Market Reports

India’s growing coffee culture

In a recent summit between India and the European Union (EU), the world’s largest democracy reinforced its status as one of the developing world’s leading voices on climate change. Just a few months earlier, in December 2015, India was among the unprecedented number of nations to reach agreement on measures to limit the rise of global temperatures due to man-made climate change to 2 degrees Celsius. At the Brussels summit in March this year, the EU and India decided to step up their cooperation to fight climate change, adopting the ‘Joint Declaration between the EU and India on a Clean Energy and Climate Partnership’. The declaration focuses on the implementation of the Paris Agreement and is intended to trigger a renewed climate dialogue between the EU and India. It aims to reinforce energy cooperation, mainly on renewable energy sources, promote clean energy generation, and increased energy efficiency. Back home, India’s leaders are busy implementing policies that will see them boost their renewable energy output 17 times the current rate by 2022. In the coffee growing regions of south-western India such as Karnataka, Indian coffee farmers have for generations been leading the way in sustainable farming practices. Coffee is one of the most eco-friendly crops in India, where farmers have traditionally employed cultivation practices that are becoming ever more widely noted for their sustainable credentials. Almost all of India’s coffees are shade grown, meaning they are grown under two tiers of shade from indigenous leguminous trees. After this process is complete, Indian coffees are then entirely handpicked and completely sun dried, Aarti Gupta, the Director of Finance for the Coffee Board of India, tells GCR Mag. “Coffee in India helps to preserve the bio-diversity in the ecologically sensitive Western and Eastern Ghats [regions],” she explains. “Western Ghats is one of the top 25 bio-diversity hot spots of the world. Coffee cultivation in India contributes significantly to sustaining the unique biodiversity of coffee growing regions and is responsible for the socioeconomic development in some of the most remote and underdeveloped areas of the country.” The vast majority of the coffee grown in India is grown in the south-west of the country, as it has been for more than 400 years. In fact, this part of India has the longest tradition of coffee cultivation in the world outside of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Legend has it that the Sufi Saint Baba Budan was responsible for the spread of coffee cultivation beyond Africa and Arabia when he brought seven seeds of coffee in his belt from Yemen to his homeland following his pilgrimage to Mecca in the 17th century. Recognising the potential for coffee as a sustainable and profitable crop across India, the country’s authorities are encouraging coffee cultivation in non-traditional areas such as  Andhra Pradesh and Orissa and the north eastern parts of the country. “This is being done mainly to wean the tribal people from these areas from slash and burn forms of agriculture and provide them with a sustainable livelihood,” Gupta says. Despite its strong heritage as a coffee producer, India is still largely a tea-drinking nation. However, all that has begun to change over the past 15 years, with consumption on the rise. While coffee consumption in the country grew at an average rate of 2 per cent per annum in the 50 years leading up to 2000, it has since picked up and has growing at about 5 per cent per annum since the turn of the century. It is estimated that India now consumes 120,000 tonnes of coffee per year. “The coffee culture has spread throughout the country and consumption has doubled, thanks to the efforts of a few specialist coffee chains and instant coffee manufacturers,” Gupta says. Another major factor driving consumption in India is the country’s changing demographics. India has a relatively high proportion of young people, rising disposable incomes, increasing acceptance of specialist coffee shops, and a low level of per capita consumption of coffee that offers huge potential for growth. “Coffee is being gradually characterised as a lifestyle product,” Gupta says. “It is breaking geographical barriers in India by making inroads into non-traditional areas of coffee consumption.” Traditionally coffee consumption has been limited to the south-western parts of the country where the crop is cultivated. Although instant coffee is popular in north, east, and west India, the evolving café culture in these regions, which has been supported by the evolution of branded coffee shops, has increased awareness about coffee, especially among younger sections of the population. Also helping to spread awareness is the rise of specialty coffee and barista culture, best illustrated by the fact that, for the past two years, India has begun to conduct its own National Barista Championships. The Coffee Board of India began conducting competitions to provide a platform for baristas across the country to compete with, and learn from, each other and educate people about the opportunities offered by the Indian coffee industry. “The National Barista Championship is dedicated to inspiring excellence in coffee brewing and encouraging passionate baristas to enhance their skills through an exciting and challenging competition,” Gupta says. The winner of the 2016 National Barista Championship is Paras Bindra, who will compete at the World Barista Championships in Dublin in June.
Bindra’s own coffee journey is similar to that of many Indians across the country. “My mom used to whisk instant coffee and sugar with few drops of water for like an hour and then this thick paste we stored in refrigerator for a week.,” Bindra tells GCR Mag. “The recipe is quite simple – put a spoon full of coffee paste in a cup and just add hot boiling milk and it’s ready – a quick beverage to beat the chill.” It wasn’t until he got his first job as a barista in 2005 at a large café chain that he started to learn more about the culture that has since become his passion. “My eyes opened up and I was so impressed with the environment of the café – young guests, a jukebox, and energetic co-workers,” Bindra says. “From that point of time my true learning of coffee started and it’s still going on.” Based in Delhi, which is in the north of the country, Bindra is witnessing the transition of India to an espresso culture first-hand. “I see coffee culture in India is developing in the form of cafés,” he says. “Going out for a cup of coffee has become routine for Indians – whether it’s for a business meeting or just a family get-together or spending time with friends or just sitting alone enjoying your favourite latte, cafés are the new hot spots in India.” The next stage of development for coffee culture in India is about educating consumers about quality, Bindra says. “It will take another couple of years to educate people about the difference between a cup of coffee and a perfect cup of coffee,” he says. “In my view, Indian baristas are playing an important role in educating their customers about the true characteristics of a great cup in many cafés. I personally ensure that I talk to most of my guests about coffee and taking their views on the cup prepared and served – this is how we are trying to develop a true coffee culture in India.” Bindra says he hopes events such as the National Barista Championship and the exposure they bring to the profession will help improve the standard of coffee across the country, and encourage more young Indians to join the industry. “The barista profession is still considered a part-time career in India among young people and most of them become baristas so as to earn pocket money during their college or school vacations,” he says. “Immense new career growth options are there during this event, as you meet industry professionals, roasters, coffee exporters, baristas, and representatives from other cafes – there are a lot of opportunities for baristas through this event.” So while the leaders of India and the EU might have made significant gains towards cultural and knowledge exchange during their Brussels summit in March, in June another exchange will take place among coffee luminaries from both continents in Dublin. Bindra says he will approach the event with a keen sense of the occasion. “India has been growing coffee for more than 400 years and the Indian farmer’s soul is connected with coffee,” he says. “I will consider this strong bond and try to present all the hard work they do to get us such a beautiful coffee.” GCR

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