The Best Indian Coffee Beans of Our Time
When you think of India, coffee beans are probably far from your mind. After all, the country most known for its tea and yoga isn't as big a java producer as Brazil or Colombia. Still, Indian coffee traditions go back centuries and make most Latin American countries look like inexperienced copycats in comparison. Despite the long-term neglect and the resulting reputation for poor quality, the Indian coffee industry has seen a renaissance over a couple of decades. You can now get your hands on some truly unique beans, like monsoon-treated Arabica. Let me share my personal shortlist and a few tidbits of java history you can weave into a conversation over brunch.
The 7 Best Coffee Beans Brands in India. Personal Faves
Coffee Bean Direct Indian Monsooned Malabar
- Offer coarse, finely ground, and whole bean options
- Offer light, medium and dark roasts
- Artisanal blends and flavors
Let's open this shortlist with the most renowned of Indian java–Monsooned Malabar. These beans are left to the elements throughout the monsoon season to collect the air and sea moisture. The result is an unparalleled smoothness with a medium body and pleasant finish. Moreover, the coffee is low-acid and safe for anyone suffering from GERD.
I've seen reviews complaining about the lack of consistency batch-to-batch, and that's hardly surprising. Coffee, like wine, is very dependent on temperature and rainfall, and Monsooned Malabar is even more so. In case you find the Coffee Bean Direct blend to change from one bag to the next, I suggest you skip a few months and come back to it in half a year. You might find yourself enjoying the brew once again.
This bean's smooth flavor is unlikely to produce a punchy espresso, but it works great in a French press, Aeropress, Moka pot, or drip machine. The medium (City) roast complements the mellow flavor and works great even in a cold brew. Besides, you get to enjoy freshly ground java every time if you go with a whole-bean option. The 5-pound bag will last you a couple of months, and it's only $50, which is surprisingly affordable for a gourmet bean.
Blue Tokai Birthday Blend
- Roast type: Medium Dark
- Flavor Notes : Cocoa, Fruity, Toffee
- Perfect for higher intensity espresso and drip brews with milk
If you're in a mood for an indulgent, decadent cuppa, you won't find a better blend. This limited edition is dedicated to the 8th anniversary of the brand and combines the most popular beans in a unique, delicious blend. Expect to see Arabica grown by Riverdale, Ratnagiri, and Hoysala estates. Some of the beans are washed, and the others are processed naturally to create a well-balanced cuppa.
The medium roast brings out the best in the blend, intensifying the notes of roasted hazelnut, blueberries, and dark chocolate without any natural or artificial flavors added to the beans. It's a perfect combination to be enjoyed in a heady espresso or cappuccino, though French pressing it or using a pour-over kit works just as well. Besides, the company offers an impressive array of grind options, from whole bean and channi grind to espresso and Turkish coffee.
Growing, processing, and roasting are all conducted in India. As far as artisan roasted coffee beans, India brands come with impressive price tags that may seem a bit much, starting at $30+ for a 250-gram bag. If you want to get your hands on this particular blend, hurry up, as the limited edition won't remain available for long.
Aroma Ridge Indian Monsoon Coffee
- Low acidity
- Distinct flavor imparted by storing green coffees in open warehouses through Monsoon rain season
- Aging simulates distinct flavor imparted after long voyage in sailing ships
Here's another monsoon java worthy of your attention. The India-grown Arabica is exported to the US to be roasted, ground, and packaged before traveling to your doorstep. Instead of intense, overpowering flavor, you get to enjoy the smoothest and most balanced cuppa of your life, perfectly crafted for everyday caffeine rituals. Considering the moderate price tag ($18 for a one-pound bag), this monsoon java can become a regular in your pantry rather than a rare indulgence.
Aroma Ridge might not be the most well-known American roaster, but the company sure puts customers first. For one, you get to choose among several grind options, including whole bean, espresso, and Keurig grinds. They also promise a full refund if this blend doesn't satisfy your discerning taste, though I'm not sure how easy the return and reimbursement process is.
This blend seems a bit lighter and smoother than Coffee Bean Direct. And I feel like a one-pound bag of beans will stay fresh and delicious, while a 5-pounder can grow stale before you manage to work through it. So if you've never tried Indian monsoon java, I recommend you start with Aroma Ridge as the most affordable option on this list.
Seven Beans Eka Gourmet Coffee
- Organic dark roasted coffee is a rich, distinctive and aromatic roast
- Certified organic by the usda and uses 100% arabica beans shade grown
- Smooth flavor with hardly a trace of the bitterness
You can't go wrong with an India-grown bean roasted by an experienced Italian roaster, and that's exactly what makes Seven Beans unique. The company relies on shade-grown trees that produce flavorful berries. As the team manages every process from growing to harvesting, processing, and roasting, you can be sure only the best batches make it to your cuppa.
