Brewing a different cup of coffee
According to legend, coffee was brought to Ceylon in 1503 by Arab traders from Yemen. However, coffee cultivation as a commercial crop began during the Dutch occupation and continued under British rule. R.B Butler, a planter with experience in coffee plantations in Jamaica, arrived in 1837 and introduced methods for producing a better crop of coffee. By 1863, coffee imports into Europe from all over the world totalled £270 million, and we exported nearly a third of that. By 1870, Sri Lanka’s coffee production had reached a peak of over 275,000 hectares, according to data from the Sri Lanka Export Development Board (EDB).
Ceylon’s colonial period saw it rank among the world’s top coffee producers and exporters, and a coffee-drinking culture developed, complete with kopi kaday (coffee kiosks) and kopi kele (coffee forests). The Bitter Berry, a bestselling novel by Christine Spittel-Wilson, is based on the ethos of a Ceylonese coffee plantation.
Regrettably, the coffee rust of 1870 (caused by the fungus Hemileia vastatrix) destroyed all plantations, effectively ending the country’s coffee romance. Although rust-resistant varieties were introduced later, coffee is now grown in conjunction with tea and coconut. However, the Department of Export Agriculture’s (DEA) promotion of Lak Parakum encourages planters to expand their coffee acreage.
Sri Lanka’s coffee cultivation area is approximately 4,600 hectares, and the two most economically significant species grown locally are Arabica coffee (Coffea Arabica) and Robusta coffee (Coffea Robusta) (Coffea canephora). Numerous varieties of these two main species are cultivated here. “While Arabica coffee varieties are recommended for areas in the middle and upper reaches of the country (Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Matale, and Badulla), Robusta coffee varieties are recommended for areas in the middle and lower reaches of the country (Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Matale, and Badulla) ( Kegalle, Kurunegala, Kandy and Matale). These
Recommendations are made in response to temperature fluctuations. While Arabica thrives at temperatures between 15 and 28 degrees Celsius, Robusta thrives at temperatures between 18 and 36 degrees Celsius,” says Dr. H.M.P.A Subasinghe, Director (Research), Department of Export Agriculture (DEA).
According to the EDB, the global speciality coffee market is expected to reach more than USD 80 billion by 2025, implying enormous growth potential for coffee producers. Sri Lanka’s coffee exports have increased in recent years, increasing by 84 percent from 2017 levels to nearly USD 355,000 by 2019, according to EDB data. As the EDB notes, the coffee industry has attracted increased private sector investment and increased local demand for and consumption of locally grown coffee in hotels, restaurants, and cafes.
Arabica coffee accounts for more than 80% of global demand, with a requirement of 8.8 million metric tonnes, according to Dr. Subasinghe. Lak Parakum, he continues, ranks among the world’s top ten Arabica varieties in terms of quality parameters.