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Coffee can change your life

Ajeet Singh Chauhan, 28, has made the morning’s first coffee. Chauhan is flying to Dubai next week for the regional finals of the ‘Barista of the Year’ competition, a championship that the international coffee chain outlet is conducting to select its best barista.

entertainment Updated: Aug 02, 2010 00:49 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

He fills the jug with cold milk, checks the temperature on the thermometer (it should be 32 F) and keeps the jug aside. He switches on the espresso machine and brews the ground coffee into the white primo cup, then turns on the steam muzzle and fills the milk jug with foam. After banging (breaking the air bubbles) and swirling (mixing the froth), he pours the milk into the primo cup and sprinkles chocolate powder on the top. The cappuccino is ready to be served.

Ajeet Singh Chauhan, 28, has made the morning’s first coffee. We meet him at a Costa Coffee outlet in Green Park, South Delhi. A lanky man with a shy smile, Chauhan is flying to Dubai next week for the regional finals of the ‘Barista of the Year’ competition, a championship that the international coffee chain outlet is conducting to select its best barista.

coffeeBarista is the Italian word for ‘bartender’ and is used for a person who makes and serves coffee. Chauhan was chosen after winning the India round. If he cracks it in Dubai, he will go to London in October for the final Champion of Champions round. If he reaches the top, who knows... he may buy a car and stop commuting in EMU trains and DTC buses.

Till five years ago, our coffee man had never even tasted a cappuccino. “I had my first cappuccino on August 4, 2009,” he says. “This was the first day of my first job in a coffee chain.” Then, Chauhan was in Bahrain, a tiny Middle-East monarchy. This was his first sojourn abroad and it came after much resistance from his parents, who live in a village called Atohan in Palwal, a district 50 kms from Delhi. “My family feels odd about my profession. We are jaats. It is very tough for me to explain what I’m doing to Papa and Maa.”

There weren’t many opportunities in Chauhan’s village, where his father farms over three acres of land. The future barista grew up in Faridabad at the home of his chacha (uncle). Faridabad, technically a city in Haryana, is across the border from Delhi. Today, it has malls and multiplexes, but when Chauhan was attending a school there, it was a dusty town. There were no cafes and Chauhan never tasted anything more sophisticated than what could be brewed from instant coffee sachets, which his aunt would make for him on special occasions. Unlike now, he was also not fluent in English. After finishing school, he enrolled in a Gurgaon management institute.

“My dream was to become an MNC executive in Gurgaon, but then I got a part-time job in a pizza chain in Faridabad and I drifted towards the
hospitality industry.” Once, Chauhan’s parents came to visit him at the pizza outlet. “They saw me from outside the glass wall. I was wiping forks and knives. I gestured, asking them to come in, but they refused. Later, papa said, ‘Beta, what do you think you are doing?’”

So, what was his reply? “I said, Papa, it’s my choice.’” Chauhan was not the best student during his training as a coffee maker. “I was the last to learn the tricks. Once, I burnt my hand. See this mark here,” he says, showing the back of his right hand. “In my first outlet, I learnt how to make coffee, what it actually is and what exactly is a coffee bean.”

Chauhan was chosen the best barista among his coffee chain’s India outlets after he created the ‘Dates & Figs Frescato’. “I hadn’t even heard the word ‘frescato’ till I joined my company.” His parents are probably still unaware. They prefer chai. “No, my folks don’t call it chai,” says the barista. “It’s chaa — milky and sugary.”