Saints and Smuggling

How many of us have started our days and dates with coffee? Or have pulled all-nighters sipping it. The bitter taste, the rush that goes, almost an addiction, right! So it only seemed apt to start the first post of the blog with a story of how Coffee was introduced in India.

The coffee that has become a lifestyle for many was brought into India by a Sufi saint named Baba Budan. In the 17th century, returning from Hajj Yatra, Budan brought a total of 7 coffee beans from the city of Mocha in Yemen. During that time the Arabs had a monopoly over the coffee business and only allowed the beans to be exported out of the country in either roasted or boiled form. Coffee was a valuable commodity for them and they feared that if it went out as raw beans anyone could grow it anywhere and the monopoly would be lost. But because Baba Budan was a saint, no one checked or doubted him and he brought those 7 beans into India. But why only 7? Because 7 is considered an auspicious and prosperous number in Islam. He planted them in the Chikmagalur district of Karnataka. In just a few years there were so many plantations of coffee there that the area came to be known as Baba Budan Giri. Coffee was then extensively grown in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and became a major source of livelihood. Today we might call what Baba Budan did as smuggling, but it became a good-fortune for a number of people and also an inextricable part of our lifestyles.

But not everyone starts their day with coffee. So for all the chai-lovers here goes the story of how tea was discovered! Of how a small mistake became a full-blown industry and a necessity of numerous people. 

Around 4700 years ago in 2700 BC, tea was founded in China by the servants of King Shen Nung by mistake. The king had a habit of drinking hot water and one day when the servants were boiling his water some leaves from a tea plant fell into the pot. That day Shen Nung loved that water and found it refreshing. Though tea was founded back then, China kept it as a secret until the 9th century. It was served to people and guests there but the recipe was kept hidden from the foreigners. It was a Buddhist monk who found out. He spread the word to Japan and from there it travelled to Europe. The East India Company first set up tea estates in Assam in the 19th century as growing tea was a labor-intensive job. It quickly became a valuable commodity in the world and was grown strictly for exports in India but as production grew and the prices fell, Indians began drinking tea too!  And hence came about the two most customary beverages in India.

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