Coffee belongs to the family Rubiaceae, which has some 500 genera and over 6,000 species. Coffea is by far the most important member of the family economically. The two most important species of coffee economically are Coffea arabica (Arabica coffee), which accounts for 70% of world production and Coffea canephora (Robusta coffee). Two other species which are grown are Coffea liberica (Liberica coffee) and Coffea dewevrei (Excelsa coffee).

 Arabica coffee: Coffea arabica

The best known varieties are 'Typica' and 'Bourbon' but from these many different strains and cultivars have been developed. The average arabica plant is a large bush with dark-green oval leaves. It is genetically different from other coffee species, having four sets of chromosomes rather than two. The fruits are oval and mature in 7 to 9 months; they usually contain two flat seeds (the coffee beans) - when only one bean develops it is called a pea berry. Arabica coffee is often susceptible to attack by pests and diseases, therefore resistance is a major goal of plant breeding programmes. Arabica coffee is grown throughout Latin America, in Central and East Africa, in India and to some extent in Indonesia.

coffee arabica

Robusta coffee- Coffea canephora

The term 'robusta' is actually the name of a widely grown variety of this species. It is a robust shrub or small tree growing up to 10 metres in height, but with a shallow root system. The fruits are rounded and take up to 11 months to mature; the seeds are oval in shape and smaller than those of C. arabica. Robusta coffee is grown in West and Central Africa, India, throughout South-East Asia and to some extent in Brazil. (Annon, 2003)

The capabilities of Kodagu as a coffee growing country have long been known to the natives, and it is a matter of surprise, that the European enterprise did not enter on the field till a much later date.  It is conjectured that in the time of the Coorg Rajahs some Moplas( Muslims), to whom they had given land near Nalknad, introduced the shrub from seed, which was brought from “Mocha” or perhaps secondhand from Munzerabad.  Its successful and profitable cultivation was at first concealed from the Coorgs, but these were shrewd enough to find out for themselves, that, whilst none of the fabled fatal consequences followed the cultivation of the shrub, there was a ready and lucrative sale for the produce, through the exertions of the first British Superintendent, Captain Le Hardy, who took a deep interest in the material prosperity of the country, the coffee plant became almost  universal, and now there is hardly a Coorg or any native house, that does not pride itself in a coffee-garden, comprising, it may be, a few trees or as many acres. 

When coffee cultivation was taken in hand by European skill and energy, the industry soon assumed greater importance.  Mr. Fowler, the first European Planter, opened up the Mercara Estate in 1854, Mr. H. Mann became the pioneer on the Sampaji Ghat in 1855, Dr. Maxwell opened up the Perambadi Ghat estates in 1856, and in 1857 Mr. Kaundinya founded Anandapur village with a most promising plantaion in the Bamboo district.  Round these first centres of cultivation, dozens of extensive estates sprang up within a short time (G Richter, 1870).

This prosperity, however, was not allowed to continue without a check.  A disease appeared upon many estates in about 1870 and a number of plantations were literally ruined.  The Borer and over a half a dozen species of bugs brought in dismay to the hearts of many planters and according to the statistics of 1877 it showed that the total holdings and area planted were 84,344 and 44,150 acre against 77,390 and 32,361 acres in 1870 respectively.  The largest coffee estate in about 1865 to 1870 was of Carnatic Coffee Co. Ltd., with 3,012 acres.  At that time, 47,572 acres of coffee were held by the Indian planters.  Coffee from North Codagu used to be shipped from Mangalore and sent to England.  In 1867, coffee worth Rs. 8, 97,600 was exported.  The south Codagu produce used to be shipped from Tellicherry and then to Persian Gulf and Arabia.  The coffee revenue from 1859 to 1876 was as under: 1859- Rs. 27,941; 1867-   Rs. 65,698; 1876- Rs. 1,31,467.

