Life measured in coffee spoons
A year after Parul Doshi of Mumbai first tried a cup of Americano, she did something unexpected, but not out of character for a mad-for-coffee lover. On Ganesh Chaturthi, she had the two-foot idol completely covered in coffee beans and placed it in a thermocol cup and saucer. The room décor featured menus and signs borrowed from the nearby Gloria Jeans coffee shop, small machines and more coffee cups. “It’s the craziest thing I have done for coffee,” says the housewife, an active Rotary Club member. She even has ‘coffee’ tattooed on her hand.
This is not how you usually expect a 50-year-old to behave. But Doshi is just one example of how an addiction or love for coffee are consuming people’s lives in new ways in what is essentially a tea-drinking nation since colonial times.
The last decade has seen a rise in the domestic consumption of coffee. The Coffee Board of India puts this increase at 5-6% per year. The reasons are plenty: changing incomes and tastes, more available information and an increase in home-grown players offering good quality beans.
College friends, Mrinal Sharma and Sadhavi Ashwani, who founded Baba’s Beans in 2013, which they retail at their coffee shop at the Taj Ambassador, Delhi, is one such team of entrepreneurs that is educating and increasing the band of serious coffee lovers, as they go along.
“Coffee is like wine,” they say, reeling off the names of coffee’s aromatic compounds as if they are the names of friends.
While people in the south of India have always had a coffee-drinking culture, north India woke up to the pleasures of coffee in a coffee shop.
It was indigenous chains like Café Coffee Day and Barista in the late 1990s that helped create a coffee drinking eco-system; global brands like Costa Coffee and Starbucks entered the market in the early 2000s. They offered consumers a choice beyond filter and instant coffee –– cold coffees, lattes, espressos and cappuccinos.
Girish Mallya, 44, a magazine publisher in Mumbai, says in the mid-1990s, “anyone who had coffee regularly was considered an enthusiast. Our benchmark was low”.
For him, the defining moment that led to being considered a coffee enthusiast was ten years ago –– the first time he brewed a cup, using a French Press and a Barista house blend. He started brewing out of curiosity. Soon, friends started gifting him machines and coffee beans, even filter paper.
On the side, he was increasing his collection of machines (he has an aeropress, espresso machine, a percolator, and a portable coffee maker), which are divided between work and home, allowing him to brew an espresso or a nespresso (a premium price coffee). He usually averages about three cups of coffee a day. Mallya is part of the Mumbai Brewers Club, which conducts meet-ups and introduces its members to different brewing techniques and coffees. His daily morning routine begins with a 400ml cup of filter coffee. It’s his 45 minutes spent with a thermos and the newspaper.
For most coffee lovers, the stabilisation of taste is followed by the ritual. Amit Phansalkar, 43, started out drinking instant coffee as a teenager; then shifted to filter coffee in his 30s after a colleague invited him home and made him try a freshly filtered concoction. “We created a coffee club at work,” says the Pune-based software engineer. “It was a post-lunch ritual. A group of us would get together, grind the coffee and make fresh cups.” He carried on this practice for ten years and across two companies.
Former COO, ALTBalaji, Sunil Nair, 47, similarly bonded with his team over cups of coffee they brewed in his office around 2012. Nair, who had grown up drinking filter coffee, soon started experimenting with dark coffee, and cappuccinos (with hazelnut for ‘indulgence’). “Once I started getting coffee beans at different shops, I started brewing my own. There was a high associated with brewing your own cup of coffee,” says Nair.
But he also loves to have coffee in a coffee shop. “I, in fact, start my day in one. At that hour –– 8.30 am –– the coffee shop is peaceful, cold and empty,” he says. “It is heaven.”
Nair’s coffee ritual extends to his home. Every Sunday, he and his daughter get together in the kitchen for this evening ritual.
“I teach her the difference between different blends. We brew coffee and bake, biscuits or cake, together,” says the enthusiastic coffee lover. “Even the cat joins in.”