Cafe Coffee Day has reached places where even the Airtel signal hasn't — a couple of years ago, this was a commonplace joke that denoted the growing coffee culture in our country. I first stepped into a Coffee Day (or CCD) in 2009. Every outlet looked the same — a purple LED hoarding embraced a red logo. I'd watch people mixing at least two sugar sachets in frothy cappuccinos. Soon, the Baristas and the Costas of the world followed.
Hyderabad, however, remained loyal to chai. The adda culture was familiar to our city, though. While conversations and arguments augmented over coffee and cutlets across Indian Coffee Houses, Hyderabad bonded over Irani chai and biscuits. But when the first Starbucks opened, at least 100 people lined up for hours to get in. To have lattes with a Javachip Muffin that was quite celebrated in the West or even Bombay. And then more Starbucks mushroomed across various locations, catering to coffee lovers and anyone who preferred to work out of a coffee shop. Freelancers rushed to grab a corner seat, friends caught up after work, but nobody spoke about coffee, you know? Many of us still needed to develop a palate for it and help understand the bitters or the cherry sweets. Visiting a coffee shop meant relishing a chocolate mocha or a coffee milkshake. In a way, coffee grew on us, and most of us began taking classes from experts to understand the difference between medium-bodied coffee and full-bodied coffee.
That's when I met Harsha Thummaluru, who runs Sentido Coffee Brewers. As one of the first coffee shops to introduce speciality coffee in Hyderabad, this was where I indeed discovered what a good cup tasted like. From AeroPress and Siphon to global drinks like Mazagran, Espresso Tonics, and Shakerato — Sentido surely knew how to attract even the traditional coffee lover. That doesn't mean they didn't have their fair share of troubles. From figuring out how to serve food without a kitchen on the premises to educating people about the fundamentals of brewing coffee, Harsha tried a few things to have a conversation with his guests. No wonder people travelled from other parts of the city to get to this sort of hole-in-the-wall coffee shop in Kondapur. For travellers who've tasted coffee in other cities or countries, it was like coming home.
But here's the thing — despite the growing interest among coffee lovers, Hyderabad doesn't have many options. There's Bottega, there was Sentido, and then there's Roastery. While other coffee shops are trying to catch up with this movement, most prefer playing safe.
Even as the sixth largest coffee producer in the world, India exports most of its coffee. As a matter of fact, most coffee from the Southern part of our country is exported to Italy. But it's funny that most Indian cafes have yet to introduce speciality Indian coffee on their menus. Arpan Ramtek, a famous blogger and speciality coffee expert, says, "Hyderabad is still playing catch-up with speciality coffee. While beans from roasters across India are available nationwide, most cafes have yet to hit refresh on their coffee menu. First, speciality espresso should be an option; next come manual brews and then speciality coffee-based drinks. Starting with either is a great push towards the new era."
Of course, that doesn't mean we don't hold our filter coffee close to our hearts. Brands such as Coffee First and Bili Hu produce coffee variants that can please any traditional filter coffee fanatic. "Coffee with milk remains unchanged. Dark roasted beans on a South Indian Filter with freshly frothed milk remains the norm. Then comes the cappuccino, while other espresso-based drinks trail along," quips Arpan. Although you'll find me dabbling with blends from various speciality coffee estates, very rarely do I not begin my day with foamy filter coffee!
In and around Hitech City — or pretty much every area with a cluster of offices — a chai sutta break is a norm. From working class and tech employees to artists and government employees — people throng to the nearest chai dukaan during breaks. Buttery soft Osmania biscuits or tie biscuits are dipped into chai. So, how exactly did coffee break into our city? Well, it didn't! As Aditya Chilumula, a local artist who runs The Onyx Method, says, "Hyderabad has learned to co-exist with its new inhabitant, coffee." A coffee enthusiast himself, he says, "I swear by Roastery Coffee House, and it's where I pick my coffee from, apart from Blue Tokai. I'm experimenting with different estates and blends and loving the Balur estate's coffee." He is brewing his coffee on a French Press and a Hario V60, like most fourth wave coffee lovers.
Mahadev Krishna, an SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) certified barista, runs Bottega Artisan Coffee, which was founded not just to introduce great coffee to Hyderabad, but to stop bad coffee. Despite a healthy growth in the coffee culture, he also agrees that it's still nascent. Or a neonatal stage, as he likes to call it. When I asked him what his first cup of coffee got him so involved, he said, "When I visited a speciality coffee estate called Kalledevarapura in 2016, I had a simple cup there. It was brewed on a South Indian Filter, and it was phenomenal. When I returned to the city, I struggled to find a coffee like that. That is when I decided to make a space serving coffee like that. Simple, delicious, ethically sourced and sustainable throughout the supply chain." Bottega has two outlets in the city with loyalists for its signature blends and food that its chef, Sneha Inti, crafts.
This proliferating culture has resulted in a community of coffee lovers. In the pre-pandemic era, coffee-tasting sessions were hosted in abundance. With baristas like Mahadev and Harsha leading and educating us, it has made way for conversations. Arpan says, "For the ones who have made coffee a lifestyle choice and are serious about their cup of Joe, speciality coffee access has been simplified. With a roaster in Hyderabad, freshly roasted coffee is readily available. This created a community of people who have started experimenting with coffee. It's like a flywheel — the community influences others to try and experiment with their coffee. In this process, the entire ecosystem gets benefitted." Perhaps the next time you visit one of these coffee shops, you can ask where your coffee is from and watch your barista, who, very animatedly, tells you all about it and more. Sure, it will make way for more stories; as CCD says, a lot can happen over coffee.