Posted in Kafevend Blog
Today we're journeying south to India, a nation that we've frequently considered before on the blog because of its illustrious tea producing past and its continued dominance in the tea trade today; India comes second only to China in terms of the quantity of tea produced for the global market. Perhaps because of this strong link, its relationship with coffee is largely overshadowed. Nevertheless, India is actually ranked seventh in the world for coffee production. Join us today for a look at India's role in coffee farming past and present and at the most popular coffee drinks on the subcontinent itself.
Coffee was initially introduced to India in the latter part of the 1600s. Legend has it that a pilgrim to Mecca, who went by the name of Baba Budan, managed to smuggle seven coffee beans back from Yemen to India; they had to be smuggled as it was illegal to remove green coffee beans from Arabia, which was at pains to maintain control of the export market. Back home in the Indian province of Karnataka, deep within the Chandragiri hills, the seven beans were planted. Whether the story is the truth or a legend, coffee farming slowly began to take root in this region of the country. In fact it remains the key region for coffee production in India today along with Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Full scale commercial production got under way once Britain had established colonial rule there in the mid 1800s and coffee became a valuable cash crop until coffee leaf rust took hold and destroyed a significant proportion of the crops. This prompted the move to tea, which we all know remains the more dominant of the two crops to this day. The coffee farms that remained converted from Arabica to the disease resistant Robusta, although Arabica has since been reintroduced. Happily, from an environmental standpoint, most Indian coffee is shade grown. Predominantly farmed in the mountainous regions of the south, the canopy of trees is a haven for birds, while fruits and spices are frequently cultivated alongside the coffee cherries.
One of India's most celebrated types of coffee is Monsooned Malabar, which comes specifically from the Malabar coast of Karnataka and Kerala. As a result of exposure to the wind and rains of the monsoon season the harvested beans, which are stored in open warehouses, swell up to twice their original size, neutralising their acidity and ultimately producing a smoother, sweeter brew. Originally the process was an unintended result of the long sea voyages coffee endured during export from India to Europe during the monsoon season. Then, as transport conditions improved the unique flavour was lost. Thus, the Malabar coastal region came into its own as the place best suited to replicating the conditions needed to produce this popular variety.
Coffee has typically been a more popular drink in the southern states of India where it's grown. People there enjoy a brew known as Indian filter coffee. A blend of dark roasted coffee beans and chicory is filtered, mixed with boiled milk and sweetened with sugar. However, in recent times coffee has gained in popularity right across the nation. Coffee shop culture has really taken off with the growth of the middle class and consumption has been steadily increasing. At Café Coffee Day, the nation's largest coffee chain, cappuccinos, mochas and lattes are standard fare, just as masala chai is gathering a growing fan base here in the West. It seems that the global palate is well and truly established!