Unlike other blends on my list, Eka is a combination of smooth Arabica and punchy Robusta. The medium-dark roast makes for a spicy, temperamental brew that pairs great with savory meals and isn't washed out by strong flavors. You can enjoy the pronounced notes of walnut and pepper in an espresso or mellow out the flavor by adding some sugar and milk.
Seven Beans offer seven grind options besides whole-bean, so you can grab a pack and brew a delicious cuppa using an Aeropress, Moka pot, or South Indian filter. However, the only available bag size is 250 grams (8.8 oz), so you'll need to order in bulk if you fall in love with this blend. And don't forget to check the best-before date, as international shipping can sometimes take months, leaving you with a bag that's been roasted over six months prior.
The Flying Squirrel Clouds in my Coffee
- An exotic, intense coffee, with a lot of clarity in terms of flavor
Once you're well-versed in monsoon-treated java, it's time to look for a fresh take. And The Flying Squirrel provides just that–a light-roasted twist that brings out the vibrancy and tang you would miss in a medium or dark roast. After a couple of months of being exposed to the elements on the shores of Karnataka, the beans gain a smooth and rich flavor that tastes delicious in an espresso or cappuccino.
Coffee purists should go for a whole-bean version of the blend to grind and enjoy fresh. However, the company offers plenty of pre-ground options for any brew method, from authentic South Indian filter to classic French press or Turkish coffee. The packaging is quite accommodating as well, with bags of 250 or 500 grams or 1 kilo.
Unfortunately, when it comes to organic coffee beans, India is lagging behind industry leaders, as most growers, including those on my list, still rely on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. However, both are used in minimal quantities. And my other complaint about this coffee is that it's nearly impossible to get your hands on in the US. It's available in India, but American Amazon is usually fresh out of stock whenever I'm grocery shopping. Hopefully, once the global crisis is over, we'll again get access to gourmet java from across the globe. For now, you can check out a couple of equally mouth-watering varieties by Blue Tokai.
Blue Tokai Varadymullai Estate
- Tasting Notes: Prune, Red Grape, Mausambi
- Freshly Light Roasted Coffee Beans
- 100% Arabica Coffee
Unlike many Blue Tokai varieties, these micro-lot beans are grown exclusively by Varadymullai Estate, founded in 1945. Though only the fifth of the 2,000 acres is devoted to growing java, the estate produces several high-quality Arabica varietals, including San Ramon, Chandragiri, and S9. The estate manages the growing, harvesting, and processing of the beans, ensuring the highest quality and outstanding flavor.
The light Blue Tokai roast preserves the complex flavor profile of the beans grown at above 4,000 feet. Instead of diluting the bean palate with toastiness, the light roast brings out the sweet and sour fruit notes. Expect your cuppa to come with undertones of sweet lemon, prune, and red grapes.
As is typical for artisanal Indian roasters, Blue Tokai has plenty of packaging options on offer. The grind variety alone is to die for, as you can get the beans pre-ground for your Aeropress or Turkish cezve. You can even try a channi grind for steeping coffee in a fine cup-sized sieve instead of using any brewing hardware. I suggest starting with a 250-gram pack for taste-testing before you commit to a kilo bag.
Blue Tokai Vienna Roast
- Cupping notes: Cocoa, Oaky, Bitter Sweet
- Roast Level: Dark (Rolling 2nd Crack)
This shortlist of the best quality coffee beans in India wouldn't be complete without this best-seller. Combining Arabica beans from different micro-lot estates grown at elevations above 3,000 feet makes for an exciting yet smooth brew. It's full-bodied, with an impressive finish and memorable palate. All these are made even better by the low acidity that will keep your tummy happy and ache-free.
The blend is roasted to the second crack to bring out the toastiness and bittersweetness of the beans that compliment the oak and cocoa undertones. Thanks to its intense flavor, this blend makes for outstanding espressos and Americanos, though it can be easily mellowed out by a bit of milk and sugar.
Though Blue Tokai suggests nearly a dozen grind settings for various brewing methods, I'm a proponent of whole bean coffee. Not only is the java even more delicious when freshly ground, but you also get complete control over the grind size. There's no saying whether the grounds you get will work well with your espresso machine or Moka pot.
Indian Coffee History
Legend has it that Baba Budan, a Yemeni pilgrim, planted the first coffee trees along the Chikmagalur hills in the late 1600s. For centuries, they were treated as nothing but garden decorations, and only in the middle of the 1800s, coffee became a part of the Indian culinary culture. So don't believe the tall tales about Ancient India coffee beans and traditions.
Unfortunately, the government controlled the coffee industry for a long time, leading to its near-ruin. For one, most of the beans remained within the country to be turned into cheap instant coffee. For another, the product's quality was so low that even locals were not overly fond of Indian coffee.
