When Was Coffee Introduced to Asia?

Coffee plant in Asia

When was Coffee First Brought to Asia?

Coffee has a rich history in Asia, and it was first introduced to the region by the Dutch and British from the 1600s to the 1800s. These early colonists introduced arabica coffee plants along with several other cash crops like sugar and tea. However, since these plants weren’t endemic to the region, they were susceptible to plant diseases, and in 1876, coffee rust swept through the region and crippled Asia’s budding coffee industry. This disease almost entirely destroyed the arabica coffee plantations in Asia.

Despite this setback, the colonial countries were adamant about growing coffee. We get it, coffee is life, but would we colonize a whole country just for our morning cuppa… probably not TBH. So, in the 1900s they introduced a new coffee variant that was strong, sturdier and that would thrive in the tropical region – the robusta coffee plant!

This was the beginning of Asia’s bustling coffee industry and these plants firmly put coffee-producing Asian countries on the Bean Belt map

Coffee cherries
Picture courtesy of Unsplash
Woman picking coffee beans
Picture courtesy of Unsplash

Who Introduced Coffee to Asia?

Coffee was introduced to several Asian countries during the 17th and 18th centuries. India, for instance, received its first coffee beans from Yemen, courtesy of Baba Buda an Arab merchant, but it was the British East India Company that made it the cash crop it is today. The Dutch played a significant role in spreading coffee cultivation across Indonesia, while French colonists brought coffee to Southeast Asia in the 1800s, leading to its growth in countries like Vietnam.

Interestingly, Thailand is one of the exceptions to the rule and coffee was introduced to the country by one of their Kings. In the late 19th century, King Rama V mandated that the country should begin producing coffee to diversify the country’s agricultural production, and coffee seemed like a promising cash crop. While they had several setbacks in the beginning and not much knowledge to grow this new crop, today Thailand has a prosperous coffee industry. 

coffee growing countries in asia

Asia is a thriving coffee production hub and numerous Asian countries are renowned for their coffee production. 

Vietnam has become the world's largest exporter of robusta beans and the second-largest exporter of coffee beans overall. Vietnam also has a thriving coffee culture and makes some pretty great iced coffee – if we may say so ourselves.

Indonesia is also a prominent coffee-producing and exporting country. The majority of Indonesian coffee produced is robusta coffee, but it’s also famous for its specialty coffees such as 'Coffee Luwak’ – which is the most expensive coffee in the world! India, Laos, and Thailand are also among the Asian countries contributing to the world's coffee production.

Coffee farm in vietnam
Picture courtesy of Quang Nguyen Vinh via Pexels

Reclaiming History

The coffee industry in Asia embodies a remarkable narrative of revival and resurgence. Emerging from its colonial roots, the region's coffee trade has undergone a profound transformation, and the coffee industry flourished under  post-colonial governments.

Today, coffee is no longer only a part of these counties' colonial history, instead it's part of it rich tapestry of their culinary culture. Snag SANG Vietnamese coffee take a sip of history.