The tale goes that a Sufi pilgrim named Baba Budan smuggled seven coffee beans from Mocha, Yemen into Karnataka, India in the 17th century, while returning from Mecca. The export of coffee was very tightly controlled at the time.
Why seven? No one knows, except that seven is a sacred number in Islam. Either way, our favourite coffee-smuggling hermit planted these seeds in the fertile hills of Chikmagalur, and the rest, as they say, is history.
India was occupied by the Dutch during this time, and they helped spread its fame through the region. Then the British came, and firmly cemented the popularity of coffee in India.
Until about the 1860s, Arabica was the most widely cultivated coffee variety. Commercial coffee farming flourished during this period. Soon, however, pest outbreaks became a major motivator for farmers to start growing the hardier coffee varieties.
This time is also marked by the advent of coffee houses. These were popular places for English gentlemen to relax, socialize, do business, exchange news and gossip — picture a British colonial version of the ancient Greek symposium.
In 1907, the Coffee Board of India was established to help regulate coffee production, look out for the interests of consumers and growers, and to conduct agricultural research. Cool, right?
The Coffee Board of India regulated the sale of coffee very stringently from around 1942 to 1995. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that coffee producers were allowed to sell their produce wherever they wanted.
And today, the vast majority of Indian coffee is still produced in the traditional growing states, namely Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In recent years, some of the other states - Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, to name a few - have wanted a piece of the pie though.
So there you have it. That rich kaapi you savour every morning has an even richer history.
There has never before, in the history of the coffee industry, been such an abundance in variety or excellence in quality. So, when better to start your kaapi journey than today?