Ever wondered how coffee acquires its flavour? It is dependent on brewing methods, sweetening, and other factors. The flavour, however, is derived from the cherry. Coffee growers use specific breeds with high quality potential and commercial value.
Coffee first appeared in India in 1600 AD. If you enjoy coffee, you should be grateful to Baba Budan for introducing it to your country. Baba Budan was a Sufi pilgrim travelling to Mecca. He fell in love with the coffee he tasted in Yemen but was unable to bring it back to India.
He smuggled the Seven Seeds of Mocha, seven raw coffee beans, from Yemen to India, concealing them in his garment! He established them in Chikmagalur, Karnataka, which is now known as Coffee Country. Later, the Dutch and British spread commercial coffee cultivation throughout Indian land.
Coffee beans are classified into two types: Robusta and Arabica. Arabica, despite its superior quality, is susceptible to pests and diseases. The first outbreak of coffee leaf rust in the nineteenth century drew negative attention to Arabica coffee. The majority of farmers around the world switched to other crops. But then came the introduction of Robusta coffee by Indonesian cultivators. As a result, Arabica and Robusta are the two most important coffee varieties on the market today.
Arabica is known for its high quality and complex aroma. It is caffeine-free but has a delicate, sweet flavour. It is grown from November to January at elevations ranging from 600 to 2000 metres in subtropical, cold, and moist climates. It thrives in large, shaded plantations with nutrient-rich soil. Arabica growers work hard to produce high-quality beans while protecting them from pests.
The most common Arabica varieties are Bourbon, Typica, and Heirloom. We also have crosses and hybrids between Arabica families as well as Arabica and Robusta. Let’s take a look at some popular breeds in India.
Kent was named after Mr. L.P. Kent, an English planter who discovered it in 1920. Kent was working on a selection programme to create a plant that was resistant to coffee leaf. Because of its high survival rate, Kent coffee spread from Mysore to Kenya and Tanzania in the 1920s. It belongs to the Typica family. Kent has a fruity flavour profile with spicy notes and a strong acidity component.
Selection 795 is a hybrid of Arabica and Robusta that was introduced in India in the 1940s. The Balehonnur Coffee Research Station in India chose it. It is well-liked in many parts of Southeast Asia. Selection795 is well-known for its bold beans, which produce a variety of flavours ranging from spicy to chocolaty. It produces a lot of fruit and is considered an exotic variety.
This variety, also known as Cauvery, is a cross between Caturra and Hibrido de Timor. In other words, it is a cross between Arabica and Robusta. Catimor gets its high yield and superior quality from Caturra, and its resistance to leaf rust comes from Hybrido-de-Timor. It is widely grown in low-lying areas with abundant natural rainfall. Catimor has a flavour profile similar to Bourbon. It has a sweet aftertaste and brisk acidic notes.
Selection 9 is a cross between Tafarikela, an Ethiopian Arabica variety, and Hibrido de Timor. Tall plants with drooping branches and dark bronze leaves characterise it. Because of the resistance inherited from Hibrido de Timor, Selection 9 plants are adaptable enough to survive drought-like conditions. Tafarikela enhances the aroma and quality. At the 2002 Flavour of India Cupping Competition, Selection 9 received the Fine Cup Award for the best Arabica variety.
Robusta, the less expensive option in the supermarket aisles, has twice the caffeine content of Arabica. It produces more fruit, is easier to grow, and produces stronger coffee. However, it lacks Arabica’s distinct aroma. It has a grainy texture and a bitter aftertaste instead.
Robusta is grown in hot and humid climates between December and February at elevations ranging from 500 to 1000 metres. Robusta is less concerned with its surroundings. When compared to Arabica, it has higher pest resistance. Robusta now accounts for 30 to 40% of global coffee production. Here are some popular Robusta cultivars.
Selection 274 is from a collection in Sri Lanka. The Indian Coffee Research Station released the first Robusta selection in the 1940s. It forms strong bushes with round, bold beans. They’re flavoured with chocolate, caramel, nuts, and spices.
Congensis into Robusta
Congensis into Robusta, also known as C x R, is a Robusta and Coffea Congensis hybrid. Its bushes are smaller than those of most Robusta plants. The beans are robust, full-bodied, and low in acidity. They have a strong aroma and a soft, neutral cup.
