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Coffee: A Drink so Strong it Will Make Goats Jump.

For many people coffee is just a drink that acts as an alternative to tea or soda. For others, coffee is necessary for survival to help them stay awake during long meetings, and for some, coffee is an art that requires much planning and high efforts are made to maintain its best quality. “Indian Coffee, also known as Filter Coffee is a sweet milky coffee made from dark roasted coffee beans”[1] and chicory; “a somewhat woody, perennial herbaceous plant usually cultivated for salad leaves, or for its roots, which are baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive.”[2] Indian filter coffee is especially popular in the southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. “The coffee industry of India is the sixth largest producer of coffee in the world, accounting for over four percent of world coffee production, with the bulk of all production taking place in its Southern states.”[3] With strong history and traditions surrounding coffee it is no surprise that it is the third most consumed non-alcoholic beverage in the whole world after water and tea.

The story of coffee has its beginnings in Ethiopia, the original home of the coffee plant, coffee arabica, which still grows wild in the forest of the highlands. Among the many legends that have developed concerning the origin of coffee, one of the most popular accounts is that of “Kaldi, an Abyssinian goatherd, who lived around AD 850. One day he observed his goats behaving in abnormally exuberant manner, skipping, rearing on their hind legs and bleating loudly. He noticed they were eating the bright red berries that grew on the green bushes nearby.”[4] While nobody is sure exactly how coffee was originally discovered as a beverage, it is believed that its “cultivation and use began as early as the 9th century. Some authorities claim that it was cultivated in the Yemen earlier, around AD 575. The only thing that seems certain is that it originated in Ethiopia, from where it traveled to the Yemen about 600 years ago.”4 From the Arabian Peninsula coffee traveled to the East. “The Arabs are credited with first bringing coffee to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) as early as 1505.”4 It is said that fertile coffee beans were first introduced into South-West India by a Muslim holy man, Baba Budan on his return from a pilgrimage to Mecca in the 17th century.”[5] In his zeal to share what he’d found with his followers at home, he “smuggled seven coffee beans out of the Yemeni port of Mocha, wrapped around his belly. On his return home, he settled himself on the slopes of the Chandragiri Hills in Kadur district, Mysore State which is present day Karnataka. This hill range was later named after him as the Baba Budan Hills and one can see his tomb even today by taking a short trip from Chikmagalur.”6  While it may have been Baba Budan who brought coffee to India it was the British and the East India Company who by 1840 where growing coffee for exportation to Britten and the rest of Europe. “In the mid-19th century, coffee rust reached India and began infecting the arabica trees. Coffee rust is a fungus which attacks the leaves of coffee trees, potentially resulting in the defoliation of the tree and its eventual death. By 1869, the rust had become an epidemic. As a reaction to this, many of the farmers replaced the arabica trees with robusta, liberica, or a rust-tolerant hybrid variety of arabica trees. These more resistant trees are still commonly grown in India today.”[6]  The damaging effects of the coffee rust aside, by the late 19th century, it may be assumed that apart from the coffee destined for export by the East India Company, some bags of coffee found their way into the domestic market instead. “Facilitated by the railways and orchestrated by enterprising local traders and vendors, coffee moved from road-side stalls into the home, finding aficionados who roasted their own beans and even devised their own unique gadgets and utensils for roasting, grinding, brewing and serving.”1 In the process, they elevated filter coffee into an art form and created a coffee culture that practically defines a community.

“It is said that coffee remembers where it came from and how it was raised: the soil, the weather, the processing, and the roasting all are recorded in the bean. Coffee in the cup is the short lived snapshot of that history, and brewing is the developmental bath.”[7] Coffee can be brewed as thin as tea or as thick as porridge-each is considered the perfect cup by their devotees. The brewing options offer different alternatives to interpreting the same roasted beans. “The Indian Filter Coffee also known as Madras Filter Coffee is a sweet milky coffee made from medium to dark roasted coffee beans.”1 South Indian coffee is brewed with a metal device that resembles two cylindrical cups, one of which has a pierced bottom that nests into the top of the tumbler cup, leaving ample room underneath to receive the brewed coffee. The upper cup has two removable parts: a pierced pressing disc with a central stem handle, and a covering lid. “The upper cup is loaded with fresh ground coffee mixed with chicory, normally about 2 tablespoons per serving. The grounds are gently compressed with the stemmed disc into a uniform layer across the cup’s pierced bottom. With the press disc left in place, the upper cup is nestled into the top of the tumbler and boiling water is poured inside. The lid is placed on top, and the device is left to slowly drip the brewed coffee into the bottom.”7 “The chicory helps to hold on to the hot water a little longer, letting the water extract more flavors from the coffee powder.”7 The resulting brew is very potent, and is “traditionally consumed by adding 1–2 tablespoons to a cup of boiling milk with the preferred amount of sugar. The coffee is drunk from the tumbler, but is often cooled first with a dabarah, or a wide metal saucer with lipped walls. Coffee is typically served after pouring back and forth between the dabarah and the tumbler in huge arc-like motions of the hand. This serves several purposes: mixing the ingredients thoroughly; cooling the hot coffee down to a sipping temperature; and most importantly, aerating the mix without introducing extra water, such as with a steam wand used for frothing cappuccinos.”7 With so much time and preparation being spent on each cup of coffee it says a lot about the hospitality of the Indian people because it is customary to offer a cup of coffee to any visitor.

