TD Conversations: Nishant Sinha, Founder & MD, Roastery Coffee

Roastery Coffee’s Nishant Sinha talks about his passion for roasting, the journey of his young company, the Indian coffee sector and three new varieties introduced this year.

Across the last decade, the Indian coffee market has seen sustained growth in both production and consumption volumes. While the history of coffee in India dates back centuries, it’s only in recent years that a number of homegrown brands have come up. Not only are Indians drinking more coffee but also, we have started to embrace niche and craft brands. Roastery Coffee is one such name that stands out. Started in 2017 by Nishant Sinha, the brand deals with smaller farmers, and even sources coffee from regions that have not been conventionally well known.

Nishant sinha
Nishant Sinha has worked in the coffee industry for over 15 years and is a self-taught roaster. He established Roastery Coffee in 2017, with an aim to build a business that is sustainable for all parties involved – from the farmer to the barista.

We got a chance to catch up with Nishant Sinha, the founder and managing director of Roastery Coffee for a candid chat about the young brand’s journey so far.

Nishant’s love for coffee saw him start out, 15 years ago, with Café Coffee Day, the brand which he feels is largely responsible for introducing and propagating café culture in the country. “As café culture caught on, and Indian coffee drinkers’ exposure grew, a lot of independent coffee houses started to come up and the larger chains started to take a back seat.”

By the time 2013-14 rolled around, third wave coffee started to sweep the world, and India wasn’t left behind either. At the time, Nishant was working in his hometown of Hyderabad as an independent consultant. “I worked with several cafes in the city, especially ones who weren’t doing well and turned them around. As I moved from one café to the next, I realised that cafes were focused entirely on the experience and food menu, and not so much on the coffee. But there was demand. Hyderabad, being an IT hub, had professionals who had exposure to good quality coffees. And while there were people in the larger cities such as Delhi and Mumbai working with good coffee, there were no such options in Hyderabad. That’s when I decided to start Roastery Coffee.”

The beginnings were humble, with Nishant’s passion driving the business more than anything else. When he approached the first growers he dealt with, he faced some hesitation from the producers who only grew coffee for export. “They weren’t confident about how much I would buy. Neither was I. The first consignment was for 150kg, but what I got was the support of the people of Hyderabad. Today, from the same farmers, I buy 9 tonnes of coffee annually. So, you could say it’s been a good journey.”

It’s evident the farmer plays a big role in Roastery Coffee’s business model and they take the sourcing process very seriously. “We deal only in 100 per cent Arabica coffee, so that’s the one thing we look for when we’re sourcing. Sustainability is the other important factor. Now, Indian coffee growers generally follow sustainable practices, given the regions our coffee grows in, but even in this scenario, there’s a need for scrutiny. Then comes the processes followed, such as drying, washing and grading of the beans. Once the coffee is produced and comes to us, we roast batches and check the cupping notes. Hyderabad, for instance, is a market that doesn’t like its coffee to be too acidic, so there are those considerations too.”

Given the niche nature of specialty coffee, Nishant is himself involved in the sourcing process, and has made it a point to not involve more than two farmers every year. During harvest season, which is from November to February, he personally visits the farms and checks each and every process involved, from crop to cup. And once that is done, back at the roastery, they have a meticulous system of grading the coffee, based on which specialty batches are produced.

Roastery coffee house hyderabad
The Hyderabad Roastery opened its doors in 2017 and has seen positive reception from the city, being one of the biggest motivators for the business. The 120-seater space is set in a 40-year-old bungalow and its garden has nearly 10,000 varieties of plants.

The conversation now moves to the new varieties Roastery Coffee has introduced this year. Two from Salawara Estate and one from the Tribe-O-Project. Salawara Estate is spread across 145 acres in the foothills of the Western Ghats near Sakleshpur in the Belur region. The coffee crop from Salawara is inter-cropped with pepper, Areca nut, oranges and silver oak trees. The two variants are ‘Yeast Fermented’ with tasting notes of apple, sugarcane and green apple, and ‘Carbonic Maceration’ with tasting notes of candied apple, tangerine and hibiscus. The coffee from Tribe-O-Poject is unique as it grows semi-wild in the forested hills of Koraput, Odisha. And the business model is after Nishant’s own heart, making coffee farming sustainable for the indigenous people of Koraput. As Nishant speaks about the two partner farms, it becomes evident just how invested he is in ensuring quality and how much pride he takes in Indian coffee. Roastery Coffee also puts the images of the farmers on some of their retail packs, so they get recognition and take pride in their crop. Signs of a healthy business and hopefully, a burgeoning domestic coffee sector going ahead.

Roastery coffee house kolkata
The Kolkata Roastery is located on the ground floor of the South India Club started by Nobel laureate C V Raman. The 100-seater space opened its doors in 2019.

As important as the crop is, it’s the roasting that lends tasting notes and determines the cup the consumer finally sips on. For Nishant, roasting is not just a business, it’s a part of his home. And it’s been entirely driven by passion, as he is self-taught and has learnt on the job. “Roasting is like meditation for me. Whenever I’m irritated or frustrated, I go and roast a batch. Roasting is much like cooking, how every chef creates his dishes differently, every roaster has their own method. I can’t simply replicate what a successful roaster in another country has done. My coffees come from different soil conditions, undergo different processes. The palate of my customers is also different. So, every roaster has a unique method, and there’s no fixed thumb rule to roasting coffee, I roast every coffee differently.”

While we have been talking all about the coffee, Roastery Coffee also has two cafes in Hyderabad and Kolkata, where the focus has been to elevate the café experience for Indian audiences. Given that major metros such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru are usually the largest markets for specialty products, I wonder why Nishant has chosen to stick to these other cities. “Hyderabad is my hometown, and there were no players producing great coffee, so, naturally, it was the first choice with the café. With Kolkata, I chose that as the second location, because again, there were no players making this kind of specialty coffee. My outlook for the business is to make it sustainable in the long term, not simply move from market to market. I want to establish these cafes as landmarks that last for 50, 75 or even a 100 years. They’re beautiful spaces, in Kolkata, the building has a heritage value as well. As the real estate costs are much lower in these cities, it makes it much more viable to continue the business. Even through the pandemic, I didn’t have to lay off any staff. They were paid reduced wages for a couple of months, and then it was back to regular business. My next move would be to Noida. While Delhi is a great market, it is also prohibitively expensive, I don’t know if I can build a sustainable business with those kind of costs. Noida, on the other hand, has a gap in the market that I can slot in.”

Even as Roastery Coffee has established itself as a player to be reckoned with, Nishant is hopeful about the Indian coffee market. While policy has been key in helping the industry along, the need, going ahead, is to encourage domestic coffee consumption, thus ensuring growers don’t have to worry about export markets. It is this wholesome, inclusive approach and the passion that clearly shines through, that reassures me – the future of Indian coffee lies in capable hands.

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