Other, less common varieties, such as Liberica and Excelsa, exist alongside Arabica and Robusta. For example, Kapeng Barako, a type of Liberica grown in the Philippines, is a strong coffee. Charrier Coffee, a caffeine-free species, is found in Cameroon, Central Africa. These species, however, are not commercially viable.
Plantations in India
The Western Ghats are home to the majority of Indian coffee plantations. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka are coffee cultivation hotspots. Eastern Ghat patches such as Andhra Pradesh and Orissa are new coffee destinations. Finally, there are plantations in the Northeast’s seven sisters. Thirteen Indian locations are hot spots for coffee cultivation. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
Chikmagalur, India (Karnataka)
Chikmagalur is known as Coffee Country because of its dense forests and charming peacocks. It is the headquarters of the Central Indian Coffee Research Institute. Arabica and Robusta plantations can be found in Chikmagalur.
The main Arabica varieties are Selection 795, Selection 5B, Selection 9, and Cauvery. The main Robusta varieties grown here are Peridenia, Selection 724, and C x R. Pepper, cardamom, areca nut, orange, and vanilla are intercropped. These beans have a medium body, light acidity, and a medium to strong aroma.
Budangiri Baba (Karnataka)
Baba Budangiri literally translates to Baba Budan Hill and is named after the person who introduced coffee to India. It is the beginning of Indian coffee. Baba Budangiri is located at a height of 1000-1500 metres and receives 1750-2200 mm of natural rainfall. It is known for full-bodied Arabicas with a sweet, chocolate-like flavour and plenty of acidity. The beans mature at a slower rate than other Arabica cultivars. They are carefully selected and then fermented naturally.
Coorg, India’s largest coffee-producing district, produces approximately 24,000 MT Robusta and 69,000 Arabica. At a height of 750 to 1000 metres, the region receives 1000-2500 mm of natural rainfall. Selection795, Sln.6, and Sln.9 are Arabica varieties. Selection274 and C x R are two Robusta varieties. Pepper, cardamom, orange, banana, and areca nut are the most important intercrops. Arabicas are slightly acidic, whereas Robustas are softer with a chocolate undertone.
Nilgiri Mountains (Karnataka/Tamil Nadu)
Nilgiris, which means “White Hills,” gets its name from the clouds and mist that cover these peaks all year. The Nilgiris plantations are located at a high altitude of 1500-2000 metres and receive 11000-1200 mm of natural rainfall. It is well-known for the varieties Selection795, Sln.9, and Cauvery. Coffee is mixed with orange, banana, and pepper on alternate days. It is planted in the shade of silver oaks and fruit trees.
Anamalais (Tamil Nadu)
The Anamalais plantations are located at elevations ranging from 1000 to 1400 metres, with natural rainfall ranging from 2500 to 3000 mm. Selection795, Cauvery, and Sln.9 are the main varieties that thrive in this mountain range. All of these are Arabica varieties. Pepper, orange, and banana are intercropped. They have greyish green beans with citrus notes that have a strong aroma.
Araku Valley Andhra Pradesh
Araku Valley is located in northern Andhra Pradesh and southern Orissa’s Eastern Ghats. It is located at an elevation of 900-1100 metres and receives 1000-1200 mm of natural rainfall. Araku Valley, known for its colourful parrots, is not a typical coffee destination. However, the local tribes benefit greatly from coffee as an alternative in the shifting cultivation system. Coffee is mixed with pepper, mango, jackfruit, and various vegetables. Selection 795, Selection 4, Selection 5, and Cauvery are the main varieties grown here. Araku valley produce has a strong aroma, medium to sharp acidity, and spicy undertones.
The Brahmaputra River flows through Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, supplying water to coffee plantations in all eight Northeast states. The elevation is relatively low, ranging between 800 and 1200 metres. However, the region receives adequate rainfall, ranging from 1500 to 2000 mm.
Selection 795 and Cauvery plantations are well-known in the Brahmaputra region. Pineapple, pepper, and jackfruit are substituted for the crops. They have a fruity flavour with mild acid notes. Because this is a non-traditional coffee growing location, production levels are low.
With such a diverse range of cultivars to choose from, it’s no surprise that India offers such a diverse range of coffee beverages. Indians have discovered several distinct preparations for their cup, ranging from the South Indian filter coffee to the hand-beaten Pitti-Hui coffee. So don’t be shy; get out there and explore!