India’s romance with coffee goes back nearly 400 years. Arabica coffee was introduced from Yemen in 1610. Legend credits a Muslim pilgrim called Bababudan Sahibinto with bringing back seven Arabica coffee seeds from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He is said to have planted them near his mountain cave in Chikmahlur, Karnataka State. Robusta was imported 300 years later from Java, Indonesia.
The colour, shape, and size of the beans as well as their aroma and taste are the results of special post-harvest processing. Indian coffee was historically shipped to Europe in wooden sailing vessels, taking four to six months to sail around the Cape of Good Hope before reaching their destinations. Coffee, stored below the water line and kept in a humid atmosphere by moisture seeping through the wood, underwent a form of treatment on its long voyage to market. When the coffee reached Europe, its colour had changed from bright green to pale gold and its new crop acidity had disappeared.
When the Suez Canal was opened and the steam boats appeared, the time for coffee to reach Europe was reduced and the coffee beans were no longer affected as when in the old sailing days. Consumers in Europe started missing the flavour; therefore, the Monsoon process was created in order to imitate the effect of long exposure to humidity.
The Monsoon process consists of exposing natural coffee beans in layers of 4-6 inch thickness to moisture-laden Monsoon winds and humidity in a well ventilated brick or concrete-floored warehouse. This process is carried out on the West Coast of India, making use of the winds from the Arabaian Sea during the Southwest Monsoon months of June through September.
The processing begins with top grade beans, that has already been processed by the dry method. To equalise moisture absorption, the beans are raked frequently, followed by bulking and re-bagging at regular intervals. At the end of the monsoon season, this coffee is re-bulked, graded again, bagged and moved to a drier region for longer-term storage. In this 12-16 week process the beans absorb moisture in stages, swelling to nearly twice their original size and developing colours ranging from pale gold to light brown. The end result is its special, unique flavour.
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