Love coffee? Maybe even call yourself a coffee snob? Either way, it’s not enough to have tasted all the single origins and the blends. On the occasion of International Coffee Day, here’s our guide to the best Indian coffee-growing regions to get a taste of what exactly goes into your favourite brew.
You may just be a bean counter at work. But when it comes to brewing coffee, you tend to wax eloquent. After exploring all the coffee aisles of your neighbourhood supermarket, perhaps it’s time you put your wallet where your coffee is and go visit a plantation to see how the dark matter that matters is sown, grown, roasted, and ground before it reaches you in those heavy-duty handsome packets or lovely little pour-over brew bags.
Traditionally, coffee has been a largely South Indian predilection. The story goes that Baba Budan, an Indian Sufi saint, fell in love with coffee while travelling back from his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1670. He brought in seven raw coffee beans from Mocha in Yemen (some say they were hidden in his beard!) and planted them on the slopes of the Chandragiri Hills in today’s Chikmagalur district in Karnataka. The hill is now named after this saint, who is beloved of both Hindus and Muslims in true Indian syncretic style – Baba Budan Giri – which could be the starting point of your own coffee pilgrimage.
It helped that the climate and soil of the region were perfect for coffee growing. Today, two species of coffee – Arabica and Robusta – grow across Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and, more recently, in Andhra Pradesh. While a large part of our production is exported, with many Indians waking up to the charms of good coffee, the estates have a lot of takers with local roasters and brands.
These are the places to head to for an immersive coffee experience:
To see: Plenty of waterfalls and temples, a scenic lake, Mullayanagiri peak, and two wildlife reserves (Kudremukh and Bhadra), apart from coffee plantations galore and Baba Budan Giri.
To stay: The Serai offers experiences such as coffee plantation walks, bean picking, and a bean-to-cup tasting. Or head to Halli Berri, with its mountain cottages, where their aim is to help you understand a little better what it takes to conserve, defend, and preserve the natural habitat that enables them to grow biodiverse conscious bean and create a responsible luxury bed and breakfast. This conscious coffee plantation is the perfect place to unwind over the perfect cup of coffee.
To see: Better known as Coorg, this region in the misty mountains has gorgeous weather and stunning vistas. Make the most of your visit by visiting the little fort and the garden called Raja’s Seat in Madikeri, the origin of the river Kaveri at Talakaveri, Abbey Falls, white water rafting in the Barapole river.
To stay: There are some lovely homestays here. We tried the Rare Earth Estate (now a part of amã Stays & Trails by the IHCL group), a cosy bungalow owned by the lovely Revathi Iyer, located just eight kms from Madikeri. A morning walk through their plantations of Arabica and Robusta coffee interspersed with vanilla, cardamom, and pepper, makes for quite a heady bouquet of aromas to start your day! You can even help with the harvesting if you’re around between April to November for Arabica and December to March for Robusta and chat with the planters to get a grounding in coffee cultivation. At The Tamara too, you’re invited to pluck the berries and even indulge in a spa treatment that’s all about coffee.
To see: The wonderful wildlife sanctuary that’s part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, Edakkal Caves with inscriptions dating back to Neolithic times, Pookode Lake, Banasur Sagar Dam, and the Ambalavayal heritage museum are all worthwhile stops.
To stay: The Tranquil Resort lives up to its name, with luxe treehouses that offer you complete repose and access to 400 acres of century-old coffee plantations. Expect storied walks through the coffee cultivation, bird watching, Ayurvedic massages, and cooking classes. The Field View Estate Bungalow is built around an original planter’s bungalow in Muttil, four kms from Kalpetta. Picture traditional architecture, a natural waterfall-fed pool, and coffee plantations as far as your eye can see!
Yercaud, Tamil Nadu
To see: This beautiful hill station in the district of Salem is up in the Shevaroy hills. Walk through orange groves, stroll around Yercaud Lake, check out the Japanese bonsai at Anna park, peep through the powerful telescope from the watchtower at Lady’s Seat.
To stay: All roads lead to Tipperary. Or in this case, the Tipperary Estate, which is located around a working organic coffee estate. From estate walks to trekking, rock-climbing and off-roading, there ae many adventures to be had here. They offer a variety of stays, from a colonial bungalow built by the family of writer Charles Dickens, to cottages, tree houses, and tents. Or experience India’s first G2C (grower to connoisseur) bespoke coffee that’s nurtured from nursery seed to roasted been entirely on the Cauvery Peak Estate here. They will explain the processes of planting, harvesting, pulping, washing, drying, milling and grading, roasting, packaging, and shipping if you are interested in their Coffee Experience Tour while you stay in their colonial villa.
Araku Valley, Andhra Pradesh
To see: This stunning hill station is in the thickly forested Eastern Ghats range. Apart from many waterfalls and temples, explore the Tribal Museum to learn about the region’s numerous indigenous tribes, their customs and handicrafts, visit Bheemili Beach to see remnants of 17th century British and Dutch settlements, take the train through the Padmapuram Gardens to admire its sculptures and tree-top huts, or look for golden geckos amid the stalactites and stalagmites in the huge Borra Caves. The Coffee Museum is the only one of its kind in India and will give you insights into the origins and spread of coffee love.
To stay: The simple Kollaputtu Resorts surrounded by miles of coffee plantations in the hills of Ananthagiri are a great place to follow the journey of how the tribal cooperatives of the Araku region partnered with a French coffee expert to come up with what is considered India’s first organic coffee, which has made it to an exclusive store in the Marais in Paris! Talk terroir and taste with the experts at the plantations as you get a taste of the elixir.
As coffee drinkers proliferate, the coffee universe expands. There are fledgling coffee plantations in new regions such as the hills of Daringbadi and Koraput in Odisha, and Chikhaldara in Maharashtra.
Did you know?
Coffee beans that were being transported in an European ship in the monsoon, started to swell up, and changed colour. The coffee made from them tasted more intense. This accidental exposure to moisture led to the variety of specialty coffee known as Monsooned Malabar AA!