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Most people don’t think of coffee coming from India. They think of tea. But some very special coffees come from this part of the world. Coffee got its start in India in the early 1700s after a Sufi saint, Baba Budan, managed to smuggle seven green coffee beans out of the port of Mocha in Yemen. He promptly planted them, and from these magic beans, backyard plantings spread. Under British rule, the coffee industry increased as they established plantations in the hills of southern India, where climate and elevation is conducive. Then in the 1870s, demand for tea and a plague of Roya (rust) threatened coffee growing. Instead of giving up, they researched rust-resistant varieties, and coffee in India survived. (Now India is home to 16 unique coffee varieties, and the country is pursuing GI-tags (Geographical Indicators) for 5 of these).

When the Great Depression struck, the industry took another hit. In an effort to save it, the government formed the Coffee Cess Committee, which ultimately became the Coffee Board of India. At first, its function was to provide funding to coffee exporters, but when export routes were sealed during WWII, the board took upon itself the responsibility of buying coffee from producers and marketing it. Post-liberation (1991), the industry has increased with government legislation in place that allows growers to market their coffees directly rather than selling them to a central pool.

98% of the country's 250,000 coffee growers are smallholders, so it can be difficult to trace coffee lots back to a single farm. Most traceability peters out at the region or the point of processing. But single estate coffees are worth finding; it is said that Indian coffee growers pours their life into the crop, and their care can be tasted in the amazing variety and quality of their coffees.

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