Coffee from India: Best Beans and Buying Guide
You may or may not know this, but India is an emerging coffee-growing region. It’s now gaining some well-deserved attention from experts. The country has a long history of growing the Robusta coffee beans used in blends and instant coffees. In recent years, more farmers are producing high-end Arabica beans to rival the world’s best.
Keep reading to learn all about India’s expanding coffee production and the best ways for you to enjoy the delicious results.
At A Glance:
The 3 Best Indian Coffees in 2023
For decades, India has provided the world with Robusta coffee beans found in espresso blends. But, only recently has it emerged as a player in the specialty Arabica market. To experience this latest development, here are three great coffees to try.
To really get a feel for Indian coffee, it’s crucial that you first sample the utterly unique Monsoon Malabar beans. These coffee beans go through a specific process found NOWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD, giving the resultant java a distinct flavour and full-body texture.
Volcanica Coffee’s Monsoon Malabar uses AA grade beans, the highest grade available. They are sourced from various small farmers throughout the region and certified by the Rainforest Alliance. This certification ensures that their production was in line with environmental, social, and economic sustainability.
In general, Monsooned Malabar beans have a thick texture and woody or earthy flavours. People frequently compare it to beans from other Pacific regions like Sumatra or Sulawesi. This medium roast from Volcanica is a perfect example.
It has notes of earthiness, spice, wood, tobacco, and smoke. But this odd-sounding combination is beautifully smooth thanks to low acidity and natural sweetness. Try it with a brewing method that showcases its rich texture, like a French press or espresso.
Peaberry coffee is rare, so it’s always a special treat. It’s the result of a natural mutation in which a coffee fruit produces a single bean rather than two. That single bean, the peaberry, absorbs all the nutrients it would usually share, producing what many believe to be a sweeter and more flavourful brew.
This example from Deckan coffee roasters certainly seems to support that theory. It has a mild flavour with light acidity and a smooth body, but its defining characteristic is its surprising sweetness. If you usually opt to add sugar to your brew, you might no longer find it necessary.
The coffee is grown in the Giri Mountains of the Karnataka region of southern India, one of the country’s main coffee-regions. The plants are naturally shaded and surrounded by abundant biodiversity. The coffee is hand-picked to sort out the peaberries, ensuring only the finest beans make the cut.
Decaf coffee hasn’t always had the best reputation, but times are changing! In the hands of a skilled roaster, decaffeinated beans are every bit as rich and flavourful as their peppier cousins. And that is certainly true of this delicious brew from the Equator.
Like the Deckan Peaberry beans, these coffee beans are shade-grown high in the mountains of India’s Karnataka region. They’re sourced from a single farm but processed in two different ways to add additional complexity. They’re given a light roast to showcase their bright acidity and nuanced flavours, which feature sweet dates and marshmallows balanced by a touch of bitter cocoa nib.
The all-natural Swiss Water process carries out decaffeination.
This is a versatile coffee suited to many brewing methods. Try them as a unique and refreshing cold brew.
All About Coffee in India
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This guide has everything you need to know about the past, present, and future of Indian coffee. Read through it to learn all about this up-and-coming origin and how to choose the best Indian coffee beans.
History and Growing Regions
The story of how coffee came to India is one of the better ones in coffee history. Though coffee has a long history in India, it isn’t native to the region. It is said to have been smuggled there from Yemen, at great personal risk, hidden in the beard of Brother Baba Budan. Baba Budan established the first coffee plantations in Karnataka, in southwest India, in the 16th century (1).
Today India is the 7th largest producer globally, and the southern region continues to dominate the cultivation of coffee. The leading coffee-growing areas are Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, with Karnataka accounting for over 70% of production. Some coffee is also grown to the east in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.
Indian coffee is usually sweet and low in acidity, though this can vary between specific origins. According to the Coffee Board of India, most coffee in the country is shade-grown. This is due to the climate’s demands, but a happy side effect is a rich biodiversity it promotes.
Coffee in India is grown under a canopy of thick natural shade in ecologically sensitive regions of the Western and Eastern Ghats. This is one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots of the world.
While coffee from India has historically been considered lower quality than specialty regions like Colombia or Ethiopia, that is starting to change. Both foreign and domestic drinkers are developing a taste for quality Indian Arabica coffee.
Although coffee consumption is growing in India, particularly in the southern states, tea is less beloved. However, they still export over 70% of beans. This is mainly to European countries like Italy and Germany, but North American and Asian buyers are fuelling a market for specialty and micro-lot coffees.
