Monkey Parchment Coffee: Rhesus Monkeys (Macaca mulatta) and South Indian Plantations in Chikmagalur

by DerdriuMarriner

Rhesus monkeys gather when Chikmagalur’s coffee trees fruit. They masticate pulp off parchment-covered beans. They provide back-stories for vanilla-scented monkey parchment coffee.

The name Chikmagalur designates a district and a town in southwest Karnataka, a southwest Indian state of abundant minerals, bustling beaches, dense forests, fertile soils, high mountains, lush plains, rushing streams, verdant valleys, and welcoming waterfalls on Asia's subcontinent.
• It draws upon the legendary recipient of a dowry for its meaning as “younger daughter” to Chief Rukmangada of Sakrepatna.

Its cultural and physical geography therefore enchants vacationers and visitors with not only dramatic but also factual back-stories. For example, the district garners the title as:
• Historic host to the peninsula’s first coffee harvests;
• One of the Republic's most picturesque and profitable coffee (Coffea arabica, C. robusta) producers;
• Unique supplier of rhesus monkey-impacted parchment coffee beans and powder.

Hoysala architectural features of open mantapa with lathe-turned pillars: hall as gathering place for groups of people during prayers

Amritheswara Temple in Amrithapura, Chikkamagaluru district, central Karnataka state
Hoysala temple architecture
Hoysala temple architecture


Cultural artifacts, historic landmarks, and natural resources abound within Chikmagalur. Modern-day culture conserves architectural, artistic, literary, and religious legacies from the Hoysala rulers of the 10th to the 14th centuries. Preserved temples still impress locals, researchers, and tourists:

  • Amritheshwara, at which carvings in Balapada Kallu (soft clay stone) commemorate Lord Shiva’s confining Amruth -- the ironically poisonous elixir of life -- within his throat, thanks to his wife Shakti’s cooperative spirit, quick reflexes, and strong muscles;
  • Vidya Shankara, at which the month can be told by sunlight falling on the appropriate one of 12 zodiac pillars.

The physical environment additionally showcases:

  • Black, gravel, and red soils;
  • Cash-crop, cereal, millet, and oil-seed harvests;
  • Granite, iron, and magnetite deposits.


coffee berries: Chikmagalur coffee estate

Karnataka, southwestern India
Karnataka, southwestern India


Agricultural production, farm calendars, and rural lifestyles determine daily activities throughout Chikmagalur. Coffee cultivation dominates. The history of the origins and spread of coffee-growing explains the prevalence and priority of the flowering, fruiting evergreen among the district’s larger- and smaller-propertied cultivators. Researchers give to the Horn of northeast Africa the title of oldest known coffee-growing. They identify Arab-speaking growers and traders as controlling the access to the plant’s parts and products until the worldwide Ages of Discovery and Exploration from the 15th century onward. It is thanks to Sufi saint Baba Budan’s (flourished 17th century) leaving Yemen with 7 beans held and hidden around the waist of Mecca pilgrim’s attire that India embraces naturalized, non-native coffee production.


Baba Budangiri, also known as Dattagiri: shrine to 17th century Sufi saint, Baba Budan, is pilgrimage site for Hindus and Muslims ~

Baba Budangiri is honored as site of India's first coffee plants, grown from seven coffee beans brought by Baba Budan from southwestern Yemen's coffee center, port city of Mocha.
Chikkamagaluru district, central Karnataka
Chikkamagaluru district, central Karnataka


The name Bababudangiri can be translated into English as “Baba Budan’s hill.” It simultaneously designates:

  • The cave at which the martyred Sufi saint is buried;
  • The shrine in which Hindus and Muslims honor the native son of Baghdad, Iraq;
  • The spot near which legends pinpoint -- and locals still revere -- the cultivation and harvest of the subcontinent’s first coffee crops.

It forms part of a crescent moon-shaped mountain range within southwest India’s Western Ghats (“steps”), a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site of socio-ecological significance. It joins with its home district of Chikmagalur and its home state of Karnataka in environmental friendliness to:

  • Forested and wooded lands;
  • Sylvan fauna and flora.


enclosure for Baba Budan's shrine:

Notice states: "Animal slaughter and preparation or serving of non vegetarian meals and serving of liquor is prohibited in radius of 200 mtrs around the institution. Those who violate this order would be liable for punishment."
Baba Budangiri: namesake of Sufi saint who brought coffee to India
Baba Budangiri: namesake of Sufi saint who brought coffee to India


Brownish grey-furred, pink-faced rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) count among India’s native wildlife. Their native bio-geography covers the peninsula’s central and northern portions. Their distributional ranges natively do not extend into the subcontinent’s southernmost tip. But rhesus monkeys exist outside their homelands through:

  • Capture;
  • Domestication;
  • Introduction;
  • Migration;
  • Naturalization;
  • Research.

