Overview of Coffee in Nepal
The Story of Himalayan Coffee
The history of coffee in Nepal traces back to Hira Giri, a Burmese monk, who first brought coffee seeds to Nepal in 1938. While coffee initially sparked some curiosity and interest among the locals, it took another 60 years for it to really catch on with farmers and entrepreneurs. With nearly the entire population being a tea drinking nation and having no history of growing coffee, Nepali farmers doubted the potential and sustainability of growing coffee. It wasn’t until the late 1970s and early 1980s that farmers began taking huge financial risks and growing coffee for commercial purposes. Around this same time, the Government of Nepal began importing coffee seeds from India for distribution to Nepali farmers. Then too, it took these farmers time to master the production process, manage quality standards, and tackle problems related to low crop output.
Finally, in the early 2000s, attitudes toward growing high-quality coffee as a reliable source of income began to change, especially in light of the growing domestic and international demand for rare specialty coffee. Coffee consumption in Nepal has also risen significantly, especially among a younger generation that now integrates coffee into their daily life and even seeks employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in the coffee sector. All over the country, roasters and coffee shops have been popping up everywhere. More farmers than ever before are also now abandoning other low-earning cash crops in favor of growing the more profitable coffee crop. This is demonstrated by the dramatic increase in coffee production numbers: In 2018, the country produced 565 tons of coffee compared to a meager 14 tons of total coffee produced in 1995.
Growing World-Class Coffee Today
Himalayan coffees and the farmers who grow them are slowly earning their place on the world stage, particularly in the specialty coffee market niche. The rarity of coffee from the Himalayan region, its unique growing conditions, and the distinct flavors of its beans have all led to significant increases in demand, both in domestic and international markets. In turn, this trend has fueled the desire of coffee producers in Nepal to continue growing and producing some of the highest quality coffees in the world.
Currently, Nepal produces around 565 tons of coffee annually and only exports about 40% of its total coffee yield. The majority of Nepal’s coffee is exported to Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Germany. Despite the rapid growth and efforts to produce more coffee, Nepal is still estimated to fall short of meeting the demand for its coffee by an astounding 7,716 tons. Just for perspective, compare this to the coffee giant Brazil, which produced around 3 million tons of coffee in the last year alone and exported nearly all of it!
Relative to other counties that have been growing coffee for more than 500 years, Nepal is a new coffee producing country. Because of this, the country has unique issues to tackle when it comes to large-scale coffee production. Another reason for Nepal’s low output is the fact that a vast majority of all coffee produced in this country is still grown by poor farmers on small parcels of land. Currently, it is estimated that around 32,000 small-scale farmers throughout Nepal grow coffee commercially. More often than not, these farmers don’t have access to the financial, material, and educational resources that they need to grow exceptional coffee on a larger scale. With such limitations, the farmers are caught in a dilemma: they fear that increasing supply could adversely affect prices, but not increasing supply could mean missing out on prosperous and exciting economic opportunities and relationships.
The future of coffee in Nepal looks bright and the opportunities available to coffee farmers looks promising too.Currently, coffee is grown on a total of only 11 square miles of the 4,600 square miles of land that is suitable for growing coffee. Additionally, the Government of Nepal is in the process of preparing large plots of land for planting coffee saplings in what will eventually become a “super zone” of coffee plantations.
Visit our Himalayan Coffee Highlights page to learn more about what goes in to producing the exotic aromas and flavors found in specialty coffees grown in Nepal.
Watch this short video to learn about the promising future of Nepalese specialty coffee farmers and why they need our support.
Some research courtesy of The Kathmandu Post, National Tea and Coffee Development Board of Nepal.