To truly understand what goes into your cup of coffee, you should explore these coffee experience centres in Bengaluru.
“The first step is to smell it. Don’t drink it right away — sip it slowly so it cools down and reaches the entire palate. Don’t swallow; allow it to swirl over your tongue. Try to assess what flavours are coming through. Notice which part of the tongue feels it most prominently.” No, this isn’t a snobbish whiskey or wine tasting session; this is how you ‘experience’ coffee at a coffee experience centre in Bengaluru. Terms like mouth feel, nose, palate and terroir that had been the exclusive domain of finer brews are now permeating conversations at coffee bars. Move over mixologists, oenologists, sommeliers and brewmasters; make way for the caffeine consultant…
The trend builds on the success of earlier ventures like Bengaluru-based CCD (Café Coffee Day), which boasts a staggering 1,600 outlets nationwide. The first to focus on the barista, they were also the first movers to figure out that coffee went best with wi-fi! Starbucks opened in 2012 with coffee for its espressos sourced from Indian farms owned by Tata Coffee, and internationally, from Kenya, Ethiopia, Italy and Sumatra. The expensive coffee added to its pedigree and status. Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters, started in 2013 by Matt Chitharanjan and Namrata Asthana gave due prominence to local growers and single estate Arabica beans. Tokai incidentally is ancient Tamil for ‘peacock’s tail’. Sourcing directly from nearly two dozen award-winning farms, what began as a small roastery with a 1 kg machine, now has machines that roast 12 or 25 kg batches, and cafés all over Gurugram, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The world discovered that there was more to coffee than latte art.
Coffee is serious business down south. After all, this was its birthplace in India. For centuries, the Arabs held monopoly over coffee trade, cleverly roasting the seeds to prevent its germination elsewhere. In the 17th century, when Baba Budan, a wily Sufi mystic, smuggled seven coffee beans in his robe (some say his beard) from Yemen and scattered them on a hillside near Chikmagalur, he couldn’t have fathomed he was starting a revolution. The hills were named Baba Budan Giri for his contribution. In the land of filter kaapi and the stand-up darshini, coffee is celebrated in many forms — from Kumbakonam degree coffee to Bengaluru’s ‘one by two’ coffee. Up north, coffee was had at weddings with portly uncles waddling around the foam machine, egging the poor vendor to transform the milky abomination “Bete, thoda aur strong banao”! Making coffee at home was no lesser celebration with time and effort dedicated to whipping instant coffee into a fluffy mix. Who knew that the time-tested Indian ritual of ‘coffee phentna (whisking)’ would return as Dalgona coffee? But something new is brewing here — the trend of artisanal, gourmet or speciality coffee.
Nearly 80% of India’s coffee comes from Karnataka, which accounts for over 2.3 lakh metric tonnes. While India is the fifth-largest coffee grower in the world, much of India’s finest beans were headed for distant shores. Many growers decided to take matters into their own hands rather than sell to middlemen for a pittance. Enter, the micro-roastery. In 2013, ad professional Ashish D’Abreo teamed up with college mate, Tej Thammaiah, whose century-old Nellikad Estate in Pollibetta Coorg has been with the Ajjikuttira family for three generations. After two years of R&D, The Flying Squirrel leaped out of the estates with six distinct variants, including Sunkissed, Rohan Bopanna’s Master Blend and Clouds in my Coffee — the coffee beans are sent on a two-month vacation to the coast to come back as a milder monsoon-processed version. Third gen planter K Naren Kuttaiah and Robin Muddappa came together to launch Coorg Kallucoppa Coffee from Virajpet. AinMane, another brand from Coorg, offers speciality coffees including the Indian version of Kopi Luwak (Civet Coffee) at more reasonable prices (Rs 900 for a pack). They have cafes in Kushalnagar, Madikeri and Bangalore and encourage you to taste a fresh ground cuppa before you buy.
Fourth-generation planter Tejini Kariappa returned to her roots at Kandi Halli Estate in Chikmagalur. Along with her mother Nalima Kariappa and sisters, Tejini helmed her all women-run estate, opened the Coffee Barn Café at the farm and another in Chikmagalur town and launched Halli Berri as a gourmet coffee brand. DM Purnesh of Harley Estate at Kumbardi near Sakleshpur aged his coffee berries in whiskey casks sourced from Bangalore-based Amrut Distillers for 2 months, resulting in a coffee with the aroma and nuances of single malt. Buoyed by its success, he turned his attention to wine barrels from Grover vineyards. Coffee’s Gen Next is armed with specialized degrees in coffee economics and the science of roasting from illy’s and Trieste. And they’re targeting everyone from co-working spaces to the home brewer, roasting, grinding and delivering it to an ever-growing batch of coffee enthusiasts.
