India’s coffee industry is diverse and vibrant. Specialty purveyors normally prefer the mellow, sophisticated flavors of India’s Arabica coffees, although India grows some of the finest Robusta coffees in the world. Top-grade Indian Robusta exhibits a clean and smooth flavor with none of the rubbery aftertaste typically associated with other Robusta coffees. Arabica coffee in India is grown at elevations between 3,000 and 6,000 feet, whereas Robusta is grown above 1,000 feet.
India is the sixth largest producer of coffee in the world, behind only Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, Colombia, and Ethiopia. The International Coffee Organization categorizes India’s production as “Other Mild Arabica,” a category that includes coffees from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Zimbabwe.
Most of India’s coffee is grown in the three southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. Karnataka accounts for nearly 65 percent of total production, whereas Tamil Nadu contributes approximately 15 percent and Kerala makes up around 20 percent. India’s principal Arabica-growing districts are Anamalais, Baba Budan, Biligiris, Coorg, Mysore (Chikmagalur), Nilgiris, Palanis, and Shevaroys.
In the 2015-16 season, India produced 5.3 million bags (60kg) of coffee. Arabica represented 1.5 million bags; Robusta the rest. Of this production, 3.8 million bags were exported, with Europe as the primary export destination. [Data source: US Department of Agriculture/Foreign Agricultural Service]
Historically, coffee was a tightly regulated commodity in India. In the 1990’s, however, the government deregulated the industry, and producers are now free to market their coffees anywhere in the world. Many growers now brand their coffees as estate-grown, a move that has also resulted in a significant improvement in coffee quality. The Coffee Board of India, which once served as the industry’s regulating arm, now focuses on agricultural research, grading coffees, and enforcing quality standards.