The golden age of the coffee house in India belongs undeniably to the “India Coffee House, which had its heyday from the 1940s through the 1970s. The first India Coffee House opened on Churchgate Street in Bombay on 28th September 1936. Much like the coffee houses of Europe, the India Coffee House quickly became a rendezvous for the intellectual and the dilettante alike.”5 But the outlets themselves were part of a larger strategy to promote coffee consumption in India, which for a long while was termed coffee propaganda. “At the height of its glory, the India Coffee House chain numbered 72 outlets, and essentially introduced the coffee habit in the tea-drinking north of the country.”5 However because of the changing times and with the advent of new technology Indian coffee houses evolved into what could be called a coffee bar or cybercafé. “When the Amalgamated Bean Coffee Trading Co.  launched the first Café Coffee Day outlet in November 1996, it truly was a leap of faith. ABC, as one of India’s leading exporters of coffee, were clued into the international scene and saw a business opportunity in fusing two distinct trends, the cyber craze and the growing want of gourmet coffee. Since 1996, when Café Coffee Day was the first commercial Internet service provider in India, the scene has evolved significantly, and the rapid increase in home internet connections has meant a decline in the ‘cyber’ revenue stream.”7 This hasn’t stopped the cyber cafes in India however as new cafés are opening up each week, with names like Barista, and Tata Coffee Limited. “These outlets are designed for young people in the age group of 15 – 29 to hang out. With air-conditioning and music, indoor games such as chess, scrabble and Pictionary, these pubs are virtually an extension of the college canteen”5, but thoroughly upscale versions. What India is witnessing is the evolution of a coffee house that served one standard house blend to a trendy bar that serves a variety of beverages and snacks. The espresso counter is a focal element, with the full range of gourmet coffees on order. Urban youth of every new generation always tend to stake out a certain public space to call their own; “certainly the coffee pubs in the Indian metros are the social milieu where the bold and the beautiful gather. However unlike coffee bars or cybercafés here in the west the focus of an Indian coffee bar is to socialize or be a part of a group activity.”7 For the youth of India, hanging out at a coffee pub is more of a lifestyle thing, and has more added value than simply sipping a cola or a lemon drink. The contemporary coffee bar scene in India today spells non-stop excitement. As each chain expands, each new store opening becomes a frothy celebration of India’s own brand of coffee culture.

Today, coffee at home is both instant and filtered, found on tap at vending machines and served at five star hotels. But for the original full-bodied Indian filter coffee, one still has to hit the pilgrim trail. “Its places like Madurai and Kumbakonam, Udupi and Mysore that serve coffee that’s sheer ambrosia”7 that takes the drinker back to the days of Baba Budan and his first taste of coffee. While the first coffee beans to spawn this vast and immersive India coffee culture may have been smuggled out of Mecca strapped to a holy mans belly, what grew from those first coffee beans was not only a rich tradition but also a culture all its own.

 Bibliography:

“Arabica and Robusta Coffee Plant.” Coffee. Web. 02 Mar. 2012. <http://www.coffeeresearch.org/coffee/coffeeplant.htm&gt;.

“Chicory.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Feb. 2012. Web. 02 Mar. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicory&gt;.

“Coffee Board of India.” Web. 02 Mar. 2012. <http://indiacoffee.org/default.php&gt;.

Datta, Aparna. “From Mocha to Mysore: A Coffee Journey.” Crucible Chronicle. Web. 01 Mar. 2012. <http://www.crucible-online.net/coffeebreak/From%20Mocha%20to%20Mysore%20-%20A%20Coffee%20Journey.htm&gt;.

“Ethiopian Coffee.” http://Www.selamta.net. Web. 01 Mar. 2012. <http://www.selamta.net/Ethiopian%20Coffee.htm&gt;.

“Indian Coffee Facts.” CIA the World Factbook. Web. 01 Mar. 2012. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html&gt;.

“Indian Filter Coffee.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Feb. 2012. Web. 02 Mar. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_filter_coffee&gt;.


[1] Indian Filter Coffee.

[2] Chicory.

[3] CIA the World Factbook

[4] Ethiopian Coffee

[5] Crucible Chronicle

[6] Arabica and Robusta Coffee Plant

[7] Coffee Board of India

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One Comment on “Coffee: A Drink so Strong it Will Make Goats Jump.”

  1. leaf52 March 2, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    One has to ask, “How holy is a man who smuggles coffee beans out of a country strapped to his belly?” 😉 interesting paper!

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