Coffee expert Geetu Mohnani is COO at The Caffeine Baar in JP Nagar, co-founded by Sreeraksha and Poojya Prasad, fourth-gen coffee growers from Chikmagalur. Their estate lies at the foothills of Baba Budan Giri at 6,000 feet and they grow premium specialty coffee, besides sourcing Arabica beans from Baarbara Estate. They use various processing methods for their beans, including their signature pineapple fermentation where the pulped coffee is fermented with pineapple, suitable for milk-based coffees. Each bean merits its own process and brewing equipment. The 24 hour-fermented washed is a wet processed coffee fermented in stainless steel tanks, best for espresso and milk-based coffees.
Choosing the beans is just the first step; you must choose your process of manual brew next. Natural ripened coffee cherries are fermented for 24 hours and sun-dried, which is well-suited for a precision controlled Pour Over. Pulped sun-dried berries retain the mucilage, apt for cold brews and Chemex, which results in a silky, clean coffee. Honey sun-dried cherries retain a thick layer of mucilage to ensure sweet and fruity flavours, suitable for the filtration method of Aeropress, creating smooth rich-bodied coffee. French press is ideal for fully immersed brewed coffee with heavy body while Syphon is brewed using vacuum pressure. The Caffeine Baar wants their customers to know what very good coffee tastes like and how two brewing methods affect the taste of a particular bean and your coffee. It’s not just about imparting coffee knowledge but deconstructing the chemistry from the estate level to the café.
But what if you’re not a coffee connoisseur and just want a regular cuppa? For a layman, the barista helps you with your choice — hot or cold, milk or without milk, sweet or not sweet, steers you towards your choice of bean and brew, measures out a particular grammage of coffee, grinds it and prepares it right in front of your eyes. Be it Spiced Latte, Mocha or Matcha Latte, the coffee tastes good in everything, including the caffeine brownie.
This coffee deluge is not the first. The first wave was instant coffee, vacuum-sealed and made affordable and available to consumers. The second wave hit the world in the late 60’s and refined the generic cup of coffee by different countries of origin, each with a distinct flavour profile. The Third Wave happened after 2000 when coffee businesses aimed to deliver high-quality coffee through better methods of cultivation, processing, roasting and preparing. The coffee consumption experience was enhanced through education and sensory exploration and the key characteristics to a coffee — body, acidity, sweetness and flavour. Named after this movement, Third Wave Coffee was launched by Ayush Bathwal and Anirudh Sharma in 2016. Beginning from one outlet in Sadashivnagar and five farms, they have grown into a community today. They offer small batches of special house blends to single origin beans, be it Moganad Estate from Yercaud or Kalladevarapura PSD with notes of plum, lychee and dark chocolate.
Coffee is the glue that binds people together even from diverse backgrounds. Ganga of Srilakshmi Estate is an ad professional, her husband Pavan Hanbal of Sasyakashi Estate is a business consultant while their partners from Kuttinkhan Estate — Mihir, is an architect and Mithun Rebello is a techie. Together, they run Coffee Mechanics, with the slogan ‘The art of coffee engineering’. Tracing the journey from farm to cup, they allow customers to pick from a choice of Micro-Lot, Single Estates and Blends. Bhadrapura Estate has delicate notes of apple syrup and rose while Bhadrapura Cinnamon Roast says it all. They even have Drip ToGo, a ready to brew filter coffee sachet.
Even hotels like Grand Mercure at Gopalan Mall upped their game and latched onto the trend with a dedicated coffee shop — 1026 AD. Using various brewing techniques and state-of-the-art Chemex and vacuum coffee set ups, the barista serves everything from Vietnamese cold coffee, unfiltered Turkish coffee and their Yelligudige signature blend from the oldest organic estate in Yelligudige near Chikmagalur.
Yet, the newest entrant is a brand from a region historically not known for coffee – the Eastern Ghats. And Araku Coffee has taken coffee appreciation to a whole new level. There was no coffee in Araku Valley until 25 years ago, when Manoj Kumar landed up. A champion of sustainable agriculture, he trained local farmers to grow coffee and intercrop it with pineapples and pepper to rebuild soil health. He roped in biodiversity expert and soil health fanatic David Hogg who believes that good coffee comes from beautiful soil. Naandi (literally, a new beginning) was set up in 1998 as a B2B model that has now become India’s largest certified fair trade organic biodynamic coffee plantation in Araku Valley. Manoj, CEO of Naandi Foundation, along with trustees like Anand Mahindra and Kris Gopalakrishnan co-created the retail brand Araku Coffee with its first flagship store in Marais, Paris. In March 2021, they opened their first ever café in India, in Bengaluru.
Enter its large outlet on 12th main Indiranagar, and the first thing you notice is the sleek all-white minimalist Scandinavian interiors designed by New York based architect Jorge Zapata and executed by Shonan Purie Trehan of LABwerk. The Sensory Bar is where the manual brewing is done by the barista, using the equipment of choice of the customer. Araku boasts India’s first Mod Bar (the fourth in Asia) – an artistic and aesthetic countertop where you see what the barista is doing and interact with him/her while all the clutter hides underneath the counter. All the plants inside the café are from Araku Valley carefully curated by biodiversity experts — there’s a coffee plant too! Sandeep Sangaru’s bamboo lamps dangle from the ceiling above a curated bookstore. The retail section is rather extensive — acclaimed Norwegian designer duo Anderssen & Voll have customised espresso and cappuccino cups for Araku in vibrant colours inspired from the valley that sums up their philosophy, ‘Seriously Playful’. There are vibrant vegetable dyed organic cotton bags and special Husky cups made from coffee husk; each time you return with it, you get a discount on your coffee!