Their intelligence facilitates individual adaptability and population sustainability:

  • At altitudes up to 8,202.1 feet (2,500 meters above sea level) and beyond;
  • In deciduous and evergreen stands;
  • Near swimmable rivers;
  • On lower-lying grasslands and montane woodlands;
  • Through herbivorousness (bark, buds, cereals, roots, and seeds) and insectivorousness (ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and termites);
  • With dewdrop-covered leaves, moisture-laden fruits, and rain-filled hollows.

Savvy marketing and urban legends consistently link them to Chikmagalur coffee-growers.


Rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta): natives of north and central India, Rhesus monkeys extend their bio-geographies further south via introduction and migration.

South India
South India


Frugivorousness (“fruit-eating”) defines the life cycles and natural histories of rhesus monkeys and similar-looking, South India-endemic bonnet macaques (Macaca radiata). Coffee drupes particularly find roles in both monkeys’ diets. They fit into storage pouches along the lower jaw and upper neck. They handle exposure to the salivary enzyme Amylase, which converts starches into sugars. They leave no mess other than their tooth-scarred, undigested parchment- and silver skin-covered beans spat out by satiated monkeys. Their undigested pits make it possible for Chikmagalur’s coffee-growers to enter into elite markets for exclusive, exotic, expensive coffees whose aromas and tastes benefit from beans being:

  • Expelled by civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) and Jacu-birds (Penelope obscura, P. superciliaris); or
  • Salivated by bats (Artibeus jamaicensis).


Bonnet macaque (Macaca radiata): coffee lovers

Kodaikanal, Dindigul district, Tamil Nadu / Kerala border: like Chikmagalur, an area of coffee estates
Kodaikanal, Dindigul district, Tamil Nadu / Kerala border: like Chikmagalur, an area of coffee estates


Descriptions of brewed beverages and tasting samples do not echo each other when it comes to animal coffees. Admirers generally extol characteristics unique to bat, civet, and jacu-bird coffee beans and brews even though they typically agree upon basic absences of:

  • Bitter intrusions;
  • High acidity.

In regard to monkey parchment coffee, they favor consumption as a milky espresso. They usually find the experience:

  • Delicately complex;
  • Smoothly sweet.

They give parallels to subtle mixtures of:

  • Chocolate;
  • Citrus;
  • Herbs;
  • Nuts;
  • Punch;
  • Vanilla.

It is possible that the special attributes of monkey parchment coffee’s encased beans derive from:

  • Brief exposure to active enzymes, industrious micro-organisms, and high temperatures within monkey mouthparts;
  • Natural drying on shade-covered grounds for 2 – 3 weeks.


Chikmagalur Coffee Plantations

Karnataka's caffeine gold
Karnataka's caffeine gold



Formal taxonomies of bonnet and rhesus monkeys respectively date to:

  • 1812, by Étampes-born French naturalist Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (April 15, 1772 – April 19, 1844);
  • 1780, by Uelzen-born German biologist and geographer Eberhard August Wilhelm von Zimmermann (August 17, 1743 – July 4, 1815).

They do not anticipate:

  • Bio-geographical impacts from foraging for drupes;
  • Current contributions to luxury coffee industries.

But the occurrence of farms and the timing of harvests drive southward expansions by rhesus monkeys into bonnet macaque territories within:

  • Andhra Pradesh;
  • Goa;
  • Karnataka;
  • Kerala;
  • Maharashtra;
  • Tamil Nadu.

Migration evinces the welcome which bonnet and macaque monkeys receive on coffee farms. But the intrusion onto bonnet macaque homelands may be cause for:

  • Governmental protection;
  • Scientific research;
  • Wildlife-loving activism.


closeup of Caffea arabica plant in Chikmagalur

coffee plant
coffee plant



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


Chikmagalur coffee estate

Karnataka's coffee growing area
Karnataka's coffee growing area

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sea of clouds: below the clouds is Chikmagalur ~ Karnataka's "coffee land" is sited in the foothills of Mullaiahnagiri, Karnataka's highest peak.

Mullaiahnagiri, Karnataka, southwestern India
Mullaiahnagiri, Karnataka, southwestern India
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/22/2014, DerdriuMarriner
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