TD Conversations: Abhinav Mathur, CEO & MD, Kaapi Machines and Something’s Brewing

The seasoned industry expert on the remarkable way the Indian coffee market has evolved in the past decade, the role of technology and what’s brewing ahead.

Few people know the coffee market like Abhinav Mathur. His position as the CEO & MD of Kaapi Machines and Something’s Brewing, India’s distinguished coffee solutions companies, literally puts him in the “thick” of not just how the market works but also how it would evolve as well; be it upping the experience of coffee drinking, aiding the grading process of the beans, coffee innovations, or even working with planters at the ground level to improve the quality of coffee they produce, and urging them to shift towards the more delicate, but prized Arabica. 

Kaapi machines
Abhinav Mathur, CEO & MD, Kaapi Machines and Something’s Brewing

India’s coffee export is primarily Robusta, which, says Mathur, “is a much sturdy plant and hence easy to grow. In a blend, the role of Robusta is basically for the body and the volume and as for the taste, aroma, and coffee notes that we often associate while enjoying our cup of joe, it is the work of Arabica.”

Incidentally, India, continues Mathur, “back in the day produced both forms of coffees, but given that the market for coffee drinkers was always small, mostly those who liked filter coffee, or one made with instant coffee powder, the growing of Arabica, a plant that is delicate and needs more care and attention than its brethren, was slowly phased out, except for a few single estate owners who grew it either for personal consumption or if they had had found a buyer.”

Kaapi machines
Kappi Machines has partnered with global brands that have launched innovative technologies in the coffee equipment industry.

One of the many reasons, says the java maverick, “why single estate coffee still continues to charge a premium on their offering.” Cajoling farmers and single estate owners into upgrading their offering is but one part of Mathur and his company’s vast repertoire of work with coffee. The company, which in the past decade has transformed the way India drinks its beloved cup of java with its technology and tools, has its hands on every possible pie that forms the coffee world. 

Something’s Brewing, the company’s offline brewing solution arm that was born during the first lockdown, is one such initiative. Started with the aim of helping people roast, grind and brew their own coffee at home, Something’s Brewing, which soon will have an offline presence across India, says Mathur, “is a smorgasbord of tools, toys and know-how that could make coffee drinking a more engaging process at home. The idea was to get people to know their coffee not just in their cup but from the bean stage – and how it changes with roasting, the coarseness of the grind and the many ways in which the coffee could be had – poured over, pressed, plunged, brewed in a Moka Pot or simply steeped.”

Mathur, who likes his morning cup to be a pour over made in a Delter Press using a medium-roast, single estate coffee, was among the many team members who were part of the review team who spent hours testing each of the products for its efficiency at working with different coffee blends and brands. The modus operandi: To ensure that each of our products works for the Indian taste and general style of coffee making.

Kaapi machines
Kaapi Machines sends regular newsletters to their clients to help grow their coffee equipment IQ.

Interestingly, the mandatory testing wasn’t the only thing that Mathur and his team at Something’s Brewing did before launching the e-store, they fortified it with every single aspect that would encourage a coffee drinker to go beyond their usual way of making coffee. 

“Aside from the detailed information on each of the products that shows how to use each of them, clean and maintain them, we also have regular newsletters that help one gain their coffee IQ without sounding overwhelming,” says Mathur, whose day’s work includes talking to a variety of homegrown brands like Sleepy Owl and Rage to help them rev up their offering. 

Like cold brew, for instance. While the concept has seen quite a few brands bringing their own varietals, a recurring concern with the offering, says Mathur, “has been the consistency. The different techniques that are followed today, including the traditional practice of soaking ground coffee in water overnight, really don’t give much room for work. The result is often that one batch of cold brew is different from the next. We at Kaapi Machines have been working with BKON’s founders Dean and Lou Vastardis on their indigenous brewing technique called RAIN to find a solution that could help not only resolve the issue of consistency but also add shelf life to the cold brew.”

While Mathur accepts that the technology, given the kind of investment it demands, may take a while before it arrives in India, he is optimistic about where the coffee market is headed. True, he continues, “coffee will always remain a niche segment, especially when compared to those in the West, but the last few years have been a very exciting phase in the growth and maturity of the coffee market. With the advent of specialty coffee brands like Blue Tokai Coffee, Third Wave Coffee, Araku Coffee and the like, consumers have been able to gain access to some high-quality coffee, brewed the right way. A huge change from the time when coffee was roasted by a select few large brands and available in a few formats, primarily instant and filter coffee. 

Today, on an average, 3 to 5 roasters enter the market every three months. Homebrewing has become widespread and better understood and, thanks to convenient formats like coffee brew bag launched by brands like Sleepy Owl, paired with the necessary gear and easy tutorials, there has been a transformation among not just serious coffee drinkers, but casual coffee lovers as well, who are receptive to newer experiments and better experiences.”

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While much credit for this “transformation” goes to people traveling that has opened up their minds to speciality coffee and the experience of a good cupping, adds Mathur, “when it comes to India, the larger credit has to be given to specialty cafes and brands like Dope Coffee, Curious Life Coffee, Corridor Seven Coffee Roasters, Black Baza Coffee Co, Kapi Kottai, Savorworks Roasters, Bloom Coffee Roasters, and many more who have changed the way coffee was viewed. Their formats, along with the array of brew methods offered, like Pour Over, Aeropress, Moka Pot, Frenchpress as well as more adventurous forms like the Syphon and Cold Brew, and the know-how that is available today has made a dent in how we enjoy coffee today, to a few years ago.”

In fact, it was to peg the gap in the coffee experience that Mathur and his team collaborated with Naandi Foundation to create the sensory bar at Araku Café in Bengaluru.

The café, says the Java expert, “is a remarkable experiment by the Naandi Foundation, an NGO dedicated to the upliftment of the tribal community of the Araku Valley, where some of the best organic coffee is grown in India. The idea behind the place is to elevate the Indian Speciality Coffee brand globally and let the world know that India can grow, roast and brew some of the best coffee beverages in the world.”

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The sensory lab, which is put together by Kaapi Machines, to help people experience the different nuances of coffee through its different processes, is, in fact, one of the first-of-its-kind initiatives to help people understand the world of coffee and how it continues to flourish during each of the steps. In a way, it is, says Mathur, “an attempt on our part to help people appreciate coffee for what it is, a living bean!” 

For someone who has earned his coffee degree while on the job, his view of Indian coffee to that in the world is rather pragmatic.  “I was always a proper chai person from the beginning,” admits Mathur. 

“I will not say that our coffee offerings are now on par with the world or some of the best coffees that are available across the world. That is a long journey from where we are today, but, at home turf, we have indeed done some great coffee work, especially the single estate owner who has begun or continued to produce some of the best coffees on the aisle today. However, when it comes to Robusta, India does produce the best quality till date – and since most of our traditional coffee drinking experience needs the cuppa to have that body and volume, we have done reasonably well.”

What, however, continues Mathur, “the Indian coffee market has effectively scored in the past few years is developing this great coffee platform that has something for everyone – from great coffee varieties to Ready to Drink (RTD) formats to delivery models and a series of tools and AI-driven content to help curate the most memorable coffee drinking experience possible. In fact, we will see Robot Baristas soon in India as well.”

Till then, concludes Mathur, who recently launched the Kaapi IoT platform that allows consumers to pay and get coffee from any vending machine, “it is a work in progress.”

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