India? Better known for yoga, spices – and chai tea. But coffee? Doesn’t really fit in, does it? But the fact is that India has been one of the world’s top coffee exporters for some time now. Why coffee from India is one of the world’s most interesting – and even the Indians themselves increasingly prefer a mug of coffee over a cup of tea.
Alongside the Asian countries, there is barely any other region more closely associated with tea – and with good reason. Although coffee plantations were systematically laid out during British colonial rule towards the end of the eighteenth century, the investment did not prove worthwhile – the strong demand for tea was simply too great, and the “brown slop” was considered no more than a bizarre concoction in this diverse land.
Quality beans with character
The establishment of the Coffee Board of India in the 1940s was a real breakthrough for coffee in India. To this day, the innovative company continues to be involved in research into new technologies in the areas of cultivation, harvesting and processing, which is a huge benefit for coffee farmers. Thanks to continuous development, India has evolved into one the world’s biggest suppliers of raw coffee. The country’s coffee is of the highest quality and offers a complex regional diversity of taste.
Because of this, India is also one of the main sources of coffee for Café Royal. And we put this coffee to a number of different uses, for example in our single-origin coffee, where the local characteristics really come into their own. They are also an interesting addition to our blends, however. Typical features of Indian coffee are a full-bodied flavour, a creamy texture and low acidity.
When the Indians reinvent filter coffee
So we know that Indian coffee is popular all over the world. But what about in India itself? The well-loved tea tradition has lost some ground to a real coffee culture, with a great many coffee houses having opened up in urban centres in recent years and decades. India consumes around two million sacks of coffee every year – and this figure is on the rise. The traditional filter coffee is a local speciality, and sounds a little peculiar for Western standards – made up, as it is, of three parts coffee and one part chicory. Yes, you read that correctly.
Casting a long shadow
Over half of Indian coffee grows in South India, with cultivation areas traditionally found in the states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. But the east coast, with Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, is also a leading location for coffee cultivation. It offers the clear advantages of a moderate climate and the monsoon season, with the latter helping to ensure a sufficient water supply. Another special feature is what is known as agroforestry systems, where coffee is planted below shade trees that protect the sensitive plants against soil erosion during heavy rainfall, while also providing a habitat for other flora and fauna. Many farmers use the shade trees to cultivate pepper, which grows up through these trees to a height of up to 10 metres, The growing of pepper generates a welcome additional income.
Another factor that makes coffee cultivation in India unique is its diversity, as in contrast to other coffee countries, the two main coffee varieties – Canephora (more commonly known as Robusta) and Arabica – are both grown here.
And for the more sensitive stomach: coffee beans from the monsoon season
These regional factors include both harvesting and processing. While in many countries the coffee cherries are harvested by machine, this work is done by hand here in a highly labour-intensive approach. This means that while yields are lower than in more industrialised countries, the quality is higher, as only the ripe cherries make the cut.
Once harvested, the cherries are processed in every conceivable way. Wet-, semi-dry- and dry-processing methods are common, as is the technique – unique to India – of monsoon processing, which comes into play between June and September. This unique approach, as its name suggests, involves exposing the coffee cherries to extreme monsoon weather conditions. Once selected and dried, they swell considerably as a result of the damp, hot climate, before spending several weeks in jute sacks being dried by the monsoon winds. The beans lose a significant amount of their moisture, and hence weight, during this time. This processing method changes not only the colour of the coffee bean – usually to a light straw brown – but also the taste. The resulting coffee is balanced and full-bodied and has a low acidity – perfect for those with a more sensitive stomach.
Securing a sustainable future for Indian coffee
And it is precisely this washed, monsooned Arabica coffee that can be found together with Canephora in our blends. While Arabica plants are grown at cooler, higher altitudes and in larger plantations, Canephora plants come from smallholders at lower altitudes with a warmer climate. But regardless of variety, both are always UTZ certified.
UTZ is a label that stands for sustainable coffee cultivation. For larger producers, this certification ensures professional plantation management and good working conditions, as well as compliance with environmental standards. The families living in the accommodation on site have access to clean drinking water, electricity and sanitation facilities. Smallholders receive training as part of their UTZ certification that helps them to improve their growing practices.
This makes our coffee from India not only extremely diverse and exciting – but also sustainable.