Though tea is now synonymous with Indian culture, It was not always this way.
Though Chinese varieties of tea were first introduced to India by the British in the early 1800’s in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on tea, it wasn’t until the 1920’s after a successful ad campaign by the Tea Board, that tea drinking became universally popular throughout the country.
Coffee growing in India however has an ancient past. Sometime in the late 1600’s, after the completion of the Hajj in Mecca, an Indian Muslim saint, or wali, called Baba Budan smuggled seven coffee beans in a belt tied around his waist. The contraband traveled from Yemen to Mysore, India, where he planted them near his home on the Chandragiri Hillsides, which now bear his name and the fruits of his audacious operation.
The legend of Baba Budan is significant in India’s history because it was highly illegal to take green coffee seeds out of Arabia. So profitable was the coffee industry even then that the Arabs, in an attempt to protect their business, did not allow coffee beans to be exported in any other form than in a roasted or boiled state, to prevent germination. That being said, as the number seven is sacred for Muslims, the wali’s act of carrying seven coffee beans became a “religious act”.
Thanks to some holy undercover work, and a little social engineering, thus began the coffee industry in India.
Standardized cultivation soon followed Baba Budan’s first planting in 1670, mostly through private ownership. Years later, due to Britain’s strong colonial presence in mid 19th century India, coffee plantations flourished, soon spreading to Southern India, and then on for export. Despite it’s ongoing battle against common diseases afflicting the Arabica plants, India is the sixth largest coffee producer, exporting 70% of its beans to markets in Europe and Asia.
While Chai reigns supreme in the state of Telangana, coffee is considered an important cultural symbol in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, including the Coastal Andhra regions, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Coffee is typically the first thing served to guests; prepared with a special metal strainer and tumbler set which produce a strong cup of filtered coffee. Traditionally the brew is adulterated with scalded milk and sugar, and drunk directly from a metal tumbler called a davara.
-All About Coffee, William H. Ukers