Coffee takes centre stage as Bengaluru hosts world conference on the much-loved beverage

Coffee meetup
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A beverage that we can't do without, coffee is available at every nook and corner of our country. Be it a cup that costs Rs 10 or Rs 1000, it has the incredible quality to lift people's spirits in no time. Even at major meets, coffee finds pride of place and some even believe it's good for the skin! According to estimates, 300 crore cups of coffee are sold every day around the world. Coffee also has a major share in the economy of many nations.

The World Coffee Conference, a unique get-together of countries aimed at tapping the full potential of coffee, is not being held in Bengaluru and it is on till September 28. Incidentally, this is the first time that Asia is hosting the World Coffee Conference. The venue is the Bangalore Palace.

Around 2,000 invited delegates from over 80 countries are attending the conference, which is organised by the International Coffee Organisation (ICO), Central Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Karnataka Government and Coffee Board of India. Seminars, discussions, exhibitions and visits to coffee plantations are among the programmes lined up at the conference.

The lucky mascot of the conference is ‘Coffee Swami’, a coffee bean depicted as a man wearing a dress similar to the uniform of waiters at Indian Coffee Houses. Organisers of the event said that the mascot reflects the traditions as well as the modern trends in coffee consumption.

Delegates at the conference attend classes led by experts engaged in various activities related to coffee, seminars, exhibitions, workshops for entrepreneurs and startup conclaves. The World Coffee Conference provides delegates an opportunity to find sponsorships, while small-scale as well as large-scale businesspersons dealing with coffee can hold discussions.

It is also a platform for all participants to interact with each other. Other participants include startup entrepreneurs dealing with coffee, their representatives, people engaged in coffee processing, coffee producers and coffee farmers.

Farmers and producers display their products at the conference. The organisers have also arranged facilities to sanction funds for entrepreneurs to set up coffee shops and other coffee-based businesses.

An eventful history
Commercial coffee cultivation started during the 15th century. The coffee plant was discovered in the forests of Ethiopia in Africa and it became an agricultural crop on arriving in Arabian countries. In fact, there is an interesting story behind the discovery of coffee.

A farmer in Ethiopia took his goats to a forest to graze. The farmer noticed that some of the goats were behaving strangely after eating the fruits of a particular plant.

The farmer also tasted that fruit and felt invigorated. All his fatigue vanished and he felt energetic. The farmer took the plant to his village and started cultivating it.

From Ethiopia, coffee reached Arabia, where it rapidly gained popularity as a beverage. By the 15th century itself, coffee houses had opened at Mecca. Soon, coffee houses spread to Constantinople in the 16th century and Britain, British colonies and other European countries in the 17th century.

With demand for coffee rising around the world, its cultivation was started in the Indonesian islands such as Java in the 17th century, the American continent in the 18th century and Hawaii islands in 1825. By the 20th century, most of the world’s coffee cultivation was concentrated in Brazil and neighbouring countries in South America. Currently, 35 per cent of the coffee produced in the world comes from Brazil alone. Incidentally, the South American countries are also the biggest consumers of coffee in the world.

Industrial processing and roasting of coffee beans with machinery began in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Instant coffee became popular by the 1950s.

Coffee arrived in India during the 17th century. It was brought to Karnataka by travellers from Yemen in the 1670s and cultivation of the plant began in that region.

Later, when the demand for coffee grew and its agricultural and industrial potential was recognized, cultivation was expanded to Kerala and other areas.

Recently, coffee varieties are grown in India such as Wayanadan Robusta, Coorg Arabica, Chikamangalur Arabica and Visakhapatnam Araku Valley Arabica have received the Geographical Indication (GI) tag.

More about coffee
Even though coffee is a fruit, it is known as the beverage prepared from the seed. It is among the three most popular drinks in the world along with water and tea. In fact, a third of the world’s people are regular consumers of coffee.

According to scientists, there exist around 6,000 varieties of coffee plants, of which 25-100 are recognized officially. Among these varieties, two – Arabica and Robusta – are cultivated and used to make the beverage.

