India's Tryst with Kaapi

No story starts midway, and no day starts without a coffee, often lost in transition amidst all the noise frappes and mochaccinos make is the warmth of an early morning kaapi that everyone wakes up to.

India's tryst with coffee has been one that invokes a sense of historic significance but is often unspoken of, coffee isn't native to the land of spices but is the origin of the filter kaapi. South India has a rich and sometimes murky relation with the caffeinated beverage, going through caste inequalities and being a status symbol, the story begins in the satchel of Baba Budan, a Sufi Saint in the 16th century, he is said to have wrapped seven beans and bring them to the foothills of the Western Ghats where now lies a shrine dedicated to the man and a hill in the memory of where they were planted, the beginning of Chikamagalur Coffee Estate.

The story swiftly pans to 18th century India, where coffee thrived and kept thriving ever since the introduction of coffee plantations to the most prolific coffee-growing area, Wayanad. From stringent contracts binding and helping the region grow into a coffee powerhouse to Britishers abolishing the said contracts to open coffee cultivation into a free market, exclusive to themselves, though. It was a time when the narration picked up the pace and then slowly settled into a consistent drip again (a pun intended).

A cup of tea never had the versatility that coffee could've offered with the appetite for richer and more nuanced tastes put together the introduction of coffee into mainstream culture had it slowly become a part and symbol of elitism, first a class statement and then a castist one. Until the end of the 19th century, the story was still lagging because of the stringent laws passed to control planters, vis-a-vis plantations, one such law punishes those who keep coffee for themselves thereby making labourers go through the grind of prosecution for possession of freshly picked coffee.

It isn't often that we hear a beverage being influential and sometimes the core of a struggle against ingrained casteism and that is where the speeches of Periyar in Tamil Nadu talk about coffee hotels discriminating against lower castes and Mahatma Gandhi's proclamation that coffee was just another vice from the western culture, though redacted later to focus on the inexpensive khadi cloth as an alternative to the cloth imported from the west. Coffee has been through the grind, so to speak.

A story such makes that kick of that caffeine, that rush of adrenaline and that aroma of a Wednesday morning a little better than what we perceive it to be for context is all the pages and timelines we don't know of, yet. Maybe the next time you put the coffee to brew, you sip through time and more, for folks there are tales galore.


- Mani Varna from Wobh

India's Tryst with Kaapi