheer necessity, but also due to market specifics and pride in his produce.
Though the coffee journey has been long, arduous and challenging, today, Indian coffee has not only improved in quality, especially in the cup, but is also finding its way into the blends of important roasters around the world and at the same time, also being sold as standalone ‘single origin’ estate branded coffees. This rise in the quality of Indian coffee is due to the efforts of the coffee grower in understanding and implementing the requirements of the global market and the local market and ensuring that his produce meets with consumer requirements.
The Indian Coffee Board and the Government of India have also played a no small role in upgrading the quality of Indian coffee and helping the coffee grower to sell his coffee at a premium to coffee connoisseurs around the world. Post liberalisation of the coffee market in India, the Indian Coffee Board has been devoting its attention to research, extension, quality, and promotion, with considerable achievement in these areas. Added, the Government of India has been supporting the Board in its endeavours, especially in ensuring that the research on coffee is carried out on a need basis and helping the coffee grower to improve the quality of his coffee produce through processing refinement, which requires updated processing machinery.
The Distinct Value Propositions of Indian coffee are innumerable.
- Not only is India advanced in her democratic development, but there are also laws which exist to protect workers’ rights and makes specific reference to the importance of gender equations/rights. The plantation workers have been covered and protected as early as 1942 by the Plantation Labour Act 1942, which ensures apart from wages, the social and security aspect also. This has positively helped in the sustained development of the Indian coffee industry.
- Indian coffee has always been grown under shade. One may argue that it is a necessity for coffee cultivation in India. However, even though it is a necessity, the Indian coffee grower has examined the type of shade trees that can be grown along with his coffee plants, thus helping in the sustainability of his produce, improving the quality of his coffee beans, and at the same time preserving the ecology of the region, with innumerable birds and animals not only visiting the coffee plantations, but also making their homes in the coffee regions.
- From the inception of coffee cultivation in India by the British, which dates back to around 1870, the Indian coffee grower has cultivated not only coffee, but also a large number of other crops along with his coffee produce, thus helping in sustaining himself, and at the same time, ensuring the nutritional status of the soil and preserving the environment. Pepper has been grown along with coffee since the start of coffee cultivation in India and today, we have an array of crops such as cloves, cardamom, vanilla, oranges, bananas, arecanut and sappotas being grown along with coffee.
A diversified pattern of cultivation is the hallmark of any Indian coffee plantation.
- While world over, research is being carried out to see the effect of the shade tree on the cup quality of coffee, we, in India, have found that, coffee which is grown under the shade of fruit trees has better and improved taste profile when compared to coffee, which is being grown on the same coffee plantation, but under the shade of non-fruit trees. While the cup finding has been established, we are yet to establish the science behind the effect of the fruit tree on the cup quality of Indian coffee.
- India grows both the commercially viable varieties of coffee, namely Arabica and Robusta. While 6o to 65% of the coffee that is grown world over is arabica and is considered better in flavour when compared to the robusta variety and invariably fetching higher prices than the robusta, today, robusta coffee is also in demand, with quality robustas fetching a high price and at times, a price which could also be equal if not higher than the Arabica! Thus, India can offer a basket of taste profiles to the international market.
- India has the proud privilege to offer high quality and speciality robustas to the world market and is one of the most sought after origins for quality washed Robusta.
- Coffee grows in India in the 3 southern states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and today, we are also very proud to state that we can grow and produce quality coffees in areas which are normally considered as non traditional coffee growing areas, such as in Andhra Pradesh and in the North Eastern States of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland. Due to the Indian Arabica and Robusta coffees being cultivated in different regions, which have varying climatic conditions, we can offer to the world, coffees which have varying cup quality characteristics.
India is on the path to define the cup quality of her coffees from different regions. We have started with establishing the boundary of these regions, as also in arriving at distinctive logos for each region, which will not only highlight the coffee of the region, but also depict an important feature of the region. Eg., Coorg, a region which cultivates both Arabica and Robusta, has a logo of bees and coffee flowers, which not only signifies coffee and its cultivation, but also highlights the excellent honey which this region produces and is famous for.
- Innovative methods of processing both arabica and robusta have come to stay in India, helping the small farmer to prepare micro-lots of unique coffees, which are being offered to discerning markets around the world. While it may be argued that it is difficult to market micro-lots, we, in India, have been arriving at solutions to market small lots of distinct coffees, especially in respect of the logistics involved in delivering these micro lots to the doorstep of the international buyer.
Today, we have coffees which are being sold to the markets of Australia, Europe and USA as distinct estate branded micro-lots, with the demand increasing each year.
- India prepares different types of coffees to cater to different palates around the world. In respect of both the varieties of Arabica and Robusta coffees, we offer Washed, Unwashed, Pulped Sundried or Honey Processed and Speciality coffees of Monsooned, Mysore Nuggets and Robusta Kaapi Royale. The latter three coffees of Monsooned, Mysore Nuggets and Robusta Kaapi Royale, have been gaining popularity in the world market. In fact, Monsooned coffee was launched as early as 1972, even before the speciality coffee movement gathered momentum in the world market. This unique coffee not only commands a high premium, but is used in distinct quality blends around the world. This speaks volumes on the quality of these monsooned beans and their usage.
- Even for commercial roasters, India can offer clean bulks of coffee, which will not contain any extraneous matter or any admixtures. In this regard, the Coffee Board of India has played a major role in establishing the standards for Indian coffee, which have been very well received and accepted by the international market.
- Cafe culture has come to stay in India in a big way, since the first indigenous cafe was setup in 1996 in Bangalore, which is the headquarters for coffee in India. Today, we have an array of overseas cafe chains including Starbucks opening its doors and helping in not only increasing the local consumption of coffee, but also in removing some of the myths that have been associated with drinking coffee such as ‘coffee is meant for the old’, ‘it is a dully and dreary beverage’, ‘it is a beverage, which can be drunk only when one is sick’ and ‘it is a drink which is not youthful and happening’. The cafes have indeed not only increased the consumption of coffee in the country, but have also changed the image of coffee from “a dull, boring mundane drink to a hip-hop and happening beverage!”Increasing coffee consumption within the producing origin has also been one of the unique value propositions of Indian coffee.
- Indian coffee lends itself to being blended with coffees from other origins, enabling its easy usage by roasters around the world. Even as a standalone, Indian coffee has been appreciated in many international markets. Thanks to the research that is being carried out in the country, we have some unique plant strains of both Arabica and Robusta such as S.795, Sln.9, Station Selection, C X R and Sln.274 which have been finding their way into coffee markets far and near. These strains have distinctive flavours, which are being developed and intensified through careful and individualised processing.
The chocolate and caramel flavours of the Arabica strain S. 795, which has stood the test of time and is being cultivated since the 1970’s, have enticed the international buyer to purchase this strain year after year.
Indian coffee has a rich history, has a unique heritage and has a distinctive cup profile, with varieties and different types of coffee to suit each and every palate. Each bean also has a story, which can fill your cup with stimulation, energy, excitement and flavours, taking the coffee drinker to heights never tasted before!