History & Origin of 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 about 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.
The History of Coffee Cultivation & Commercial Plantations
Coffee cultivation grew and thrived in India during the British rule 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.
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 huge 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
Pooling of coffee produce was the norm in the initial decades of independent India. However, the coffee industry gathered pace in the post-liberalisation era (i.e. after 1991), 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 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