Coffee is the drink of choice for many for a nice afternoon out with someone and the magic potion that gets some going through the workday. There’s also an obsessive lot that can’t start their morning without a cuppa joe, and another that finds pleasure in experimenting with different brews and the aromas that come with it.
But in a tea-drinking country like India, how did the market for artisanal brands grow? Only a handful of the most avid coffee lovers would know the legend of the seven beans—an Indian Sufi saint named Baba Budan brought seven beans from Yemen’s town of Mocha to Chikmagalur in Karnataka, which became the first recorded place in India to cultivate coffee, all the way back in the 1600s. What followed was lost in history till the 18th century, when the British turned forests in South India into commercial coffee plantations.
Over time, much of the produce from coffee plantations across South India was exported to Europe, Japan and the Middle East, and the Indian market became dominated by instant coffee brands such as Nescafé and Bru. While the popularity of the drink grew with café chains like Barista and Café Coffee Day, a class of audience wanted more than cappuccino and latté. Enter artisanal brands. With inventive blends that came with notes of caramel, chocolate, vanilla and so much more, they wowed customers and have gained a loyal following over the last decade or so. And with the bean-to-cup movement gaining popularity, more and more brands are dipping into the market, all aiming to bring customers the finest, freshest beans straight from coffee estates.
Based out of Coorg, Ainmane produces Civet Coffee, one of the most expensive varieties of the bean in the world. The process involves wild civet cats ingesting coffee cherries and later excreting them, after which the beans are picked and processed. While the process might not make civet coffee seem too appealing, its taste and aroma will change your mind. Besides Civet Coffee, Ainmané offers a variety of “speciality coffee” like the smokey-spicy yet bitter-sweet Monsooned Malabar, Robusta of Coorg, the medium-roasted and fruity Cafe Blend and Green Coffee Powder. It also sells a range of “single-origin coffee”, processed from beans that are procured from three estates in Chikmagalur and Coorg, and variants of filter coffee. Website
Their little café in Mumbai’s Khar neighborhood draws coffee lovers for both their cold-pressed brews and a variety of freshly-roasted coffee. The aroma hits you even before you’re inside. Co-founders Shannon D’Souza and Clement Sissia travelled to Italy and Thailand to master the art of roasting, brewing and more. All their Arabica beans are sourced from estates across South India. The Poabs blend is an organic coffee with nutty, fruity flavours. Beans from the Doraikanal Estate near Kodaikanal have a nutty flavour with cocoa undertones. Their most popular variety, Marvahulla, comes from the eponymously named estate in the Nilgiris. It has strong hints of dark chocolate with a finish of molasses and caramel. Website
Be it hints of dark chocolate, fruity flavours, South Indian filter kaapi as well as a number of regular flavours and limited editions, Black Baza Coffee knows how to keep connoisseurs happy. It sources Arabica and Robusta beans from coffee producers in Coorg not with just quality and flavour in mind, but also social responsibility—think reforestation efforts, conservation of biodiversity and local employment. It was the brainchild of Arshiya Urveeja Bose, who found during her PhD research that there was a need for environmental and social changes in India’s coffee industry. And so began the journey of the “activist company” and its “1000-year-brew”, which is what it calls its ecological and social efforts. Website
Enjoy their aromatic brews at any one of their cafés or call home for their fresh roasts. Blue Tokai was one of the earliest entrants in the market. Co-founded by Matt Chittaranjan and Namrata Asthana, it started out with a small roastery in New Delhi in 2013 and has expanded to over 20 cafés across India. From light and fruity to the full-bodied caramel of dark roasts, Blue Tokai offers a range of freshly-roasted coffee especially for those who like to grind their own beans before drinking or specifically tailored to the brewing equipment they use. It sells Arabica beans procured from the coffee farms of Coorg, Chikmagalur, Tamil Nadu’s Shevaroy Hills, the Nilgiris, Karnataka and Kerala. All their products come in packaging with beautiful Mata Ni Pachedi artwork. Try the Vienna Roast, Attikan Estate and Bibi Plantation, its bestsellers. Website