The coffee itself is varied, each with different flavour notes and profiles because the lands they grow in are different. Micro Climate is fruity and good for black coffee and cold brews. Signature and Selection mix well with milk, and hence ideal for cappuccino and lattes. The bestseller Grand Reserve comes from a landlocked area in one corner of the valley with a specific terroir that’s lush with different flora, hence has earthy flavours. High Altitude and Early Harvest which did well in Paris will soon be launched in India. Araku’s coffee mentor Sherri John encourages people to decode the subtle nuances of flavor. The inner round of the proprietary Flavour Wheel lays out broad flavor types like berry, fruit, citrus, sweet, floral for beginners, the second level refines it to a particular note, until you can pinpoint the exact flavor. To enable this, there are Sensory and Barista classes with three levels each — foundation, intermediate and pro. AWSCA (Araku World Special Coffee Academy) is an SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) certified campus inside the café, and the only one in India authorized by SCA.
Coffee enthusiasts can try Araku’s two-hour Barista 101 classes on various topics — coffee roasting is called ‘Snap, Crackle, Pop’, ‘Tamp, Dose & Grind’ teaches you how to use the coffee machine and equipment, the one on Latte Art is called ‘A Whole Latte Love’, the coffee cocktails class is ‘Shaken not Stirred’. Held every Saturday 4-6pm, you can sign up on Insider as there are limited slots of 5. For Rs 2,000 per class, you get 250 g coffee of your choice, 15% off on equipment and a certificate. For people who want to work out of here the whole day, there’s a Community table and a special menu with a 3-course meal and 2 coffees, for Rs 1,800 + taxes.
Araku takes great pride in its concept of traceability. Sumant, one of the managers says, “Anything you eat or drink in this café, I can tell you where it’s from, the farmer’s name and the date it was harvested. Manoj Sir always says that we do so much research when buying a mobile phone but when it comes to food, we don’t think too much about its origin!” The vegetables are as fresh as the coffee, sourced from Urban Farm on the outskirts of Bangalore. The extensive menu is ingredient forward, curated by chief culinary advisor Aditi Duggar and helmed by Chef Rahul Sharma (of Noma and Masque fame). German Spätzle has been reimagined with purple sweet potato sourced from Araku, Coffee bite chicken has actual coffee grounds coating the grilled chicken. They also use cascara — the dried coffee cherry often discarded at processing units — in their culinary creations. Araku’s guiding principle is PQR — Profit to farmers, Quality and Regenerating farming, where everything goes back to the soil. At Araku Café every employee is sent on a mandatory trip to Araku Valley, to work with the farmer, wake up at 5 am and go with them to the coffee patch. Araku sources coffee from a community of over one lakh farmers. Each year more farmers join the fold, though it takes three years for them to be mentored and get organic certified.
Upstairs in the café, the roaster patiently picks out imperfect beans with each rotation. The coffee bean has polysachharides, proteins, lipids and minerals that provide nourishment to the embryo for it to germinate one day. When the bean is roasted, the amino acids and sugars combine under heat to create a complex chain of reactions that impart smell, taste and colour to the coffee, better known as Maillard Reaction. Wine has a few hundred chemical compounds, but after coffee beans are roasted, its few dozen compounds multiply into thousands of aromatic compounds — organic acids lend brightness, aldehydes and pyrazines impart flavor, melanoidins give the brown colour to coffee… The consistency of the grind is essential too so that they get even heat; overcooked grounds make coffee bitter, underground beans can taste sour…
The Indian coffee culture is evolving. Initially, customers at Araku would complain that the coffee served is not piping hot. They had to be informed that the SCA standard is 65-70oC — if the coffee is too hot, it changes its character. Sumant smiles, “Every time the customer will learn something, even if it is 0.005%, and go.” Last month, Araku launched a limited-edition batch called Lot 58 as part of its Gems of Araku collection. Of their 10,000 micro lots, they cup and select the top 100, which go to a national jury before the best Araku coffee heads to an international jury. The top 20 coffees from across the world make it to an online auction where people bid for it. Lot 58 has made it to this elite list and Araku roped in artist duo Thukral and Tagra to design a limited-edition artwork, a nature motif that represents elements of Araku valley. Next year it might be another lot, which means, you’ll never taste this coffee again. This lot has notes of sapota and stone fruit, we’re told. Sachin measures out 20 g of Grand Reserve beans and grinds it. The water must be 92-96oC, he explains. The coffee powder ‘blooms’ in the Chemex filter. After two rounds of swirling in hot water from the centre outwards, he does the third round outside-in so as not to over extract the flavours. We sip our brew the way it should be, sans sugar. Welcome to the daily grind…