Going Beyond The Bean: India’s Changing How It Experiences Coffee
Roast, notes, grind size are not vague words anymore. While we’ve been riding the new-age coffee wave for a few years, brands and cafés are crafting interactive, personalised experiences for consumers, creating a coffee community like never before
Disclaimer: This is not another tired conversation about how drinking artisanal coffee is the new cool. In fact, the meaning of ‘the third wave’ has completely changed now. Before the pandemic took over our lives and our vocabulary, the third wave of coffee essentially meant emphasis on high- quality beans. Some say we’re leaning into the fourth wave, some say we’re already there. Yes, every coffee shop and brand now boasts of freshly roasted beans — you can order your blend and it’ll be ground on the day you want it. Now that we understand the value of quality coffee, brands, cafés, and coffee experts are taking this conversation a step further by creating a communication channel with their consumers about what they are drinking through workshops, courses, and marketplaces.
There was always an offline culture of learning more about coffee, but what Dalgona started in 2020 led to even the non-coffee drinkers getting interested in brewing good coffee at home. Coffee consultant, cafe curator, and barista Geetu Mohnani shares, “With the third wave of coffee culture came the idea of educating the customer. It was offline, as we didn’t believe we could connect with consumers online because coffee is to be tasted, and anywhere that you are, the taste would be very different because it’s largely dependent on water. So the experience was only domestic, or local. Today, that’s not the case.”
I concur. When Blue Tokai opened their first outlet in Delhi in 2016, Instagram wasn’t as blasting as it is now. They had posted a shoutout for a brewing class that I then enrolled for, and learned all about how beans roasted at an artisanal coffee shop are different from those of Starbucks, how to use equipment, etc. Observing the increasing education on equipment, Rahul Aggarwal started Coffeeza, a leading gourmet brand that offers smart coffee machines and premium coffee capsules. Aggarwal feels that while people familiarised themselves with gourmet coffee drinking, the exposure to global coffee cultures through travel, media influence, along with rising incomes and changing lifestyles also played a pivotal role in increasing coffee consumers. Coffeeza, in fact, conducts various workshops using their pour over coffee bags with barista Mohnani, and teaches people how to brew the perfect cup, and how to understand your taste profile.
“When we saw the growing demand for drip style coffee, we launched our pourover coffee bags. Our focus is on elevating the whole at-home coffee routine while placing a strong emphasis on convenience and premium quality. For new buyers who regard machines as a big investment but are regular coffee drinkers, we introduced a free machine plan, which allows them to only pay for their coffee,” Aggarwal adds.
I take a visit to Evolve Back Resorts in Coorg for this very reason — experiencing coffee in ways that are educational as well as interesting. Formerly known as Orange County, Evolve Back has built the Siddapur Coffee & Culture Museum within the resort to encourage communication about coffee with their guests. The museum has charts of the history of coffee, old grinds, equipment, what not. They also came up with coffeeology — a workshop where an in-house barista will teach you how to make and drink six different types of coffee. During my time at this workshop, I observed that there were so many enthusiastic people who may not have been regular coffee drinkers but wanted to learn more about it so that they could start their journey. It also showed that as a primarily tea drinking nation, we’re leaning towards what coffee now has to offer us.
Evolve Back also offers plantation walks, where you can go through the huge coffee plantation, see the coffee beans, taste them, taste the peppers and other spices growing around them, the flavours of which the coffee then absorbs, and also see the process of bean to cup. Jose Ramapuram — director of marketing at Evolve Back — shares, “There has been a steady increase in coffee drinking among the younger generation, thanks mainly to the café culture that has taken root in India. Today’s coffee aficionados are more aware of the various types of coffees from around the world and are more willing to experiment. Their interest extends beyond just drinking, they are interested in the entire process, not from just bean to cup but from plant to bean to cup.”
Somethings Brewing, a marketplace for all things coffee, is switching things up further. Launched right in the middle of the pandemic, SB started with online experiences that included workshops, masterclasses with renowned coffee professionals, all done on Zoom. They recently opened their first Coffee Experience Centre in Indira Nagar Bengaluru, where they conduct various offline workshops, alongside interesting coffee meet-ups, and personalised training for home brewers who are keen to learn more. They have something called BYOB (Be Your Own Barista), where you get to brew café-like coffee, among other such sessions.
Sixteen Grams is another such platform that believes in catering to people’s unique tastes. On their website, you can take a coffee quiz, and their algorithm helps you find a coffee match. “Every coffee on our platform is tasted by experts on our team. When people subscribe, they just have to tell us how they like their coffee, and we send them a different coffee bag (we know they will love) every two weeks or months, depending on their chosen frequency,” shares Sheena Khurana from the brand.
One cannot speak of creating experiences with coffee without speaking about Araku Coffee of the Naandi Foundation. After opening their flagship store in Le Marais, Paris, Araku recently launched its first cafe in India, in Bengaluru. Manoj Kumar, the man who facilitated Araku’s meteoric rise, shares that Araku’s focus is to aim for India to count as a nation that can produce more specialty coffee. They also now have the SCA certified Araku World Speciality Coffee Academy, which is an existing campus in the Araku café itself, where they do courses for customers. “We have from half a day to one-day to two-day courses, depending on what you take, and that covers the entire range of coffee appreciation in just understanding how to distinguish high quality coffee versus average coffee, on one hand. To us, the entire approach is coffeeology, not coffee, which means it’s more from a pedagogy approach and with much more humility to teach. Except for professional courses, the majority are all focused on customers first,” he shares.