Arabica and Robusta
Arabica and Robusta are the two many types of coffee beans. Specialty coffee fans generally prefer Arabica beans because they are sweeter and have more subtle flavours, like these bucket list coffees. But Robusta beans have their place as well. They’re easier to grow, providing a more reliable income for farmers, and they often contribute a dark richness to espresso blends.
Unlike many growing regions, shown here on our world coffee map, both Robusta and Arabica beans are cultivated widely in India. Robusta is the main coffee crop, accounting for about 70% of production, though this number is falling.
India’s climate and the prevalence of coffee leaf rust make Robusta a safer choice for farmers, and the beans are still in high demand for European espresso drinkers.
Monsoon Malabar Coffee
If Indian coffee has a defining feature, it’s Monsooned Malabar coffee, a now protected term. So if you want to get to know this origin, this is an important one to sample. Long before talk of terroir or specialty origins became commonplace, India had this unique offering.
So what is it?
Originally, Monsooned Malabar coffee was a happy accident. Coffee beans being sent from India to England on ships were exposed to the monsoons’ winds and rains along the Malabar Coast. This process caused them to swell, grow pale in colour, and take on a distinct flavour. Today, this processing is done in a much more controlled fashion designed to mimic the beans’ exposure once faced on their ocean journey.
According to Mmuso Matsapola, co-owner of The Coffee Mafia roastery, the process also mutes the beans’ intensity and lowers the acidity. Anyone looking for an ultra-smooth brew will love this coffee (2).
The wetting process that the beans go through almost neutralises the pH, which creates a very mellow cup.
Therefore, the flavours tend to be earthy and woody, with notes of chocolate, spices, and nuts, and a full body — similar to the flavors of coffee beans grown in Thailand. Monsooned coffee is often compared with Sumatran coffee, which undergoes a similar wet process.
The Coffee Board of India grades coffee in India. The Indian Board has quite a complicated grading system that extends to all different types of coffee beans, including Robusta. We won’t dive into the system’s nuances, but essentially beans are graded based on their moisture and size. For Monsoon Malabar beans, AA is the highest grade.
Peaberry beans are a unique category.
These small beans result from a natural mutation that occurs in about 5% of coffee plants. It causes each coffee cherry to grow only one bean instead of two, so that single bean, the peaberry, is thought to be much more flavourful. It is always worth trying a peaberry coffee if you can get your hands on one. Still, they tend to be a bit more expensive as they need to be hand-picked and carefully sorted.
Although the coffee industry in India has been around for a long time, its high-end coffee production is just taking off. If you want to get in on the ground floor of what is sure to be an exceptional growing region, now is the time to try some Indian coffee.
A great place to start is with the outstanding Monsoon Malabar coffee from Volcanica. That’s a taste of India’s coffee past and future all in one.
South Indian filter coffee is a style of coffee served across southern India. Coffee is brewed in a traditional metal device similar to the Vietnamese phin that makes an ultra-strong brew. This is then mixed with frothed boiled milk and usually sugar (3).
Chicory coffee is coffee in which you add chicory root. It’s famous around the world, including India. Adding chicory will make your coffee bitter, or as some like to say, distinct from regular coffee. People add chicory root for many reasons, including a unique flavour, lower costs, coffee shortages, and some people even believe it makes the coffee healthier.
Specialty coffee doesn’t have a strict definition. the SCAA defines Green coffee as “coffee that is free of primary defects, has no quakers, is properly sized and dried, presents in the cup free of faults and taints and has distinctive attributes.” But others define it by the quality of a brewed cup (4).
- Vazalwar, M. (2017, October 31). India’s Specialty Coffee Journey: From Chicory to the Chemex. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2017/10/indias-specialty-coffee-journey-from-chicory-to-the-chemex/
- Mott, J. (2021, March 17). Micro lots & Monsoon Malabar: India’s future as a coffee origin. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2021/03/micro-lots-monsoon-malabar-indias-future-as-a-coffee-origin/
- Menon, A. (2020, November 21). South Indian Filter Coffee is Like No Coffee You’ve Had Before. Retrieved from https://food52.com/blog/25751-what-is-south-indian-filter-coffee
- Rhinehart, R. (2017, March 17). What is Specialty Coffee? Retrieved from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/584f6bbef5e23149e5522201/t/61656536b3ef6570d80794cc/1634035009273/Attributes+Framework+Whitepaper+2021+-+Release+1.2+Reduced.pdf