7 Coffee Beans in a Beard – Origins of Indian Coffee

Coffee! Don’t we all love a good cuppa… 

It is the world’s most tried and tested conversation starter… an incredible beverage that starts off the day for millions of people around the world. It not only gets our creative juices going but, is synonymous with every professional break and, is the spark of every romance that begins in a cozy café around the corner.

But what do I really know about this much loved beverage? Where did it come from? And how did it land up in my mug? So I decided to look into the history of my brew, and how and where it grew… turns out the story of how coffee came to India is as interesting as the conversations it helps start…

According to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the earliest history of coffee growing can be traced back to 875 AD. The origin of the source is attributed to Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) from where it travelled to Arabia (Yemen) in the 15th century. In the Indian context, the history and origin of coffee dates back to around 1600 AD.

The story goes…

Baba Budan, a 17th century Sufi saint from India, went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. On the way back to his homeland, he came across a dark sweet liquid called Quahwa being served to other guests like him while in Mocha, a port city of Yemen that overlooks the Red Sea. This is where he first tasted coffee. He enjoyed the drink and thought of it as quite refreshing.

Besides being a trading hub for coffee, Mocha was also the source of the popular Mocha coffee beans. The Arabs knew coffee was unique and were extremely protective about their coffee industry. In those days, coffee was exported to other parts of the world in roasted or baked form so that no one could grow their own. It was considered an illegal act to carry green coffee seeds out of Arabia.

But Baba Budan was so much in love with the drink that he wanted to bring it back with him. Since he couldn’t carry it, he decided to smuggle it instead. So he took just 7 green coffee seeds and hid them in his beard to avoid having them confiscated on his way back. Since the number seven is a sacrosanct number in Islamic religion, the saint’s act of carrying seven coffee beans was considered a religious act. And that’s how the first 7 seeds of coffee made their way to India from Mocha to Mysore – in the beard of the courageous Sufi saint.

After returning from his pilgrimage, Baba Budan planted the Seven Seeds of Coffee in the courtyard of his hermitage in Chikmagalur, Karnataka and that became the birthplace and origin of coffee in India. The coffee plants gradually spread as backyard plantings, and later on to the surrounding Chandangiri Hills. In order to thank the Sufi saint for his efforts, the kind people of Chikmagalur named this entire mountain range as Baba Budan Giri (‘Giri’ meaning hill) in his honour. It includes the highest peaks of Karnataka. Filled with coffee plantations and estates that seem to go on forever, today Chikmagalur is also known as the Coffee Country. The 7 coffee beans planted by Baba Budan were of the Arabica coffee variety, which is today the second most cultivated coffee bean in India after Robusta, which is a modified, more climate sturdy variety of Arabica.

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Commercial plantations of coffee started in India during the 18th century. Coffee cultivation grew and thrived in India during the British rule and beyond. The Dutch began to grow coffee in the Malabar region. The Arabica coffee plantations were setup across the hilly regions in South India, where the climatic conditions were apt for growing coffee. Most of this area is concentrated in the southern states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Since then, Indian coffee has grown into a multi-million dollar industry and has earned a distinct identity on the coffee map of the world. Here are a few awesome facts…

  • India is the only country in the world where all coffees are grown under a ‘well-defined two-tier shade canopy of evergreen leguminous trees’.
  • India is today home to 16 unique varieties of coffees
  • India has 13 distinct coffee growing regions, most of them in the southern part of the country.
  • India’s coffee regions are one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world.
  • Robusta & Arabica are the most widely grown varieties in the regions.
  • India produces more than 316,000 metric tonnes of coffee per year, of which the Robusta variety accounts for 70%, while the Arabica accounts for 30% of total produce.
  • India is the seventh largest producer of coffee in the world; after Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia, Ethiopia and Honduras.
  • Indian coffee is exported to more than 45 countries… Italy being the largest importer, followed by Germany, the Russian Federation, Belgium and Turkey.
six white ceramic mugs
The different varieties of Indian coffees are well suited for cappuccinos and espressos alike and have no parallel in any other coffee growing nation globally.

The different varieties of Indian coffees are well suited for cappuccinos and espressos alike and have no parallel in any other coffee growing nation globally.  These awesome facts about the Indian coffee plantations have definitely managed to stir up a warm and sweet sense of pride within me.

So the next time you pour yourself a hot cuppa coffee maybe you’ll appreciate it a little bit more than you usually do. Hope you enjoyed reading this post.
Do leave your comments. Cheers!