The origins of coffee production in southern India start with a myth. The story goes that a pilgrim named Baba Budan passed through Yemen from Mecca and took out seven coffee beans. Back then export was strictly controlled. However because he took seven, a sacrosanct number in Islam, it was considered a religious act.
Baba Budan planted these first seeds in the Chikmagalur district of the Karnataka region and there they thrived. The hills there now bear his name, Bababudangiri, and is still an important coffee-growing area.
In the middle of the 19th century, coffee plantations in southern India began to flourish under British colonial rule. This was only for the short term. In the 1870s the industry suffered due to increasing demand for tea, and the rise of leaf rust, which attacked the coffee plants. Many plantations switched to tea and coffee production decreased. Luckily, the leaf rust did not perish coffee out of India. On the contrary, it made stronger, because the country encouraged research to develop rust-resistant varieties.
During the 1990s there was another decrease in the regulation governing how and where producers could sell their coffee. The domestic coffee market in India grew rapidly. Because tea is a cheaper solution, India has a very low per capita consumption of coffee. The annual consumption per person is just 100g (3½oz). But don’t forget the immense population of India, so the total consumption of coffee is somewhere two million bags of coffee per year. India produces over five million bags in total, although the majority of this is Robusta.
Robusta is better suited to India than Arabica. The variety prefers lower altitudes and moderate climate which result in high yields. The producers pay high attention to the production of Robusta in India, so the coffee occupies the premium end of the market.
Even the best Robustas still carry distinctive woody flavors within. But the relative lack of unclean flavors in Indian Robustas makes them popular with roasters who still like Robusta in their espresso blends.