This brand is run by four women of the Kariappa family from the “House of Halli Berri” on their estate in Chikmagalur. Their coffee is sustainably farmed, handpicked, shade-grown and also Rainforest Alliance-certified for their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. With Halli Berri, you can do more than just enjoy the coffee that comes with hints of honey-dew: the company allows you to visit their farm, learn more about their brews, all while you enjoy a stay at any of the cottages on their estate that you can book. Website
A brand of NGO Naandi Foundation, Araku Coffee won the Prix Epicures gold medal in France for the best coffee pod in 2018. Its beans come from 25,000 acres in the Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh, where local over 90,000 tribal farmers are involved in the production, right from growing and harvesting to processing. In fact, Araku was founded as a social enterprise, with the aim to empower disadvantaged Adivasi farmers in the valley. It has four blends on offer: Microclimate has undertones of strawberries, grapes and cocoa; Signature comes with hints of green pepper and dark chocolate; Selection has a slight taste of toffee; and Grand Reserve has fruity, floral hints. Website
Experience Italy in a cup of India’s finest, as its tagline says. Guided by Dr. Dante Cagliari, one of Italy’s premier roasters, Seven Beans brings his expert blends to Indian homes from its plantations in Chikmagalur. Its roastery is modelled around Cagliari’s own at Modena in Italy. Abhijit and Advith Shetty partnered with Cagliari for the roastery, which now offers five blends—Urja with notes of toasted peanuts and dark chocolate; Mistha with hints of buttery caramel and white chocolate; Eka with notes of spicy pepper and walnut; Urubage Filter Coffee and a 100 percent Arabica variety. Website
Founded by three friends Ajai Thandi, Arman Sood and Ashwajeet Singh from a Delhi apartment in 2016, Sleepy Owl specialises in cold brews in a primarily “hot” market. Its Original and chocolatey Dark Roast come in both hot and cold varieties, while the Cinnamon blend is available only for cold brews. Each cup contains the flavour of carefully-roasted Arabica beans procured from Chikmagalur. The cold brews, it says, can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week without losing flavour. Sleepy Owl restricted itself to Delhi for years before finally expanding to Mumbai in 2019. It now ships countrywide and recently opened its first outlet in Delhi’s Shahpur Jat neighbourhood. Website
A licensed brand of Nilgiri Foods & Beverages, The Coffee Co was established in 2013 by Gerson Aranha, proprietor of the parent company. It offers medium and medium dark roasts that are light-, medium- and full-bodied under three blends: Morning Dew, Southern Estate and Rea. Besides ordering their beans to your doorstep, you can find their fine, shade-grown Arabica coffee from Chikmagalur at over 500 cafés and shops across India. Website
As the name suggests, this hip new brand hopes to evoke a particular reaction from customers with every sip they take: “Damn. That’s some Dope coffee.” The team behind Dope—co-founded by Rizwan Amlani and Nitu Pohoomul—had just one idea behind launching the company: they just really love coffee! With the hope to bring versatility to their roasts, they have 15 varieties listed on their website, of which Chocolatey Dark Matter, butty Polaris, nutmeg-y Swarnagiri Estate and citrusy Balmaadi Organic and Biodynamic are its bestsellers. Besides their online store, you can find Dope brews at their outlet in Mumbai’s Flea Bazaar Café. Website
Head to their little corner in Mumbai’s Bandra neighbourhood or order some home, their coffee will come with the same freshness either way. They have nine specialty roasted beans on offer—both hot and cold brews—along with some mouth-watering baked goods. Subko sources its beans from a number of coffee plantations across South India. Website
Founded by Kunal Ross, The Indian Bean sources its beans from two single-estate farms in Kodaikanal and Coorg. Strong and fruity Frowner’s, Bullet with a vanilla finish, mildly chocolatey Bello, cinnamony Watapi, and Malnad, the classic South Indian filter coffee, are the five varieties of coffee it ships. Website
The minds of advertising executive Ashish D’Abreo and third-generation coffee farmer Tej Thammaiah came together to launch this Bengaluru-based firm. The beans come from Thammaiah’s family estate in Coorg, where they experiment with growing conditions and various kinds of processing, drying, storing and roasting to come up with their coffee blends. The Flying Squirrel has a rotating menu of seasonal coffees, among which Parama with hints of chocolate and caramel and the fruity Sunkissed are bestsellers. Website
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