Cafe Coffee Day has reached places where even Airtel signal hasn't — a couple of years ago, this was a commonplace joke which sort of denoted the growing coffee culture in our country. The first time I stepped into a Coffee Day (or CCD) was 2009. Every outlet looked the same — a purple LED hoarding embraced a red logo. I'd watch people mixing at least two sachets of sugar in frothy cappuccinos. Soon, the Baristas and the Costas of the world followed.
Hyderabad, however, remained loyal to chai. The adda culture wasn't new 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 not just coffee lovers but to 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? In all honesty, a lot of us hadn't developed a palate for it yet and didn't understand the bitters or the cherry sweets. A visit to 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 a medium-bodied coffee and a full-bodied one.
That's when I met Harsha Thummaluru, who runs Sentido Coffee Brewers. As one of the first coffee shops to introduce specialty coffee in Hyderabad, this was where I truly discovered what a good cup tasted like. From an 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 fare 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 out quite a few things to have a conversation with his guests. No wonder people travelled all the way 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 a plethora of options. There's Bottega, there was Sentido, and then there's Roastery. While there are other coffee shops 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 sort of funny that most Indian cafes are yet to introduce specialty Indian coffee on their menus. Arpan Ramtek, a popular blogger and specialty coffee expert says, "Hyderabad is still playing catch-up with Speciality Coffee. While beans from roasters across India are available nation-wide, most cafes are yet to hit refresh on their coffee menu. To start with, 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 out there. "Coffee with milk remains unchanged. Dark roasted beans on 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 specialty 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 chaidukaan 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. Right now, 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 generation coffee lovers.
Mahadev Krishna, an SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) certified barista, runs Bottega Artisan Coffee, which was founded to not just 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 in a nascent stage. Or a neonatal stage, as he likes to call it. When I asked him what was his first cup of coffee that 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 came back to the city, I struggled to find a cup of coffee like that. In fact, that is when I decided I'll make a space that will serve coffee like that. Simple, delicious, ethically sourced and sustainable through out the supply chain." With two outlets in the city, Bottega has loyalists for its signature blends and food that is crafted by their chef, Sneha Inti.
What this proliferating culture has resulted in, is 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. As 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, very animatedly, tell you all about it and more. For sure, it will make way for more stories, and as CCD says, a lot can happen over coffee.