The Indian coffee scene is changing and how. As per the statistics of the Coffee Board of India, the bold Robusta has taken over the humble Arabica in terms of domestic demand. According to the data for 2022, while Robusta took over 60 per cent of the market with a sale of 1,200,000 tonnes for 2022, the Arabica only managed to sell 800,000 tonnes in the same period.
The Indian coffee brands and growers say that the shift in the trend can be attributed to the fact that Robusta beans produce higher quality cherries per tree, higher yield, stronger taste and low production cost. Mridhul Prakash, managing partner of Vaishnavi Estate of Coorg, the coffee capital of India says that the biggest advantage that Robusta has over the Arabica bean is its higher yield potential. Robusta coffee plants typically produce a greater quantity of cherries per tree compared to their Arabica counterparts. This translates to increased productivity and potentially higher profitability for growers. Thus making it, economically, a more appealing option. As per the data, Average Yield per Hectare (kg) for Robusta is 1200 kgs, while for Arabica it is 750 kgs.
Prakash said that the significant factors contributing to such a gap boil down to the fact that Robusta plants are more robust and resistant to diseases, thus reducing the need for expensive pesticides and maintenance, making them more organic. This reliance makes it a more viable and desirable option for growers, particularly in regions with less favorable growing conditions or limited resources.
As per the Coffee Board of India, Robusta has much greater average yield per hectare with its average cost of cultivation roughly 30 per cent less than that of Arabica. Robusta coffee plants typically produce a greater quantity of cherries per tree compared to their Arabica counterparts. This translates to increased productivity and potentially higher profitability for growers. Thus making it, economically, a more appealing option.
The demand for coffee in India has risen considerably. With a growing population and emerging coffee culture, India’s demand for the cash crop has been steadily augmenting, and Robusta’s attributes align with the preferences of Indian customers. An expert from Coffee Board said that Robusta has a much stronger, chocolatey, earthy, and nutty taste profile, hence it is preferred more for Espresso blend and complements the milk-based beverages.
Talking about the trend, Bharat Singhal, co-founder of Bili Hu said, “Many plantations are growing great robusta, and if we conduct a unique post harvest process, we’re able to bring out really good flavours in robustas. A good specialty grade robusta, when roasted to a medium, can taste really good with notes of almost a plum wine. The domestic market is opening up to naturally flavourful coffee and with better marketing of a robusta, the audience might accept over time.” Zaron Rodrigues, the co-founder with Singhal added to this saying, “Because of the harsh flavour and taste, people prefer Robusta in manual brews and not as an espresso. In our experience at Bili Hu, restaurants and cafés like to use blends because it adds robust flavours to the coffee, which stand through even after milk and sugar. So I feel there will always be a market for Robusta.”
Suren Joshi, Co-Founder at Affogato Mumbai said, “The Indian domestic coffee market has started using more of Robusta in recent times, especially in café’s, for their espresso based beverages with intent of keeping input costs in check and also to match the palette of the larger domestic consumer, as Robusta tends to have a much bolder and heavier taste profile.” He added, “We serve a hundred percent Arabica – Espresso Blend – which are sourced directly from Leading Specialty Coffee Plantations in Chikmagalur.
Nishant Mitthal, founder of Tan Coffee too shared his views on the trend. “A lot of reasons why Robusta Coffee Beans are more on demand include climate resilience, higher caffeine content, lower production cost, more crema and body in Espresso, contribution to taste to add an earthy, nutty and mild bitterness to an Espresso and ofcourse economical, ” said Mitthal.
The humble Arabica continues to find love from coffee lovers and sellers. Rajat Agrawal, CEO Barista said, “Coffee prices over the last few years have witnessed inflationary trends, we as a business have also gone through that cycle. Over the last 2 years the coffee prices have increased by almost 40-50%. We as a business use 100% Arabica coffee beans at our stores which is much superior to the other available options. Off-late with the surge in green coffee prices we have witnessed a demand for low priced variants of coffee by cost conscious corporate clients, therefore, we have also launched a variant which has a blend of Robusta and Arabica for our Coffee Vending business. I am sure there are takers for both and both continue to sell in markets based on the consumer type.”