Many years ago, when Aharnish Mishra and Manideep Chhokra chucked up lucrative jobs in a software company, their plan was simple: they were going to set up a coffee roasting facility. Common enough in the south, it’s virtually unheard of in Delhi. Today, Finca Specialty Coffee supplies freshly roasted beans in a choice of five blends to over 30 hotels and restaurants and more than a hundred private homes and small offices, all of which possess an espresso machine or a drip filter. Their unique selling proposition is that they roast the beans only after receiving an order. That means that the beans that reach you on Saturday morning have been roasted personally for you no earlier than Friday evening.
There’s a lot you can do with tea and coffee as Delhi is discovering of late. Hardly has Cha Bar opened its doors, than Passion – My Cup of Tea has followed. And if Barista and Café Coffee Day have been around for years now, Mocha and the Empress Lounge at Taj Mahal Hotel at Mansingh Road have redefined the parameters of the cup that cheers.
The Cha Bar at Oxford Bookstore, Connaught Place, is as serious as Passion is fun. You sense that as soon as you spot the accessories that decorate a wall. There are glasses from Morocco, plain white tea-pots from the professional tea-tasting world and a gur-gur chai urn from Ladakh. The menu offers single estate teas from Assam Frontier Tea Company, a sister concern of Oxford Bookstore, teas from Nepal, Darjeeling, Nilgiri, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, kahwa from Kashmir and for a light-hearted note, flavoured teas with hints of mint, blackcurrant and lemon. Then, there are teas that, strictly speaking, contain no tea at all – they are herbal infusions from Kerala. Also on offer is the seldom encountered gur-gur chai from Ladakh. You sip your tea, nibble a tiny, crisp samosa and browse through the thousands of books in the store.
At the brand new Passion, on the other hand, the seriously young and trendy have a choice of cold beverages that contain a dash of tea, but have ice-cream and fruit flavours added for a note of fun. The motto behind Passion seems to be: why drink rum when you can just as soon have a Bacardi Breezer? True to today’s concept of serving dhaba favourites, there’s masala chai too. And if die-hards can find their Darjeeling or Earl Grey, it’s more for rounding off the menu than catering to tea connoisseurs.
Coffee (and tea) and books would appear to have a certain synergy. Café Coffee Day and some branches of Barista have bookstores in them, while Full Circle, a book store with branches in Greater Kailash N Block Market and Khan Market, has a coffee bar attached. The other coffee bar to have a book store on the premises is Mocha, with branches in Greater Kailash M Block Market and Noida Sector 18. Mocha is a refinement on the Barista-Café Coffee Day model. While the latter sell coffee beverages based on the espresso – a 30 ml, intensely flavoured shot of black coffee drawn from an espresso machine, Mocha offers a greater buzz in terms of ambience at its outlets, plus coffees of single origin: Kenyan, Columbian, Jamaican, and Ethiopian among others. It would be inappropriate to serve them as espressos (just as it would be eccentric to serve a single malt whisky in a cocktail) so Mocha serves them in a French press.
In fact, if there’s a single factor responsible for coffee percolating down to private homes, it’s probably the availability of the French press or plunger. At one time, if you wanted an espresso at home, you’d have to get an espresso machine from overseas. Today, they’re being made by Birla DeLonghi, and while Rs 6,000 isn’t a great deal for a coffee connoisseur to pay for a steady supply of the beverage all his life, French presses are now available for Rs 300 – well within the reach of just about everybody. Manideep Chhokra of Finca Specialty Coffee has a word of warning: while espresso machines and French presses are easily available, it’s vital to have a good grinder. And no, your trusty Sumeet can’t be pressed into service. Domestic coffee grinders are available in the west for the equivalent of Rs 6,000 – maybe one day, they’ll even be available locally.
Tea aficionados have it cheaper – there’s no need for specialized machinery to make yourself the perfect cup, though Rajiv Mittal of Mittal Tea House says that the most expensive tea he sells can cost upto Rs 10,000 per kilo! Mittal Tea House caters to the upper echelon of tea drinkers: their teas are sourced from Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiris. Half an hour with Rajiv Mittal can teach you more about tea than you could glean from an encyclopaedia. Did you know that Darjeeling has become the foremost tea producing region in the world, not only because of the geography and climate, but also because of the hard-working Gurkhas? And Sri Lanka tea has earned its place in the sun because of the Tamil workforce? Kumaon and other secondary tea growing regions in India have not picked up only because of a shortage of hard-working, skilled labour. And Earl Grey is not a brand, but tea leaves with an infusion of bergamot., which makes it the grand-daddy of flavoured teas. Lopchu, on the other hand, is the tea that is grown in the terai region of Assam.
If Passion is the latest kid on the block, Aap ki Pasand is the first. This Daryaganj outlet sells the finest selection of teas from Assam, Kangra, Darjeeling and Nilgiris. Sanjay Kapur, a professional tea taster from Duncan, set up shop three decades ago, and exports to Japan. Tea is more than a mere business with Kapur: it is a serious mission. “Did you know that all tea – black, green and oolong (three stages of fermentation of the leaf) contains EGCg? It’s nature’s own protection against clogged arteries, cancers and diabetes.” If Kapur is to be believed, the powers that be in the tea world are mulling over how and when to disseminate this information to the public, because they don’t want tea to be identified as a medicine. And if coffee from Yemen has natural chocolatey notes in it, so has a certain tea that comes from one part of Darjeeling.
It certainly looks as if there’s a storm brewing in a tea cup. And it’s filtering down to the world of coffee as well.
Finca Specialty Coffee
256A, 1st floor, Bajaj House, Hauz Rani.
Tel: 30911343, 98113 06223, 98101 2056
Aap ki Pasand
Sterling House, 15 Netaji Subhash Marg
Mittal Tea House
8A Main Market, Lodi Colony
Tel: 24615709, 24624222
Passion – My cup of tea
60, Basant Lok, Vasant Vihar
Tea Selection Point
Shop No. SCSC, Kaka Nagar Market, Dr. Zakir Husain Road
Tel: 2435268, 24353752