Arabica coffee
Mostly grown in Latin America, East Africa, Asia and Arabian countries, Arabica coffee is considered to have better smell, taste and purity than other varieties. Being rich in antioxidants, it is also utilized widely by the cosmetics industry.

This variety grows best during the cold season and at high altitudes. It needs adequate amounts of sunlight, shade and water. Around 60 per cent of the coffee produced at present is sourced from Arabica. Arabica is also an expensive variety as the cost of production is high. Leading coffee companies such as Starbucks prepare their products exclusively with Arabica.

Robusta coffee
The major areas of cultivation of Robusta coffee are West-Central Africa, South Asian countries and Brazil. This variety grows well in low-lying areas and plains. Robusta is less prone to attacks by pests and is easier to cultivate than other varieties. Its production cost is also low.

Mostly used to prepare ‘instant coffee’, Robusta has a high amount of caffeine. Being a strong variety, it tastes a little bitter. Studies have shown that Robusta can prevent liver diseases and hypertension.

Modest intake preferred
Even though coffee has many health benefits, excessive consumption of the beverage could lead to some diseases. Scientists say that chances of heart ailments, Type 2 diabetes, liver cancer and Parkinson’s disease could be reduced by drinking three or four cups of coffee daily. Such moderate consumption could also give you a long life, they say.

However, excessive consumption could lead to sleeplessness, anxiety, paranoia and heartburn. Some studies during the 20th century also suggested that too much consumption of coffee could even cause cancer. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2016, omitted coffee from the list of cancer-causing substances. WHO made this decision based on several studies conducted after the ones in the 20th century.

Cosmetic industry
Studies have shown that coffee can effectively fight bacteria on the skin and due to this quality, it is widely used in the manufacture of beauty products, especially those which promise to preserve youth. Items made with coffee are also used as a remedy for black spots around the eyes, darkening of the lips, stretch marks and sunburns. Coffee is a favourite among beauty and health-conscious people as it is rich in antioxidants.

A cup costing thousands
The costliest coffee in the world is Kopi Luwak, which is obtained through a unique process. Coffee beans consumed and excreted by an animal named Asian Palm Civet are processed to make Kopi Luwak. The civet eats the coffee fruit but it cannot digest the beans, which are excreted. Even though the beans are excreted by the civet, the animal’s digestive system softens the outer covering of the beans.

The beans also acquire a sweet scent after passing through the civet’s digestive system. According to coffee aficionados, this process makes the coffee prepared from the beans tastier. Kopi Luwak was prepared for the first time by farmers in Indonesia. Coorg in Karnataka, which is known as the ‘Coffee capital’ of India, also has its own variety of such coffee – Coorg Luwak Coffee. Currently, Kopi Lukak costs around Rs 50,000 per kg.

Huge job opportunities
Imagine taking home a big pay packet for simply tasting coffee every day. Such a job exists in the coffee sector – that of a coffee taster. Even fresh recruits receive salaries amounting to tens of thousands of rupees and as they gain seniority, coffee tasters are given huge hikes. A celebrity among coffee tasters is Sunalini Menon, who is referred to as ‘Asia’s First Coffee Woman.’ Sunalini has been a coffee taster for over 40 years and has received certificates from the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE).

SCAA issues two certificates - ‘R’ grader and ‘Q’ grader. While the former is related to Robusta, the latter is given for tasting Arabica. Candidates securing these certificates are in high demand in this sector.

Apart from coffee taster, great career opportunities exist for professions such as coffee barista and coffee roaster.

Coffee organisations
International and national organisations function to promote coffee. The International Coffee Organisation was formed in 1963 with the support of the United Nations. Currently, this organisation oversees the global export and import activities related to coffee under an international coffee treaty signed in 1962.

The organisation also functions as a link between coffee growers and entrepreneurs. It mainly focuses on promoting activities which boost the growth of industries and businesses related to coffee.

Meanwhile, the Coffee Board of India carries out research related to coffee, ensures smooth technology transfer in this regard, stipulates quality control norms and encourages measures to increase the productivity and output in coffee cultivation.

The Board is also engaged in activities to promote Indian coffee varieties abroad and boost coffee consumption in India.

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