Baristas at the café are told that those who want to have a quick cappuccino or an espresso can go to the modbar (Araku has India’s first Modbar — the most consistent and stable under-counter espresso machine), and talk to the barista about it. “People enquire, try to learn, then find it easy, or really good. Cafes are mainly for that education and culture,” Kumar states.
Harsh Surti runs an Instagram page called Cafes Of India (@cafes.of.india), which curates places known for their coffee as well as Instagrammability. Surti directs me to the buzzing specialty coffee culture in Gujarat, and Amit Zorba, who started Kokoro Coffee, is a part of this change. The idea of Kokoro started when a group of homebrewers, including Zorba, started meeting and brewing, just out of passion for the beverage. Kokoro had a shop and a gym together in Surat, but due to the lockdown, they now retail and wholesaling their coffee to coffee houses. They are one of the most regarded coffee retailers in Gujarat currently.
In the northeast of India is Éte Coffee in Nagaland, the first specialty coffee roasting company of the NE, which has a coffee school that offers eight courses. They also have two coffee shops, one of them connected to a live roastery. “Été” in Lotha Naga dialect means “us” or “ours”. They have courses like Plantation, Greens, Roasting, Sensory skills, Brewing, Latte-art, Barista and the know-how of running a coffee shop, and they also offer a free consultancy service to help entrepreneurs establish coffee shops from scratch.
Corridor Seven Coffee Roasters, an artisanal cafe based in Nagpur, did a unique event series this February called Coffee Broadway, with four very different workshops: the first one being a night at the roastery, where participants came in and stayed at night to get a glimpse of what it’s like to be cleaning beans, and roast coffee, and then taste it fresh. The second in the series was the brewing workshop, which has been carried out individually and has always been a roaring success, while the third one — a fascinating one — is a sensory workshop where founder of Corridor Seven, Mithilesh Vazalwar, also a CQI-certified Q grader, shares how he developed his own palate, and you have to smell and taste coffee in a red room where you can’t see what you are trying, and describe it. The last part was the three course coffee workshop, where just three slots were available and the participants were taken through a three course coffee menu. “I hope to expand Coffee Broadway to other cities soon too, given the response,” says Vazalwar.
Mohnani shares some more examples of brands creating experiences for their consumers. “In 2020, Coffee First in Bengaluru created a curated mocktail kit, complete with cold brew waters, and all materials of creating a mocktail, like tonic water or juice or coconut water, etc. And that would come with a recipe card. Everyone who has ordered it would come together and do a session on the weekend. I also work with The Caffeine Baar, where the experience has always been personal. So whatever manual brews you’d order, you could sit near the bar, and learn how to brew them. This brand also opened during the pandemic,” she informs.
Restaurants are also participating in the budding coffee culture with all enthusiasm. Kunafa World collaborated with the iconic Dope Coffee for a collection of kunafas with coffee. Silly in Bandra, known for its great vibe and cocktails, is promoting its all day work-to-party etiquette by becoming the first resto bar to teach you how to roast your own coffee beans. Kodaikanal-based Nandan Coffee has opened an immersive cafe inside The White Crow Books And Coffee at Jio World Drive in BKC to make experience more interactive, and is the only place in Mumbai with a Modbar.
Let’s also place the onus on people who have taken a keen interest in going from stirring in an instant brew to learning about equipment, brew bags, and indulging them. Cold coffee folks are preparing delicious cold brew for their summer coffee fix, the milk-in-coffee crowd is tasting fresh, frothy VS Mani & Co.filter coffee decoction, and the ‘I like my coffee like myself, dark and bitter’ audience is Moka Pot-ing, et al.
Digital marketing professional Yashad Kirtane started using a Moka Pot after seeing it on a YouTube channel. Peter Kotikalapudi, podcast producer, started using pour over bags when a friend shared some Sleepy Owl brew bags for pure convenience and it’s been economical as well as tasty. Adhi Savla does a podcast called Brewed Stories, and documents his coffee journey on his Instagram account @adhibrews. Savla has participated in several workshops, and has conducted sessions on coffee tasting. “Most people associate their favourite cup with the place they were at, which is why many artisanal coffee brands focus on enhancing the experience of their customers. They leverage this by having beautiful interiors, sharing knowledge about coffee, having transparency with the source of coffee beans, holding workshops and musical shows,” he explains.
Rahul Sachdev, a senior staff engineer, has also participated in many online as well as offline experiences. Sachdev is also a regular at Roast – The Caffeine Capital, a cafe in Hyderabad, where the baristas are quite open to customisations. “They offer their experimental drinks to get feedback, and it’s fun to try them and learn from them,” he says, adding that Makobrew is another cafe in Hyderabad “with a crazy coffee menu”. Sachdev conducts planned coffee tastings for his friends, where they sample and understand coffee.
Sachdev is noticing that brands are also attracting customers through innovative roasting methods. “I have tried beer yeast fermented, whiskey barrel-aged, wine barrel-aged, cold smoked, papaya fermented, and many more varieties,” he adds.
As a final thought on the client-consumer seesaw of how coffee is becoming more experiential for people, Rizwan Amlani, CEO of Dope Coffee, says that the most fundamental point, which all third-wave coffee roasters are excited about, is the increased consumer awareness of differences between brewed coffee and instant coffee. “This interest has also greatly helped lift the fog off the ‘coffee is difficult to brew at home’ myth. The DIY hacks, push from companies, and IG Reel recipes are showing people just how easy it is to get started at home with nothing more than a strainer and a muslin cloth,” he adds.
Brew, sip, repeat. India’s coffee game is booming, and we’re just getting started.