Bean Stock: Five Indian Coffee Brands To Try
Despite the fact that India is a major coffee-producing nation, until the arrival of cafe chains such as Barista and CCD the beverage was to a large extent the preserve of south Indian states where the stuff is grown. The rest of us contentedly drank instant coffee. Filter coffee was had as a meal-ender at Udupi joints and in restaurants that by the enlightened standards of today served brews that would be considered undrinkable. It’s only in the last five years or so that coffee has acquired a cachet among a constituency of consumers keen to know the provenance of what they’re eating and drinking. The interest has been fuelled by two groups of people: entrepreneurs who began sourcing and selling coffee from individual plantations, and younger generations of long-standing coffee-producing families keen to acquire a new clientele. They’re both building a growing customer base by retailing coffee in e-stores and in shops in major Indian cities other than those in the south. In the first of a two-part round-up, we review the offerings of five companies that sell single estate coffees and blends made of beans from multiple farms.
Baarbara is produced by M. G. Plantations, an estate in the Baba-Budan Giri hills of Chikmagalur in Karnataka. Founded in 1896, it’s run by I. M. Poornesh and his family. While most of their produce is either exported or sold to large coffee brands, they directly sell to customers under two labels: Baarbara Berry and Baarbara Berry Giri’s Legacy. They also supply coffee to Blue Tokai (see below). But the flavours of the coffees sold by each are distinct because the beans are roasted differently by each concern.
Tasting notes An Arabica coffee, Baarbara Berry is the colour of rosewood and has a strong, almost burnt bitter flavour. If brewed conventionally, in either a French press or moka pot, it delivers a wallop. A more pleasurable way of drinking this coffee is to cold brew it, that is, to let it steep in room temperature water for a day. The resulting decoction is more complex and much tastier.
Price Rs200 for 250 grams. Buy it here.
BLACK BAZA COFFEE CO.
Arshiya Bose, who has a degree in sustainable coffee production and certification from the University of Cambridge, started Black Baza, one of the newest coffee companies around, in May 2015 in Bangalore. For Bose, growing coffee in a sustainable fashion that conserves biodiversity is more important than developing her brand. She works largely with farmers who tend small parcels of land, on which she practices shade-grown coffee cultivation. “Our farms maintain 100 indigenous trees, 22 species per acre and 60-80 per cent shade cover,” Bose wrote to us over email. “We have started a nursery for indigenous tree species. So our definition of shade-grown is very different from many other coffees brands that may say their coffee is shade-grown. I’ve come across brands that say: shade-grown under silver oak, which is misleading because silver oak shade is probably worse than no shade.”
So far, Black Baza is active in 35 farms in Coorg and the Biligiriranga Hills (BR Hills) of Karnataka. In the larger plantations, Bose and her team work on blocks of land that have been set aside for them to practice their farming techniques. The coffees are named after animals, plants and birds that signal a healthy habitat. Black Baza, for example, is a small bird with a peaked crown feather, found in dense forests.
Tasting notes Our pick of the lot is The Whistling Schoolboy, a blend of chicory and Arabica and Robusta beans from estates in Coorg and the BR Hills. It has a rather bitter edge, so it’s not ideal for drinking black. However milk and sugar pleasantly blunt the harshness and it’s best enjoyed as south Indian filter coffee.
Price Rs250 for 250 grams. Buy it here.
BLUE TOKAI COFFEE ROASTERS
One of the most visible purveyors of single estate coffee online, Blue Tokai was started in January 2013 in Delhi by Namrata Asthana, a former communications consultant and her husband Matt Chitharanjan, who used to work with a hedge fund. They sell freshly roasted coffee ground from beans procured from eight estates in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in brown paper pouches prettily illustrated with folk art. Last year, Blue Tokai opened a roasting facility and coffee shop in Saidulajab in Delhi. In May, the company is expected to open its first Mumbai outpost in Mahalaxmi. Some of the restaurants in the city that brew Blue Tokai coffee include Desi Deli in Bandra; Olive Bar and Kitchen in Khar; and Ellipsis, Le 15 Café, The Table and the in-house cafe at the Abode hotel, all in Colaba.
Tasting notes Our top pick is their Arabica coffee from the Attikan Estate in Karnataka. It has a complex, mildly fruity flavour and is wonderfully mellow when made using a French press. When brewed in a moka pot, the beverage turns out stronger but without the sharp acidity of many dark-roasted coffees. Their M. S. Estate Certified Organic also makes a great cup of black. It has a bare hint of citrus and, like the Attikan, lacks the acidic edge of many coffees.
Price Attikan Estate: Rs320 for 250grams; M. S. Estate Certified Organic Rs330 for 250 grams. Buy them here. Blue Tokai coffees are also sold at Foodhall in Lower Parel.
This brand is a product of Kambihalli Estate in Chikmagalur in Karnataka, which also has cottages that are rented out to travellers and a coffee shop. The family-run concern has been producing coffee since 1948 and is currently managed by Nalima Kariappa and her three daughters, Tejini, Anusha and Maanavi, who began selling coffee under the name Halli Berri in 2014.
Tasting notes The estate produces Arabica coffee, which is sold in their coffee shop, in stores in Bangalore and Mumbai and online. It’s a pleasing if not particularly memorable, full-bodied coffee with a mild citrus flavour. Since it’s somewhat coarsely ground, the coffee is best brewed either in a French press or a south Indian filter.
Price Rs245 for 200 grams. In Mumbai, the coffee is sold at outlets of Indigo Deli. You can also place an order by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE INDIAN BEAN
Former advertising executive Kunal Ross started selling single estate coffees in Mumbai and online in October 2012. He wanted to introduce drinkers to the diversity of local coffee by naming the estates. Before single estate brews became trendy, branded coffees such as Philips provided little information on the provenance of their beans. Ross currently gets his from six farms in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and has them roasted in Mumbai and Sagara and Mysore in Karnataka. The restaurants in the city that serve The Indian Bean coffees include Farmer & Sons and Kala Ghoda Café in Kala Ghoda, Quench Café and Leaping Windows in Andheri and Spring Street Bakery in Bandra.
Tasting notes The bestselling Appa’s is our top choice followed by Watapi. Both are Arabica coffees. Appa’s is terrifically aromatic coffee that has a velvet-gloved impact; it’s strong but not puckeringly bitter. Watapi is slightly mellower with a fruity undertone.
Price Appa’s: Rs290 for 250 grams; Watapi: Rs450 for 250 grams. Buy them here. They’re also sold by the bag at Foodhall in Lower Parel, The Bombay Store in Fort and Westside Gourmet in Kala Ghoda.