The acreage under cultivation by the Europeans and Indians in 1875 is as follows:

Coffee area in 1857


Area assessed

Area planted

Area unplanted



48,675  acres

32,360  acres

24,669  acres

18,481  acres

24,006  acres

13,879  acres


Total in 1874

81,035  acres

70,540  acres

43,150  acres

41,150  acres

37,885  acres

35,390  acres


10,495  acres

  2,000  acres

  2,495  acres


But the area under coffee came down due to problems of pests and diseases and also due to World War. The reduction in area between 1896 to 1952 was 1896- 84,820 acres      1906- 80,000 acres       1916- 52,717 acres      1936- 39,762 acres and 1952- 49,900 acres. The high price of coffee was due to increasing demand for coffee and secondly due to export allotments which were higher than what stocks warranted.  When the war broke out in 1939 the foreign market for Indian coffee was cut off and the industry was faced with a serious problem. 

In the inter-war years the coffee prices steadily declined.  The Indian Coffee Board had its origin in the slump of those times of 1940.  Its object was to stabilize prices at a reasonable level by colleting surplus coffee produced in India and marketing it in planned stages so as to prevent glut in the internal market.  Thus, out of 49,500 acres of estates, 22,000 acres are owned by the companies and the English planters and about 27,000 acres are owned by the Indian planters, both small and big.  The coffee growing area is 30% of the area of the state and the production is 40% in all India.  Kodagu annually pays as much as Rs. 30 lakhs as duty on coffee while it produces a third of total output in India which stands at about 22,000 tons at present and thus Kodagu alone produced 9,000 tons (I.M.Muthanna, 1953).

coffee plant

Consolidated Coffee Estates Ltd. established in 1943 was the biggest concern in Kodagu with its headquarters at Pollibetta.  The company has the management of coffee estates in Kodagu, Chickmanglore and Hassan district. .  Its total coffee area was about 7,000 acres and with rice, orange and wastelands the total acreage goes to above 10,500 acres in 1951 and   the income from coffee alone comes to about Rs. 43 lakhs and there were about 11,000 labourers working in the farms of the company.  Mr. Ivor Bull was the Managing Director of the company during British period and he had rendered yeoman service for the progress of the Company and Coffee Industry in Kodagu.  Currently Tata Coffee Company has taken over Consolidated Coffee and the company is the largest integrated coffee plantation company in the world. Tata Coffee has a hand in every aspect of the coffee making process, with business activities ranging from growing and curing of coffee and tea to the manufacture and marketing of value-added coffee products. Tata Coffee owns 19 estates located in ideal coffee growing highlands of Southern India, with fertile soils and invigorating climate. Spread over 8037 hectares in Coorg, Chickmaglur and Hassan districts of Karnataka and in Valparai district of Tamil Nadu, Tata Coffee produces 10,000 metric tonnes of natural shade grown Arabica and Robusta coffees, in both washed and unwashed forms. (

Current Coffee cultivation:

In 2006-07 Robusta coffee accounted for 53 % of the total planted area under coffee in India. Then total coffee area in India stood at 3, 81,558 hectares with a total production of 2,74, 000 MT in 2005-06.

Planted Area by States -2006-07 (In hectares)







% to India





























Grand Total (India)

1 77 988




3 81 558


Source: Coffee Board. 2007. Database on coffee.

coffee beans


Coffee Production by States –2005/2006 (in MT)








% to India






















Non Traditional Areas







Total (India )



18 0000




Source: Coffee Board. 2007. Database on coffee.

Set in the declining, but still green Western Ghats in the south-west of Karnataka, Coorg is the heart of India’s coffee country. Kodagu, which accounts for nearly 40 per cent of the country's total coffee production, has a total of 101229 hectares of coffee plantation area. Robusta's share is 73,795 hectares while that of Arabica is 27434 hectares. But, the crop bearing areas has come down a little bit in the last few years for various reasons. Kodagu's crop bearing area (of the total 1, 00,625 hectares) is put at 94,890 hectares. Robusta bearing area is 69,850 while that of Arabica is 25,040 hectares. There are 40,447 growers in the district whose holdings are below 10 hectares and 440 growers with holdings over 10 hectares.

