The coffee monopoly
In the 1600s, coffee was already popular in the Middle East, for its medicinal and stimulative properties. At the time, it was only allowed to export out of the region roasted beans (so that coffee could not be grown elsewhere, and consequently, control of the coffee trade would remain in the region). Baba Budan, a Saint from India, went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, it is said. While returning, he smuggled in to India seven precious coffee seeds, likely from Yemen, hidden in the folds of his robes.
The seven coffee seeds
The seven seeds were planted in the hills, and thus, coffee was introduced to India. The hills he planted the seeds in were in the high altitudes of present day’s Chikmagalur in Karnataka. Even today, there is a shrine dedicated to Baba Budan, with thousands of devotees visiting it every year. The hills of the region are called Baba Budan Giris (Giri means ‘hill’ in Kannada, the local language of the region).
The growth of coffee cultivation
For around 200 years after this, coffee cultivation was largely unorganized, and coffee was grown & sold as wild produce. In the early 1800s, the Maharajah (King) of Mysore encouraged cultivation of coffee at plantation scale. Native Indian planters & the British, who had political & trade interests in India, took this forward, and established large plantation holdings in South India, in present day Karnataka, Tamil Nadu & Kerala.
Indian coffee today
Numerous problems had to be overcome in the process, including coffee diseases like blight. Ever since, India has been one of the pioneers in the control of coffee plant diseases like blight & rust.
In the modern era of Independent India (since 1947), processing methods have improved and matured, and aided by the Coffee Board of India, the coffee industry is a thriving one in India, with Indian Coffee being sought after around the world.
This fascinating piece of history was written and delivered to us by Mr. Anil Ravindran. Thank you!
Anil Ravindran is Managing Partner at RV Commodity Services, India’s premier choice export brokerage firm. If you’re a coffee importer and would like to get in touch with Anil, please send him an email to: [email protected]