Posted in Kafevend Blog

We have long associated India with tea, thanks to the produce of regions such as Assam and Darjeeling in the north of the country. Despite this India has a strong coffee industry, and like our look at Turkish tea a couple of weeks ago, today we are going to have a look at the less well known drink of the country.

How coffee first came to India is shrouded in myth, though it is certainly a good one. As the legend goes, the Indian Muslim saint Baba Budan discovered coffee whilst on a pilgrimage to Mecca in the 15th century. Coffee was a closely guarded secret at the time due to its high value, so he secretly took seven (a sacred number in Islam) coffee beans from Mocha in Yemen and brought them back to the Chandragiri hills in southern India. Coffee is still predominantly grown in the south of the country to this day.

Following Baba Budan's daring trip back to India, coffee cultivation spread throughout the south of the country. The arrival of domineering British influence in the region in the form of the East India Company saw a boom in coffee plantations in the middle of the 19th century. This didn't last long however, as coffee leaf rust swept through the area. This saw many change to growing tea, especially in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where coffee plantations had been devastated. Coffee didn't disappear however, and having since reestablished itself, India is now one of the top ten coffee exporters in the world.

India even has its own coffee house chain which was founded back in 1936 by the Indian Coffee Board. In the '50s they were going to close them down, but Communist leader and politician A.K. Gopalan convinced them to allow the ex-employees to continue running the chain themselves. The Coffee Board agreed, and thirteen cooperatives were established to run it. They now run nearly 400 coffee houses throughout India.

Indian filter coffee, also known as kaapi, is one of the most popular ways of enjoying coffee in southern India. The process uses a metal, twin chambered device. Ground coffee, and sometimes a small amount of chicory, is placed into the top half which has a perforated bottom. A similarly perforated disc with a long handle is used to tamp the coffee and left in place to evenly distribute the boiling water which is added next. The water then filters down through the coffee into the bottom chamber, which is detached once it has finished. Made in this way, the coffee is very strong, sometimes even more so than espresso.

Meanwhile, milk is brought to the boil and divided between cups before spoonfuls of the coffee are added- more or less, depending on how strong you like it- along with a helping of sugar. Traditionally, the coffee is served in a small metal tumbler which sits inside a wide lipped metal saucer, known as a dabarah. In order to create a froth, the coffee is poured from a height back and forth between the tumbler and dabarah, which no doubt requires a certain finesse!

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