Planted area of coffee in Karnataka (in hectares)


































22318 7




Source: Coffee Board. 2007. Database on coffee.

The reason for the slight decline in the bearing area could be due to removal of certain plants owing to pest attacks resulting in re-plantation, expansion of coffee plantations, new plants which were hardly a couple of years old and probably change of varieties such as Robusta into Arabica or vice-versa. Indeed, white stem borer in Arabica and berry borer in Robusta have adversely affected yield in Kodagu in the last few years. These pest attacks are under a check in the past years. In the two decades between 1977 and 1997 the district has seen an increase in coffee plantations by 14 per cent. This increase has been primarily due to the conversion of bane lands to coffee. In Kodagu, coffee growing areas has been divided into five zones based on elevation and rainfall. The eastern drier part of the district is mainly dominated by the Arabica and the wetter western part by Robusta.


Coorg coffee

In a global agri-industry dominated by Brazil which produces 36 percent (192 million tonnes) of the world’s coffee output annually (cf. India’s 0.36 million tonnes), India is acknowledged as the producer of the finest mild coffees. With their tropical climate, high altitude (3,500 ft), abundant rainfall and fertile soil, Coorg and the neighbouring Chickmagalur districts in Karnataka have consistently produced and exported high quality coffee for over 150 years. The coffee output of these two districts accounts for 70 percent of the total coffee produced in the country. Coorg coffee is valued for its blue colour, clean beans and fine liquoring qualities and hence is in high demand in the international markets (nearly 80 percent of coffee production is exported). The numerous coffee estates here grow some of the world’s best species — arabica and robusta — which are blended to suit national and individual palates.  In March and April — coffee blossom time in Coorg — the snow-white flowers of the coffee bush waft a heady fragrance and present unforgettable vistas to visitors. When blossoms transform into berries, the bushes are cropped. The cherry-red fruit is then pulped, the seeds separated, dried and sent for curing.

coorg coffee blossoms

The Robustas produced here are some of the best in the world, with the beans being compact, oval to round in shape with pointed tips and golden brown colour. As for the Robusta Parchment, the highest quality in India is obtained from this region. The beans have a bluish grey colour, with “soft” and “Neutral” tones in the cup and could provide the buttery crema, which is a hallmark of quality in an espresso drink.

Today, the coffee industry has a prime place among the plantation crops in India.  Coffee, pepper, oranges, vanilla, cardamom and arecanut grow in wild abundance. Due to the fact that India’s coffee ecosystems comprise of various multi crops, these eco friendly coffee farms have a reputation as being polyculture in nature. The dense proliferation of trees with miles of coffee forests associated with multicrops, play a very important positive role in shaping the coffee habitat. These multi crops not only live in close harmony with the coffee forest but are largely responsible in significantly altering the micro climate of the coffee bush.

In spite of the significant reduction in coffee yields due to a number of factors like competition for nutrients, excess shade, etc, multicrops offers distinct advantages in enhancing the intrinsic value of Indian coffee by giving it a unique taste of “nature “in the cup. Though expansion of coffee has resulted in loss of forest cover, still coffee is more eco friendly than tea or most other crops. Coffee plantations in Kodagu provide a range of timber and non timber forest products and vital ecosystem services like water recharge, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity conservation. Coffee plantations are vital for the survival of the ecosystem in the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats, which is recognized as one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world.

(This is the second part of an article series on the diversity of Kodagu culture. To be continued)


Download KJ mobile app
Agritex 2018

Subscribe to newsletter

Sign up with your email to get updates about the most important stories directly into your inbox
Agritech Japan 2018

CopyRight - 2018 Krishi Jagran Media Group. All Rights Reserved.