Introduced to India in the 17 th century, the cool cup a joe continues to woo people even today. Here’s what lies behind—and beyond— that fine cup of coffee you’ve been craving
A popular American sitcom romanticised the idea of friends hanging out over endless cups of coffee. Everything—from a breakup to success at the workplace—was aptly treated with a comforting serving of this beverage. A famous Indian chat show is centered on coffee where guests are urged to ‘spill the beans’. When this ethos transpired from reel to real is unknown. However, what we do know is this: as of today, coffee is the companion of many—old and young, creative and mathematical, introverted and extroverted, proud and humble. It’s safe to say that a very meagre percentage of people have escaped the luring serenade of this aromatic brew.
Let’s go back in time for a bit. How exactly did coffee reach India? The answer to this question is steeped in piety. A certain man named Baba Budan embarked on a pilgrimage to Mecca about 400 years ago. There, he came across an interesting concoction of roasted and ground beans that were brewed in water. Needless to say, one sip and he was a fan. He couldn’t wait to take some of these magnificent beans back to India. However, there was a problem. The Arabs were extremely possessive of their precious beans and strictly regulated their export. They were only allowed to be transported in roasted or boiled form to prevent their cultivation elsewhere. So captivated was Baba Budan that he decided to smuggle them anyway. Seven beans, that’s all he took, with the hope of planting them in his home country. Just imagine, if he were to make a mistake while sowing them! What a tragedy that would have been. Fortunately though, he followed every rule in the book and the rest is history. The hills in Karnataka’s Chikmagalur district, where he chose to plant those seven beans, have been named Baba Budan Giri in honour of the saint who introduced India to coffee.
A Territorial Drink
Before we explore India’s coffee territories, it is essential to breakdown the two main varieties of coffee grown here: the sweet and soft Arabica and the stronger Robusta. The former is grown in elevated lands with cool climates while the latter thrives on relatively flatter ground with a hot and humid environment. Interestingly, the aromas emanating from a coffee plantation aren’t restricted to just coffee. Spices and fruits are generally grown as intercrops with coffee to ensure maximum productivity. Some of these include pepper, cardamom, vanilla, orange, banana, mango, arecanut, jackfruit and ginger. The traditional coffee plantation regions include Karnataka’s Coorg, Chikmaglur and Manjarabad areas along with the Nilgiri, Anamalai and Sheveroy Hills of Tamil Nadu. Not far behind in production are the Wayanad and Travancore areas of Kerala.
areas of coffee cultivation are located on the opposite side, that is, on the Eastern Ghats. These include the Araku valley of Andhra Pradesh and Daringbadi in Orissa. Newer plantations have been developed along the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra in Assam along with areas in Nagaland and Meghalaya.
Coffee plantations are flourishing ecosystems. Hidden inside them are wonders that go beyond this coveted drink. Owing to the fact that these plantations are situated in different parts of India, each with their own climatic conditions and vegetation, they automatically become home to various species of animals and birds. This is why visitors at a coffee plantation not only enjoy learning about the bean-to-cup journey but also embark on wildlife safaris and bird-watching trails organised within—and in the vicinity of— these estates.
The Nilgiris and Anamalai hills abound with spotted leopards while the Biligiris are home to the sambar, which is the largest Indian deer with antlers. The Sheveroys house the Gaur or Indian Bison. In Kerala’s Wayanad, spotting a tiger is every wildlife enthusiast’s dream. Assam is famed for its glorious one-horned rhinoceros which is found in Kaziranga. Not to be left far behind, the avian species also make their presence felt: Head to Araku to encounter pleasant parrots and Chikmaglur for peacocks. As if this wasn’t a diverse portfolio already, there are some delightful types of flowers to be found in some regions. While Travancore is dotted with lovely lotus beds, the real find is the Kurinji flower in the Pulney Hills: it makes a rather theatrical appearance once every 12 years!
Cut to the present. Coffee has now permeated all levels of society. It’s everywhere. Every locality in almost every city boasts at least one café (part of a coffee shop chain or standalone) where couples, college-going groups, friends, grandparents, that solitary creative writer and just about anyone else is gulping down mugs of coffee and relying on its charms to enhance the outing. You may be someone who craves a cup a joe as a kick start every morning, uses multiple coffee breaks at work to court a special someone, treats a creamy cold coffee as a post-dinner dessert or has a black coffee shot as part of your diet regime—the brew somehow manages to fit in everywhere. A special mention for the humble filter coffee or kaapi that can be found at your favourite Udupi restaurant. No matter how many five-star coffee treats you have, there’s still something grand about its milky-sometimes-sweetsometimes- strong taste. It’s so much fun to pour it from one tiny glass to another, something so soothing and calming about it, almost like a childhood ritual! Several brands have started selling freshlyground beans for customers to brew on their own.
Written By: Ananya Bahl