India’s coffee history and culture

India’s coffee history and culture

Jayeeta Palit 4 mins Read

Our Marketing Manager Jo visited family in India earlier this year and noticed a rapidly growing specialty coffee culture. Having a natural head for all things marketing, here’s her reflections on India’s coffee history and current trends driving the domestic market today.


India’s coffee story began centuries ago in the Baba Budan Hills, where the Sufi saint Baba Budan is credited with bringing seven coffee seeds from Yemen. This marked the inception of coffee cultivation in the country. During the 19th century British colonial era, large-scale coffee plantations expanded across India, taking advantage of the nation's diverse geography and favourable climate. Regions like Chikmagalur, Coorg, Nilgiris, and notably, the Biligiriranga Hills in Karnataka, became renowned for producing both arabica and robusta coffee varieties of exceptional quality.

Historically, India's coffee production has been export-oriented, with 80% of output shipped abroad in 2011 due to limited domestic demand and challenges in fair pricing for farmers. However, recent trends indicate a notable shift towards promoting coffee consumption within the country, reflecting changing consumer preferences and a growing appreciation for homegrown coffee varieties.

Today, India ranks as the sixth largest coffee producer globally, celebrated for its premium quality coffee. Grown under shade, hand-picked, and sun-dried, Indian coffee commands a premium over global benchmarks. 


Cafés and specialty roasters have emerged as influential advocates for Indian coffee, promoting its diversity from single estate offerings to innovative brews. This shift in coffee culture reflects broader economic trends, including rising disposable incomes and a growing demand for quality and traceability.

In the Biligiriranga Hills, sustainability practices play a crucial role. Farmers prioritise shade-grown methods to preserve biodiversity and enhance flavours. Traditional harvesting techniques, such as hand-picking only the ripest cherries, contribute to the region's reputation for high-quality coffee production.

Apart from coffee cultivation, the Biligiriranga Hills are home to diverse flora and fauna. The region, popularly known as BR Hills, is part of the Biligiriranga Swamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary, which supports a range of wildlife such as elephants, tigers, and numerous bird species. The sanctuary's conservation efforts are crucial for maintaining the ecological balance of the area while promoting sustainable agriculture practices like shade-grown coffee.

You can order our new Indian coffee from Biligiriranga Hills here.


My trip to India - Rediscovering Coffee

Earlier this year, I travelled to India and immersed myself in its noticeably different and vibrant coffee culture. What struck me the most was how much the coffee scene has evolved, driven by a growing economy, increased disposable income, and a broader global exposure. This shift has significantly heightened the demand for quality coffee.

As an Indian, I know that pre-COVID-19, coffee was more of a socialising tool—a reason to gather, converse, and catch up with friends. We loved our coffee now and then, but it was more of a luxury compared to tea, which was a staple of home life. Coffee was something we best enjoyed in cafes, where skilled baristas could brew it to perfection. Brewing coffee at home was a skill many of us didn't feel confident enough to experiment with. With lockdowns in place, people couldn't go out for their usual coffee runs, which led many to start brewing their own coffee at home. COVID-19 gave people the time and opportunity to experiment with their coffee, learn new brewing methods, and enjoy coffee at home. However, everything changed after the pandemic when I returned to India after three years. While coffee still remains more popular outside the home, there's now a heightened curiosity about it. The COVID-19 pandemic, surprisingly, acted as a catalyst for this change. This new hobby sparked a curiosity about sourcing, roasting, and growing coffee. Although there's still a lot to learn, there's a huge hunger for knowledge and a passionate drive for quality among Indian coffee enthusiasts.


For years, India was all about those big bags of coffee beans heading overseas. But lately, there's been a real shift. People here are getting super curious about coffee, wanting to know where it comes from, how it's roasted, the whole backstory. It's like we're finally realising the potential of what we have growing right here in our own backyards.

This translates to less coffee leaving the country (around 60% now) and a much bigger market for high-quality beans right here at home. It's exciting! Coffee isn't just a morning drink anymore, it's a whole experience. People are looking for those perfect beans, the ones that create a truly memorable cup. You could say we're riding the third wave of coffee culture here, all about quality, tradition, and knowing exactly where your beans came from.

Of course, we still love our classics. That South Indian Filter Coffee, strong and frothy in its steel tumbler, is a true southern comfort. But there's a whole world of coffee drinks being explored too, from fancy espresso creations to refreshing cold brew. And then there are traditional methods like decoction or syphon brewing – there's a certain beauty in the ritual of preparing those cups, a real appreciation for the craft. We can never get enough of stovetops!


The future of Indian coffee is bright. We're focusing on sustainable practices, making sure our coffee farmers are treated fairly, and all that good stuff. It's more than just a drink now, it's a lifestyle. A unique blend of tradition and all these new trends that's putting Indian coffee on the map for all the right reasons. And with our love for good coffee only growing, the best is definitely yet to come!

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