The only problems with Barista, Cafe Coffee Day and Costa are that they are formulaic, cookie-cutter clones of each other and that while their coffee quality is steadily declining, their snacks range from inedible to uninspiring. That is what you get when you’re a large chain and have to outsource your snacks to the same indifferent caterer: a boring sameness where cost reigns supreme over taste.
Which is why Cafe Qahwa is such a lively little place to visit. The youthful owner, Shikha Pahwa is always there, hefting crates of provisions and manning the coffee machine. There are low, comfortable sofas as well as conventional seating and the little cafe throngs with students from the nearby IIT, corporates from around the area as well as the residents of Safdarjung Development Area and Hauz Khas. In other words, an interesting cross-section of humanity, and interesting to people-watch. Though Cafe Qahwa is primarily a coffee bar, the food occupies an unusual spot between homely and healthy: it’s the kind of heart-warming food you’d get at an aunt’s house.
My favourite coffee is the chai latte (Rs 75). Served in a tall, conical glass, the freshly brewed coffee is has a pleasantly strong punch, but does not pretend to be anything other than South Indian beans. A hint of spices lurk in the depths of the hot coffee: they are more or less the same as those you’d get for masala chai and work very well in coffee. Just as successful is the cold rose almond coffee (Rs 106) where, as usual, the coffee is in perfect harmony with the other two flavours, unusual as they are in a coffee.
In other words, Cafe Qahwa does not take the easy way out by pouring measures of commercial flavours into a cappuccino. In fact, neither of these two coffees is from an espresso machine at all. Rather less successful is the ginger honey coffee (Rs 70) that is served without milk. Containing fresh ginger and honey, it doesn’t have the appeal – or the strength – of the other two. Don’t bother ordering tea in Cafe Qahwa. The adrak wali chai (Rs 63) was served with a strainer containing bits of ginger. That is rather too homely for a commercial establishment, and not surprisingly, the taste disappointed. I have had hot chocolate (Rs 79) twice. Once, when Shikha was not around, when the beverage was pure white and largely flavourless, and the other when she was ensconced at the counter, when it was strong and chocolatey. In other words, look around for her and then order!
The snacks include a pita pocket sandwich (Rs 119), a wholewheat pita bread with chicken nuggets and really fresh tomatoes and capsicum diced and rolled in hummus. It’s not only quite filling and tasty, it’s nutritious enough to be home food. Ditto for keema sandwich (Rs 119) with its wholewheat bread and (rather meagre) minced chicken with salad vegetables and chutney. My personal favourite is creamed corn on bagel (Rs 99) that is something of a comfort dish: mild yet hearty and with a rather nursery appeal. The coffee chains offer sharp tastes in their snacks, like lemon chicken, but young Shikha has figured out that neutral tastes go best with coffee and Cafe Qahwa is all about coffee.
C 14, Community Centre, opp IIT Gate,
Safdarjung Development Area,
Credit cards accepted; alcohol not served
Meal for two: Rs 500