Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu
COFFEE has been driving conversations and social outings for well over two decades. Spoken knowledgeably of in terms of origin, roasts, grinds, freshness, taste and type, the beverage has come a long way from its instantly soluble avatar. Remember when Nescafe coffee granules were combined with heaps of sugar and had the caffeinated daylights hand-beaten out of them? This was decades before Dalgona became a social media star. We would learn later that the frothy-milky result was a decidedly desi version of a cappuccino. No longer; the simplest to the most sophisticated coffeemakers and machines for home use are now readily available for imbibers of specialty coffees. Also, flying off equipment shelves, faster than you can say Arabica or Robusta, are manual and electric grinders, kettles, and pour over starter kits.
Buttressing this ease of access to Barista-level coffees are online entrepreneurs who source green beans directly from estates, carefully roast and grind them to suit individual liking, and ship them to your doorstep. “Quality is paramount for conscious drinkers. This has resulted in raising the profile of good coffee tremendously,” says Sharang Sharma, co-founder of Bloom Coffee Roasters. In February 2020, he teamed up with friends Shivansh Sharma and Tejasvi Verma to set up the first specialty coffee roastery in Panchkula. Their shade-grown coffee beans come from 14 estates across Chikmaglur, Coorg, Yercaud and Kodaikanal “Most of our subscribers, up from less than a dozen in the early days of the pandemic to more than 70, are very particular about the origin, terroir, and method of production of their coffees.”
In short, a more sophisticated consumer. In terms of coffee marketing, this attention to detail is referred to as the third wave.
It is an irrefutable fact that targeted marketing by brands has played an important role in popularising coffee culture, especially aided by social media where the resonance is immense. This is also why we caught nary a whiff when the earlier movements came and went — no one told us! First, when coffee came to be seen as a viable commodity in the 1800s; second, in the 1970s, when it came to represent culture, coinciding with the rising influence of Starbucks in the coffee business.
But for all that, a vast majority of coffee lovers in the region by and large still prefer the whole coffee shop experience over the ritual effort it takes to craft a fresh cuppa at home. A fleeting glance at your friendly neighbourhood Café Coffee Day, Starbucks, Blue Tokai, or Third Wave Coffee, teeming with regulars, will bear this out. Cheerful, hip, and inviting, it helps that most of these domestic and international chains also offer baked goods and small-bites, sometimes wholesome meals, enabling a leisurely lingering, regardless of work or pleasure.
And now, as recently as August, Canada’s iconic coffee brand Tim Hortons has joined the bean brigade with an outlet each in Saket and Gurugram. An introductory food menu clearly pandering to the Indian palate includes chicken tikka croissant and mushroom makhani ravioli, alongside doughnuts and bagels, the usual suspects. Founded in 1964 by the eponymous ice-hockey star, Timmie’s will predictably be spilling over into Chandigarh and other major cities of Punjab very soon. With a keen eye, no doubt, on the diaspora’s cravings for a Double Double, Iced Capp or Timbits when on a visit to the pind back home.
So, how does a normally milk-loving, tea-guzzling region like its specialty coffee? The simple answer is: confined to urban centres. The café culture this aromatic bean supports remains largely within the purview of (mostly) young, aspiring, and globetrotting city folk, open to experimentation. Years of effective marketing have accorded it a certain modern appeal, and cafes are seen as socially acceptable places to catch up or grab a bite.
This is unlike the southern states, where coffee became a household fixture when British colonialists discovered its commercial viability and began its aggressive cultivation in the mid-19th century. There was a brief interlude with qahwa (Arabic for coffee) in the streets of 18th century Shahjahanabad, when travellers and intelligentsia gathered at qahwakhanas — a precursor to the café — to shoot the breeze. It petered out with the Mughals, but not before Urdu poet Shah Hatim had composed a masnavi (Persian poem) extolling its popular charms.
Our subsequent consumption of coffee as a social drink would recommence with the legendary Indian Coffee House (ICH), a workers’ cooperative, opening a branch in Delhi’s Connaught Place in 1957, followed by one on The Mall in Shimla. Chandigarh would get its first ICH a few years on in 1964 in Sector 22, which would later shift to its present location in Sector 17. It remains the city’s pocket-friendliest adda for old-timers, professionals and shoppers to unwind over an invigorating filter kaapi. The aromatic bean has indeed come a long way since the Sufi Baba Budan secreted away a handful at the port of Mocha in Yemen on his return to Chikmaglur from Mecca in 1670!
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