India, Karnataka PB, New Education Lot Offering

By David Shaub Stallings

1,200-1,500 meters above sea level
Harvest Season

Coffee came to India, by way of Yemen, in the late 1600’s. As coffee mythology would have it, the plant was first trafficked out of Yemen by a Sufi monk, Baba Budan, who was passing through the region on his way home from Mecca. It was illegal to take coffee that was not boiled or roasted (both processes being ones that kill the seed, and thus prohibit the plant from further propagation), and as such the monk was forced to smuggle the seeds out of the country (seven of them, on his chest - as the legend goes). Baba Budan took the seven seeds and cultivated them in Chikmagalur, a region located in the modern-day state of Karnataka in southwestern India. The crop has thrived there since.

The lower altitudes and hot, moist climate of India means that the country is much better suited to the production of Robusta than Arabica, which produces best in cooler climates and at higher altitudes. Robusta is in the same genus as Arabica, but a different species of coffee. Robustas are typically known for having strong unpleasant flavors of rubber, a pronounced nutty quality, and a powerful bitterness (likely because coffees from this species are much higher in caffeine, a very bitter compound). They do, however, have many positive traits as well. It just so happens that these positive traits are almost exclusively ones related to agriculture. They do well in hot, low altitude regions, they are much more drought resistant than arabica plants, they are resistant to many diseases and funguses that arabica plants are not, they are high yielding, etc. India has placed a strong emphasis on producing high quality robustas and has succeeded greatly, crafting remarkably palatable versions of a coffee species largely ignored by the vast majority of the specialty coffee industry. 

This lot, like all other lots currently and previously on the Passenger offerings menu, is not a robusta lot. Rather, it is the arabica species (the species that is much more capable of producing sweet, complex and delicious cups of coffee). This lot was produced by smallholders in the Chikmagalur region at the foothills of the Mullayanagiri mountain range. The variety is Kent 975, a tell Typica selection that was likely bred on Kent Estate in India. The coffee in this region is all grown under heavy shade, which is necessary due to the oppressive summertime heat. As with Kenyan coffees, the PB in this case refers to screen size – in this case peaberry. Typically coffee cherries produce two seeds. In the case of a peaberry, which accounts for roughly 5% of the coffee seeds produced by any given plant, only one seed is produced inside of the coffee cherry. Since the singular seed is not limited in developmental space by another seed, it is not forced to develop a flat side, as is typically the case with coffee.

Why this coffee is being presented as an Education Lot:

There are a number of factors that place this coffee squarely within the scope of the Education Lot mission. The Kent variety that makes up this lot was the likely first variety selected for its resistance to rust, a fungus that attacks the leaves of coffee plants and can devastate farms. Secondly, being the sixth largest coffee producing country in the world, any Indian coffee certainly makes it into the category of a coffee with socio-economic importance. But, the factor which our green buying team deemed most apt when looking for an Indian coffee to offer on our educational menu was the fact that India was the second country (after Yemen) in the history of human coffee consumption, to cultivate coffee commercially. While Yemen does still produce coffee, it does so on nowhere near the same scale that India does. As such, India is a historically relevant coffee producing country to present as an Education Lot. This is the second lot we are presenting this year from the Chikmagalur region. They both fill the same role on the Education Lot menu, but were both too enjoyable to select one over the other.


In The Cup

    • Browning sugars, cherry, dried fruits and complex herbal qualities are found on the nose of this coffee. In the cup a distinct black tea quality grounds flavors of macadamia nuts, sweet basil, and baking spice qualities.

The Takeaway

      • Coffee was taken to India by way of Yemen sometime around 1670. Legend has it that a Sufi monk named Baba Budan smuggled coffee out of Yemen while returning home from visiting Mecca and cultivated it in India where hills in the region of Chikmagalur still bear his name (Bababudangiri). Whether it was these smuggled seeds or the work of the Dutch in the late 1600’s that took coffee to India, the fact is that coffee has thrived in India since the late 17th century. This lot, from the Chikmagalur region of Karnataka, is clean, complex and interesting and being presented as an Education Lot for the historically significant role that Indian coffee production has played. This coffee is part of our Education Lot series. Read more about our Education Lots on our blog.

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