“I will have a Sumatran pour over with warm milk on the side, and my friend will have a flat white,” quips the young, 20-something college student while I patiently await my turn to place the order. The confidence with which she knew her coffee had me thinking that until about a decade-and-a-half back, the coffee that India prominently knew – and most Indians have grown up to – was the sweetened milk mildly flavoured with instant coffee, a beverage of the colour that might adorn someone’s walls. I know my Tamilian friends and readers who have loved the quintessential filter coffee will come down upon me harshly at this generalisation, but it is what it is – a generalisation. How then have the Indian taste buds evolved to devour all kinds of this smoky, earthy beverage with woody tones – black, dark and without the sweet camouflage of sugar?
Despite it being cultivated in the country and exported for decades, the rise in the awareness of coffee and its types in the younger generation can mostly be attributed to the opening of cafés across the country – whether they are standalone outlets or part of a national or an international chain. “I still remember the first coffee shop that opened in Mumbai, it was a Barista at Chowpatty. I think it was around the late ’90s. The Café Coffee Day chain soon followed. It made ‘real coffee’ accessible to all, it is there that my friends and I learned of espressos, Americanos, lattes and mochas,” quips lawyer Purvi Shah, who had recently graduated at the said time.
Rahul Aggarwal, founder and CEO of gourmet coffee company Coffeeza, corroborates this thought and takes it further. “Over the last two decades, café-style coffee has gained huge popularity, courtesy of the café culture boom which introduced consumers to the beverages that have become everyday terms now – cappuccino, latte, espresso etc. Further, the exposure to global coffee cultures through travels and social media influence, along with increasing disposable income, has also played a pivotal role,” he says.
The sub culture of coffee shops become the new hangout spots for young college students only added to the exposure. Even with coffee on the menu, you’d not be surprised with a friend (or it could be you) happily mentioning that her favourite beverage to order at a coffee shop was a hot chocolate! The idea of letting the bitterness of the world’s favourite non-alcoholic beverage linger on the taste buds long after it has been swallowed, and yet have the urge to sip more, developed gradually over time. Not for nothing did my closest friends call my classic iced Americano “that vile drink” whenever they took a sip from it.
Back at that time, going to a café was an opportunity to hang out and socialise; it was an out-of-home coffee experience that showed millennials a new way to share this beverage over conversations, Aggarwal elaborates. “However, this has changed. Today, consumers in India have more nuanced taste palettes. They are more experimental,” he indicates. This very experimentation resulted in the growing of cafe and coffee culture in the country, a luxury that was available only to a select and privileged few who could go to five-star hotels or social clubs to get their brewed cup. It also resulted in a generation of young Indians (millennials, and now Gen Z) adopting the beverage as a natural part of being young.
“When we ask for coffee even at home today, or in the interiors of the country, we get sweet milk with a dash of coffee,” says cold brew lover and advertising executive Natasha Chopra, who recollects how once at a tapri when she asked the chaiwallah to make her coffee stronger with two extra spoons of coffee powder, he was left aghast. The bitterness of it all is not for everyone to fathom, literally.
Over the years, the country saw the entry – and, on occasion exit – of different chains such as Costa Coffee, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Krispy Kreme, Gloria Jeans, Coffee By Di Bella, Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks. The culture only grew. This growth, consequently, has opened up a whole new gamut of possibilities that this brew brings with it. According to Jai Ganesh Ramnath, MD, Lavazza India, now people are more aware and educated about types of coffee. “Over the years we have seen an interesting radical increase in the interest of people wanting to understand their coffee. We have seen people making the effort to learn everything from the basics to understand how their coffee is brewed,” he says. Those fond of doing it themselves are now understanding the different equipment used to brew coffee and the techniques to brew a café style cuppa at home, he mentions. “This is great development for a nation which was known to be dependent on instant coffee and is now mastering the use of pour overs and Moka pot,” he adds.
The popularity of coffee brought about a wave that had not happened in years – the South Indian filter coffee becoming a part of non-Tamil homes. People started experimenting with their blends, knowing how they like it and seeking it out at Udupi joints across cities. The love has grown so much, that you will find gift packs of the blend and a steel filter pot available at your nearest gourmet store.
It has also led to new-age Indian entrepreneurs looking inwards into the Indian market and developing products for making artisanal coffee at home. “Today consumers in India have more nuanced taste palates. They are more experimental, for instance, many take part in events and workshops related to coffee tasting, which tells us that coffee has moved from being just a hangout drink to a beverage that we now have conversations about,” informs Aggarwal.
Abhinav Mathur, CEO, Something’s Brewing, mentions that with time came higher and more progressive standards, and coffee became a lifestyle beverage. “Value began to be placed on the role of coffee farmers, beans and roasters, not just the baristas and the machine equipment. This came with an increased interest in the flavour profiles of each bean a region or processing method produces, ushering the Third Wave of Coffee.” The Third Wave of Coffee places importance on single origin coffees, apart from farmers and roasters. The First Wave emphasises the rise of ready-to-brew coffee in the ninetheenth century; wheras the Second Wave covers the rise of specialty coffee makers or brands.
Ramnath takes the thought forward, expressing that a new trend that he has been witnessing is people recreating a coffee atmosphere at home by designing their own in-house coffee space/bar. In fact, during the lockdown, through a survey that Lavazza conducted, he learnt that an increasing number of people were missing their coffee breaks with colleagues.
Mathur says that brewing coffee has become more personal and accessible nowadays. Coffee lovers are home brewing their coffees over the last year due to lockdown and that has made people more passionate about the beverage and made them understand the nuances of the coffee brewing methods, coffee bean, roast profile etc. “They have come to enjoy and experiment with it. It’s not just about what a neighbourhood café has to offer anymore, it is more about the individual choice of the brew and brewing method,” he adds.
That, and everything going digital, opened up doors for conducting – and attending – coffee tasting and brewing workshops, where the trainer tells you exactly how each device works, which kind of grind to use for your favourite cup, how much water addition is ideal and at what temperature. Then comes the gamut of pairings, and mind you, we take those seriously. The culture has extended from Gen Z and millennials in the reverse to their older counterparts, who too have started to have their own specific orders. Gone are the days when barista had to individually explain to each customer at the counter that the Americano he/she ordered was actually a black coffee without milk and sugar. The evolution of the Indian taste buds has ensured that this much-loved beverage has create a place for itself in a predominantly chai-drinking nation.
Also Read: An Expert Shows How To Get the Perfect Coffee Grind Size For Your Fav Cuppa