The origins of Indian coffee: a “holy” contraband
In India, lush coffee plantations are no accident. After Ethiopia and Yemen, India has historically been the third largest coffee country in the world, long before South America or South-East Asia. The legend dates back to the 17th century. The Muslim saint Baba Budan leaves Arabia to go to India. In his beard, seven small coffee beans hidden, defying the formal ban on transporting these beans outside the Peninsula. Landing in the southwest of India in what is now Karnataka, Baba Budan plants the illegally transported grains on a hill. Gradually, the first areas of Arabica and Robusta cultivation were organized and soon spread to neighboring states in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Indian coffee has long been a withdrawn beverage, rather reserved for the Indian elite. But in the 20th century, the British colonial influence on the country changed the course of things. Realizing the full potential of coffee crops in India, the English colonists wanted to develop the crops and even created the Coffee Board of India in 1942, a committee responsible for protecting Indian coffee and controlling its export. This is the first time that Indian coffee has been promoted as a special export commodity.
Coffee in India today: booming agriculture
Of course, India does not owe everything to the English. Since its independence in 1947, the country has made giant strides to compete with heavyweights Brazil and Colombia. In 2021, India devoted nearly 350,000 hectares of land to coffee cultivation with nearly 250,000 producers (Source: Coffee Lab ). Today, Karnataka represents the bulk of Indian production at 70%, followed by Kerala (23%) and Tamil Nadu (6%). Overall, most farms remain in the hands of small producers. This is also the case for Araku which, since 1999, has relied on a system of equitable collaboration with local communities in the Eastern Ghats in eastern India to develop plantations… and their income.
The uniqueness of Indian coffee: the virtues of shading
This is perhaps the point that makes India's specialty coffee so unique from its competitors. On the high plateaus of the Western or Eastern Ghats, producers cultivate coffee bushes under the shade of trees, which makes all the difference. Indeed, agroforestry not only protects plants from bad weather but also preserves soils from erosion and keeps soils moist without irrigation. A shaded coffee plant generates greater density and grows slowly. Depending on the degree of shading, the taste of the coffee and its acidity may vary, but the quality of the bean remains guaranteed. Finally, coffee-producing regions in India benefit from significant rainfall, with dry periods lasting around 2 to 3 months and high temperatures averaging between 23°C and 28°C. An ideal climate for the development of coffee trees.