How India’s Gourmet Coffee Scene is Converting a Tea Lover Like Me

I resisted coffee all through the late night studying sessions in college – even when I married a coffee aficionado.

Published
Food
6 min read
Micro-roasteries – where coffee is freshly roasted, in small batches and shipped to clients, all within a few days – are changing the coffee scene. (Photo Courtesy: The Flying Squirrel)

I have never been a coffee person. Not for me that caffeine kick in the mornings. I resisted it all through those late night studying sessions in college, through the countless Tiramisus that hit my table when dining out and even when I married a coffee aficionado.

Home brewing coffee is nothing new to many homes, especially down south where the landscape abounds with coffee estates. I have spent many a summer vacation at friends’ coffee farms watching the harvest, the beans being laid out to dry and even the roasting of beans in large batches for commercial clients. So when I first began hearing of micro-roasteries – where coffee was freshly roasted, on a schedule, in small batches and shipped to clients, all within a few days – it seemed as if the world of coffee had made a colossal shift in approach.

Curiosity finally got the better of me and I turned to Ashish D’Abreo, Partner, The Flying Squirrel Micro-Roastery & Café in Bangalore to lead the way.

Making Coffee Experiences Like Wine?

Ashish thought it best to start me off on a mild Cappuccino from their Parama range. As I sipped on this medium, dark roasted, full bodied, chocolate-and-dark-caramel-tinged, bittersweet coffee, I realised that I needed someone to guide me through the flavour profile.

Ashish started me off on a mild Cappuccino. (Photo Courtesy: The Flying Squirrel)
Ashish started me off on a mild Cappuccino. (Photo Courtesy: The Flying Squirrel)
That is what most people ask us to do, when they step in for the first time. And that is what the third wave of coffee drinking is all about. At first, coffee was just another commodity, to be brewed strong, with a dash of milk and a hint of sugar to sweeten. Then people began to get more brand conscious, opening up to roasts and going in for specific styles. Today, people want to know more about the taste nuances of a coffee, much like one would do with wine.
Ashish D’Abreo, Partner, The Flying Squirrel Micro-Roastery & Café, Bangalore

Ashish and his partner Tej saw the lacuna for good quality, artisanal coffee in the market in 2013 and decided to fill it up. The Flying Squirrel was born as a result, where initially, online orders were aggregated for 72 hours, coffee roasted accordingly and then shipped off to reach customers within 8-9 days. It also recently opened the doors to its cafe.

The pour over coffee. (Photo Courtesy: The Flying Squirrel)
The pour over coffee. (Photo Courtesy: The Flying Squirrel)

Since I’d walked in on a Sunday – which was also ‘roasting day’ – Ashish went off to prep the roasting machine while I tasted my second cup of coffee – this one from the Sattva range, a pour-over-coffee. This method of brewing coffee involves freshly ground beans – placed over a filter and a holder – with water being poured constantly over it to extract a cup.

I was enjoying what I was drinking and wanted to hunt for more coffee stories.

This led me to Ayush Bathwal, Co-Founder of the Third Wave Coffee Roasters, another roastery and café in Bangalore. For Ayush, a self-confessed coffee addict, the introduction to artisanal coffee happened when a barista in San Diego offered him a manually brewed cup from Rwanda, which had hints of guava in it. Curiosity got the better of him and Ayush began to research specialty coffee. Soon, he was hooked. Ayush and his buddy Anirudh Sharma felt Bangalore was the right place to explore this, and the time was right for an artisanal brand like the Third Wave Roasters.

Ayush and his buddy Anirudh Sharma felt Bangalore was the right place to explore this, and the time was right for an artisanal brand like the Third Wave Roasters. (Photo Courtesy: Third Wave)
Ayush and his buddy Anirudh Sharma felt Bangalore was the right place to explore this, and the time was right for an artisanal brand like the Third Wave Roasters. (Photo Courtesy: Third Wave)
We believe that people today want to know where their food or beverages are coming from – and one of the biggest things we try to do with Third Wave is to make sure every step of the process is traceable. By doing this we’re able to maintain the quality and freshness of the roasted beans.
Ayush Bathwal, Co-Founder,Third Wave Coffee Roasters
“We believe that people today want to know where their food or beverages are coming from,” says Ayush. (Photo Courtesy: Third Wave)
“We believe that people today want to know where their food or beverages are coming from,” says Ayush. (Photo Courtesy: Third Wave)

The North-South Coffee Divide is Being Bridged

The USP of both Third Wave Roasters and The Flying Squirrel is, that roasting machinery is kept in full view of the customers – which means that familiarising people with concepts such as the depth of a roast and flavour profiles becomes that much easier. This supplements the many coffee brewing videos, online posts and printed reading material that is commonly being made available at these outlets. Coffee appreciation workshops and mini tasting sessions, all open out a world of coffee that allow a customer to make some great choices. In fact, Ashish soon plans to introduce coffee flights as well (two or more coffees served together as a set for a tasting exercise). Remember that comparison to wine I mentioned!

But while all this has been happening down south – where freshly brewed coffee has been a way of life – has some noise been made up north too?

The USP of both Third Wave Roasters and The Flying Squirrel is, that roasting machinery is kept in full view of the customers. (Photo Courtesy: Third Wave)
The USP of both Third Wave Roasters and The Flying Squirrel is, that roasting machinery is kept in full view of the customers. (Photo Courtesy: Third Wave)

That question took me to the story of Matt Chitharanjan and Namrata Asthana of Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters in Delhi. Before Matt and Namrata moved to Delhi, they lived in Chennai with easy access to tiny kiosks where coffee drinkers can get their coffees blended and ground. They also had the ability to interact with local roasters. Frustrated with – and slightly confused by the lack of freshly roasted coffee in North India – they decided to indulge their entrepreneurial spirit (and put Matt’s prior roasting experience to use) by starting The Blue Tokai in 2012.

Blue Tokai uses profile roasting – which means that we map the temperature of each bean from the moment it enters the roaster to the moment it gets out, which is very uncommon in India.
Rhea Sanghi, Community Manager, Blue Tokai

Periodic brewing classes are held at Blue Tokai roasteries where one concentrates on the art of manually brewing coffee and the other on espresso based beverages. The brand is also developing classes solely dedicated to the Aeropress and latte art – making the idea of home brewing all the more exciting.

The coffee scene is blooming in the north of the country too. (Photo Courtesy: Third Wave)
The coffee scene is blooming in the north of the country too. (Photo Courtesy: Third Wave)

Home brewing is what Ashish too wants to propagate in the long run, he tells me, as he walks me through the process of roasting. With the entire sequence being time controlled, the final result is an array of shades denoting various levels of roasting.

He tells me of a time when a few Italian roasters found that his darkest roast seemed the equivalent of their lightest! That, Ashish says, is the beauty of roasting coffee. You can have it done to your palate and taste.
Nitrogen infused cold black coffee. (Photo Courtesy: The Flying Squirrel)
Nitrogen infused cold black coffee. (Photo Courtesy: The Flying Squirrel)

By now, I was brave enough to venture a sip of a Nitrogen infused cold black coffee – a delicious punch of flavour. It will take me a while to graduate to becoming a coffee convert, but perhaps someday I will be one.

Artisanal coffees have been my introduction to the world of coffee and I am spoiled already.

(Ruth is a media professional who has worked across multiple platforms in the last 15 years. She believes that every experience and interaction adds a new dimension to her perspective of the world and she loves every minute of what she does.)

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