How Coffee is Gaining ‘Ground’ in India’s Chai-Driven Culture

September 15, 2020 Soni Satpathy-Singh     SketchyDesi

Tea has been a long standing tradition in India—however, coffee is on the rise in this new millennium. In the past decade alone, domestic consumption of coffee has grown at more than double the rate of tea.

India’s Coffee Culture and Economy

In India, global chains like Starbucks, Costa and Gloria Jean’s Coffees are vying for position in an attempt to compete with the nation’s own Café Coffee Day, which has the lion’s share of the market and is beating the international behemoths on a local level.

Tea manufacturers have begun responding to coffee’s growing appeal among Indians by petitioning for tea to be the nationally recognized drink. In an attempt to remain impartial, the government’s Ministry of Commerce has refrained from choosing sides.

Southern Grown

Most of the country’s coffee are shade-grown, using a unique process on plantations that are nestled in the hilly tracts of the south Indian states. The two major varieties cultivated are Arabica and Robusta.

The state of Karnataka produces the largest amount, while Kerala is next in line, followed by Tamil Nadu in third place.

Legend has it that the origins of the crop are due to the efforts of one man, a Sufi saint named Baba Budan, who encountered the caffeinated beverage on a return journey from Mecca over four centuries ago. He smuggled some illegal (Arabia zealously regulated exportation) green coffee beans from Mocha—a port city in Yemen that overlooks the Red Sea—back to his homeland in the Karnataka hills of India. Over the next several hundred years—after he had planted his seven ‘magic’ seeds—coffee plantations began sprouting up in the surrounding countryside as wealthy British investors relentlessly pushed industry growth throughout the region of southern India.

Leading Export

India ranks among the top ten exporters of coffee according to a report endorsed by The Indian Institute of Foreign Trade. About 70 to 80 percent of the country’s output is sold to other nations. The Russian Federation, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Spain are the five main purchasers of this product.

Social Appeal

Coffee is becoming the favored drink of the younger generation, affluent professionals, and urban citizens. It has been successfully marketed (mainly by Café Coffee Day) within India’s major cities as something modern, hip, and sexy.

Cafes and coffee houses offer a socially acceptable place for people to get together with friends to just chat, grab a bite to eat or even go on a casual first date. This is particularly attractive for some of the patrons since much of the twenty-something crowd in India still lives at home, and their reserved parents would frown upon them going to a less reputable place, like a tavern or nightclub.

Usually, the current music of the day lends ambiance to such cafes while comfortable couches provide a homelike atmosphere where people can lounge in a public, non-threatening environment. Many of the coffee houses also offer free wireless internet connection. This draws an increasing number of customers who are lured by the chance to relax with a cup of coffee while browsing the internet.

The Future

The past couple of decades clearly indicates that coffee is gaining favor in India. Its strongest proponents are the younger generation, but modern thinking people of all ages are also falling in love with the drink.

This growing domestic use, coupled with the solid export industry, may one day result in coffee being India’s national beverage.

Soni Satpathy-Singh

As a recipe developer in her days before The Teal Mango, Soni remains devoted to food, particularly Indian food, and more specifically, pav bhaji and chaat.


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