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Coffee culture in India

Background & history

India is fortunate to be amongst only a handful of countries between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn where coffee can be cultivated.

Image: Green belt of the world (top 11 producers of coffee)

The coffee plant requires very specific terrain as well as climate & altitude conditions. This region is called the bean belt.

The farming of coffee started in India in the 16th century but commercial cultivation & wide spread consumption did not start till the 18th century. Like many other things, we have to thank the British for starting the coffee culture in India at scale.

Image: A coffee house in British India (source: Preston Lawrence )

India is currently the third-largest producer and exporter of coffee in Asia, This accounts for 3.30 per cent (2017-18) of the global coffee production. In 2018, India produced 3.16 million kg of coffee. Of this, only 30% was consumed domestically, i.e. less than one million kg.

Compare this to the 1,267 million kg of tea produced in India (2016). About 75% of this was consumed locally, i.e. a whopping 950 million kg!

Although more green coffee is produced globally than tea — 8.5 million metric tons versus 4.7 million metric tons of tea in 2011, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization — it takes only about two grams of tea to make a cup, compared with 10 grams of coffee. As a result, as British geographer David Grigg wrote, worldwide “three cups of tea are drunk for every one of coffee.”

If anyone had a doubt that we are a nation of tea drinkers, this factoid should settle it!

With the fact established that coffee drinkers are in the minority in this country, let’s look at the evolution of modern coffee drinking culture in India.

With the fact established that coffee drinkers are in the minority in this country, let’s look at the evolution of modern coffee drinking culture in India.

The first wave of coffee

Image: College Street Coffee House

The Indian Coffee Board founded the first Indian Coffee House in Mumbai in 1936. In addition, neighbourhoods in south Indian cities had countless privately run coffee shops serving south Indian filter coffee.

Typically these shops did not have seating arrangement but more a buffet style setup of drink & go. Households in south India had their own routine of grinding, brewing coffee while the rest of India was predominantly used to instant coffee with a market dominated by Nescafe brand.

The second wave of coffee

The second wave of coffee took birth in USA in 1971 when Starbucks introduced the concept of freshly roasted beans in the restaurant.

The phenomenon of milk based espresso drinks made

with freshly roasted beans made rapid inroads

globally in the 80’s & 90’s decade. Indians had to wait

for it till Café Coffee Day setup shop in 1996 in


This was followed by the successful launch of Barista

chain in 2000, which was later acquired by Tata

Beverages and then by Lavazza.

The first multinational chain, Costa Coffee set up

shop in India in 2005.

Finally, Starbucks made an entry into the country

in late 2012 in a joint venture partnership with Tata


The third wave of coffee

The third wave movement started in early 2000’s. If the first wave of coffee was about consumption and the second wave about enjoyment of coffee, third wave is about appreciation of coffee.

Just like fine wine, third wave or specialty coffee focuses on origin of coffee, the way it is traded and prepared. There for the coffee can have various terms attached to it – fair trade, organic, single origin or artisan coffee.

It took about a decade or so for this phenomenon to

develop in India. Blue Tokai Roasters were among the

first to break into the Indian third wave scene in 2013.

Since then, they have opened many world-class cafes

across major cities in India. Their cafes are exemplary

in using world class brewing equipment & techniques

and reasonably competent baristas.

Today there are several high quality roasters offering excellent single origin coffees sourced from various parts of India.

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