Pepper from Malabar has always been very important in world history. We can surely say that it has changed world history.
Over 2000 years ago, in the time of Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire was one of the most powerful empires in the world. The Romans loved the spice and bought it from here, in Southern India. They paid for it in gold, which is why the spice was also called Black Gold. Many Romans complained that most of their money was being spent on this Indian spice! A rich Roman would show off by keeping Malabar pepper on his dinner table.
Rome was defeated in the year 410AD by warriors from Northern Europe, called the Visigoths. They demanded a huge sum of money, or ransom, to return the city of Rome to the Romans – this ransom was 3000 pounds of pepper!
In 1492, Christopher Columbus went searching for the spice and India. He sailed West from Spain, and instead of finding India, he found America. He thought he had found India! The locals ate a spicy capsicum – he thought it was Indian spice as it tasted spicy. So he called it ‘pepper’. That is why capsicum is called ‘pepper’ in America! To this day, people are confused about the word ‘pepper’ –a red hot chilli pepper is actually a capsicum, and a red-hot black pepper is what grows on this vine.
Six years after Christopher Columbus found America, Vasco Da Gama, from Portugal, also went looking for India and succeeded. He came the right way – around Africa! He reached Calicut in 1498, just 180 km away from here. He took back lots of the spice, and the Portuguese soon controlled the trade. Many wars were fought over the control of this trade and the Dutch got control of Cochin. The world’s most powerful naval empires were built because they controlled the trade of this spice. Today, the world’s Pepper Exchange is located at Cochin.
The spice from Coorg was taken to the port at Tellicherry 80 km away. Tellicherry Garbled Extra Bold (TGEB) is still considered the world’s most superior in terms of quality. Over 20% of the world’s spice trade is in this particular spice. Malabar pepper is a very valuable product.
Have you noticed that it grows on a tall tree? It is a vine, and this is the Silver Oak Tree.
Do you know why we have this spice on a coffee plantation?
Well, coffee needs shade. And these silver oak trees provide shade. And this spice is a vine that grows in this climate, so we grow them on silver oak trees. It is a 3-in-1 solution – coffee, silver oak, and pepper. The silver oak provides good timber too. This combination is found only in South India – shade-grown coffee is an Indian speciality. Coffee in other countries, like Brazil, does not grow in the shade.
So next time a foreigner asks you – what is special about Indian coffee – tell them is it the only ‘shade grown’ coffee in the world.