Did You Know, Coffee Seeds Were Smuggled Into India By A Pilgrim?

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9:00 am 16 Aug, 2017


Indians love their tea and coffee. Both beverages, however, are not indigenous to the nation and were introduced by foreigners. While tea was introduced by the British, coffee has a more interesting tale.

The saga of coffee has an act of defiance. In the 17th century, a Sufi saint, Baba Budan, went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Upon arrival in Mecca, he learned that coffee, which was discovered a century earlier in Ethiopia, was kept as an Arab monopoly and was only exported in roasted form. Budan decided to defy this and sewed a couple of coffee seeds into his robes. Since he was a saint, he was exempt from checking while on his return to India. Upon his arrival in the country, Budan planted seven seeds in Chikmagalur in 1670.

Coffee plantation in Chikmagalur India Online


However, many food historians believe that Budan was not the first to introduce coffee to the subcontinent. In Hazel Colaco’s book ‘A Cache To Coffee’, she wrote that the beans arrived on the Malabar coast much earlier by Arab traders. Edward Terry, a British man in the court of Jahangir, in 1616 wrote,


Many of the people there (in India), who are strict in their religion, drink no wine at all; but they use a liquor, more wholesome than pleasant, they call coffee, made by a black seed boiled in water, which turns it almost into the same colour, but doth very little alter the taste of the water. Notwithstanding it is very good to help digestion, to quicken the spirits, and to cleanse the blood.

Soon, coffee trade began across the world with Ottoman Empire leading the race. The coffee plantations grew in large numbers in south India and were soon hit by a disease. “Coffee rust” began to affect the plant’s growth which led to the rising imports of coffee from South America. By WWI, coffee acreage declined and made way for research.


The Great Depression also halted the popularity of coffee which made the British turn to advertising to push the sale of this beverage. The advertisers, Walter Thompson, suggested that the coffee companies established coffee shops in Indian cities, leading to the foundation of a great coffee-drinking culture in major Indian cities and high-societies.

David Burton, a food historian, in his book ‘The Raj at the Table’ wrote,

India’s first coffee house opened in Calcutta after the battle of Plassey in 1780. Soon after, John Jackson and Cottrell Barrett opened the original Madras Coffee House, which was followed in 1792 by the Exchange Coffee Tavern at the Muslim, waited at the mouth of the Madras Fort. The enterprising proprietor of the latter announced he was going to run his coffee house on the same lines as Lloyd’s in London, by maintaining a register of the arrival and departure of ships, and offering Indian and European newspapers for his customers to read. Other houses also offered free use of billiard tables, recovering their costs with the high price of one rupee for a single dish of coffee.

Madras Coffee House now has several outlets Foodie Buddie


Soon, a new, more-resistant, variety of the seed named s795 Arabica was developed, which changed the course of food history. Indian coffee grew rapidly with Green revolution and advancement in technology and irrigation. Indian filter coffee was popularized by Indian Coffee Houses, run by the Coffee Board of India, in the 1940s. In the 20th century, the Indian filter coffee migrated to Malaysia and Singapore with Indian Muslims where it is now popularly known as ‘Kopi tarik‘.



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