The Cup That Cheers: The Changing Taste of Coffee

Published on: 01/06/2024

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Photo title: Coffee harvesting

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Photo Credits: Vikram Nanjappa

Coffee, the drink most of South India wakes up to, is getting a makeover that is arty and hip.

Being the sixth largest producer of coffee in the world, India’s coffee cultivation is concentrated in the hills of South India, with Karnataka accounting for a whopping 70% plus production, followed by Kerala and then Tamil Nadu. Apart from these traditional areas, coffee production has also made an appearance in states like Andhra Pradesh, Orissa as well as the Northeast. The differentiating factor of Indian coffee is the fact that it is the only country to grow its coffee in the shade.

Fascinating History

Just like its taste, the history of Indian coffee is equally fascinating and dates to the 16th century when the famous Indian Sufi saint Baba Budan returned from Mecca with seven magical raw coffee beans which he secretly picked up from the port of Mocha in Yemen. These were planted in the hills of Chikmagalur in Karnataka, thereby scripting the glorious beginning of coffee in India. Coffee plantations then grew by leaps and bounds in the next few decades and gained further impetus during the reign of the British when thousands of acres of coffee estates were developed.

The Coffee Board of India was set up in 1942 to promote the growth of the crop in India and safeguard the interests of all stakeholders including coffee growers, labourers and coffee buyers. Home to about 16 unique varieties of coffee, the two main varieties grown in India are Arabica and Robusta. Some of the famous coffee belts in Karnataka include Chikmagalur, Hassan, Sakleshpur and, of course, Coorg. Often dubbed as Scotland of India, the picturesque hill station of Coorg in India is known for its lush green coffee estates that were introduced in the year 1854 by John Fowler, an Englishman.

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Photo title: Coffee beans drying in the yard

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Photo Credits: Vikram Nanjappa

Current Trends

Coffee in India has come a long way and has evolved from the days of mass produced, instant coffee to consumers preferring to savour their coffee the artisanal way. Today, coffee is expanding from specialty coffee to artisan coffee and even micro roasters akin to microbreweries, where customers are provided with a holistic and personalized coffee-savouring experience. Artisan coffee is the buzzword that employs sustainable cultivation methods, processing, drying and roasting techniques to create unique and distinct coffees. This means a focus on high quality beans, roasted in small batches to ensure that the freshness and aroma is retained and then brewed per customers’ preference. This includes single origin as well as micro lot coffee which literally means coffee grown in one geographical region (single farm) and the best of the estate respectively.

Since customers are ready to experiment and even pay a premium for specialty coffee, brands are offering exclusive flavour profiles which apart from offering a choice of light, medium or dark roast also offers hints of varied elements like chocolate, orange, vanilla, coconut, honey dew and spices. There are brands that even offer coffee beans that are aged in whiskey barrels. Apart from specialized roasting and grinding methods, even the brews are changing with nitro brews and cold brews taking centre stage. The latter refers to the addition of nitrogen to the cold brew to give coffee a rich, creamy consistency. There are also brewing methodologies like French press, Moka pot and AeroPress that are changing coffee consumption.

Coorg Coffees for Connoisseurs

Coorg is known for its superlative coffee which is exclusive in more ways than one. In fact, the region produces the most expensive coffee in the world which is known as civet coffee. This involves the coffee berries being consumed by wild civet cats which is then excreted. The beans are then picked and processed. The micro lot coffee produced by yet another estate travelled seven seas and has found itself perched on the shelves of the Starbucks stores in Seattle. The hill station has perfect weather for growing coffee and today, with over 270 varieties of shaded trees, Coorg cultivates all its coffee under a two-tier mixed shade canopy. While the bigger trees include varieties like jackfruit, fig and the like, the second layer includes spices like cardamom, vanilla, and pepper. Today the regions’ coffee finds its way not only in your daily cuppa but also in desserts, infusions, chocolates as well as cosmetics. Coffee inspired spa treatments are in fact very popular.

Trivia

• The word ‘coffee’ originates from the Arabic word 'qahwa' which is a type of wine.
• Coffee is the 2nd most traded commodity in the world next only to crude oil.
• Brazil is the world's largest coffee producer.
• Finland is the world's largest coffee consumer.
• Starbucks is the largest coffee company and chain in the world while Tata coffee is the largest in India.
• Consumption of coffee helps lower the risk of several conditions like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease and is also believed to boost longevity.

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Rashmi Gopal Rao

Rashmi Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and travel-lifestyle blogger from Bangalore. She writes on travel, food and decor. Apart from visiting the tourist attractions of a place, she loves to venture out exploring the 'unconventional' and the 'uncommon'. Learning about the unique customs and culture of a place, interacting with the locals and sampling the local and authentic cuisine is always on her "to-do" list while travelling. A strong advocate and supporter of responsible and sustainable tourism, she blogs at http://rashminotes.com/ and tweets at @rashminotes.

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