It wasn't until the middle of the 1990s that coffee farmers took notice of the global caffeine revolution and took control over their land and crops. The third wave of Indian coffee brought a new generation of growers and roasters, along with a variety of specialized cafes catering to the ever-demanding populace. Finally, Indian coffee started trickling outside the borders and made it to the top of java aficionados' wish lists.
What Is Artisanal Indian Coffee?
India saw the rise of artisanal coffee since the beginning of the 2000s. Instead of go-betweens buying India green coffee beans from growers, the farmers came to differentiate their beans into micro-lots and pay extra attention to bringing out each harvest's characteristics. Shade-grown coffee is harvested at the right time and carefully processed using traditional and unique methods before reaching micro-roasters. The latter work with the beans to bring out distinct flavor and aroma to make any coffee gourmet swoon.
The downside of Indian artisan coffee is the price tag and limited availability. Most coffee-growing estates work with other crops too, like tea or tobacco, and their yield isn't high enough to satisfy the increasing local and international demand. The growing prices are a natural result of this, exacerbated by substantial shipping costs.
The Origins of Unique Indian Beans: Growing Regions and Processing
India is a large country, but only some of its territory is suitable for growing coffee trees, as they require certain temperature and rainfall to thrive and produce quality beans. Traditionally, Arabica and Robusta are grown in the three Southern regions of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Between 70% and 80% of all Indian coffee comes from Karnataka.
The recent uptick in South India coffee beans popularity among locals and international java enthusiasts saw the development of new coffee regions. The Eastern coast is now home to the Andhra Pradesh and Orissa regions, while smaller growing zones, like Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura, are located in the North.
Considering the variety of growing conditions and processing traditions, Indian java is as varied as the local population. However, a couple of varieties stand out as unique to India, not to be found anywhere else in the world.
If you're a bit tired of peaberry or Kona and are looking for unique roasted or green coffee beans, India is a prime destination. Mysore Nuggets should be at the top of your shopping list. Coming from the most prolific of Indian growing regions, Karnataka, Mysore beans are extra-large, and they take on a vibrant bluish-green hue before roasting.
As the coffee trees are interspersed with cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves, the beans gain unique spice undertones highlighted by a medium to dark roast. The brew is usually full-bodied with a strong aroma and pleasant hints of acidity and spice. Rich and exotic, Mysore Nuggets are far from boring, making every cuppa a joy, whether you take it black or with sugar and milk.
Indian Monsoon Coffee Beans
The first-ever batch of monsoon coffee was almost discarded after the ship carrying a load of beans got into a storm. Excessive seawater and monsoon moisture made the beans swollen and altered the taste. It became smooth but kept the flavor complexity and intense body with a pleasant finish. The new flavor became a hit and is still one of the most popular types of coffee beans in India.
Instead of waiting for the monsoon storms to ship the beans overseas, Indian growers keep the crop inside the open warehouses along the shore. A couple of months of stormy weather is usually enough to saturate the beans with moisture and get them ready for roasting. Considering the extra time monsoon processing takes, this type of Indian coffee is usually a tad more expensive, though the flavor is worth an extra couple of bucks.
Indian Coffee Taste Profile
There's no way to describe every Indian bean in existence, as their growing conditions, processing methods, and roasting are not the same. Still, all Indian java has a few overarching qualities you will find in every pack:
- Smooth palate. Though especially true for monsoon-processed beans, the same applies to all India-grown java, as nearly 100% of the trees are shade-grown. Without direct sunlight, the cherries take longer to ripen; therefore, the beans develop a more complex and smooth flavor profile.
- Exotic spicy undertones. Indian estates rarely specialize exclusively in growing coffee. Most farmers interplant Arabica and Robusta trees with other crops, including tobacco, tea, and spice. As a result, coffee beans India-grown retain some of the notes present in their growing environment, making for a complex and spicy palate.
- Low acidity. Attributed to shade-planted trees and monsoon-processing, along with the darker roasting profiles, low acidity is a saving grace for people suffering from digestive disorders, like GERD.
You're missing out on some of the best coffee in the world if you've never tried Indian beans. Despite the bad reputation accumulated over the last century, India has made a U-turn for artisan, gourmet coffee that will make you crave more after a single sip. Even if you're still on the fence about different types of coffee beans from India, add monsoon-processed coffee and Mysore Nuggets to your shopping list, and you can thank me later.
What Kind of Coffee Beans Does India Offer?India grows both common types of beans, Arabica and Robusta, though artisan brands usually rely on 100% Arabica or a mix of both.
Where to Buy Coffee Beans from India?If you don't have any luck with Amazon, try specialized online stores or local Indian bodegas.
What Are the Best Coffee Beans in India?Monsoon Malagar is probably the most recognized of Indian beans. Though the processing approach was discovered by accident, it produces a uniquely smooth yet intense flavor many caffeine lovers crave.