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India's small towns brew better pourovers

Speciality coffees have seeped into tier-II cities with artisanal cafés, workshops and communities

The interiors of Half Light Coffee Roasters in Jaipur.
The interiors of Half Light Coffee Roasters in Jaipur.

In Jalandhar, Sahil Sareen runs the quaint café, Retro by Cakewaali. It has a loyal following for its speciality coffee menu with a selection of pourovers made with beans sourced from roasters and estates in and around Chikkamagaluru, Karnataka. It is not the only coffee hot spot in the city. Cafés such as Buland, Zoka and Wht Blk are slowly creating a community of coffee lovers in the heart of Punjab.

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From Jalandhar in Punjab and Surat in Gujarat to Nashik in Maharashtra and Bir in Himachal Pradesh, small cities are waking up to a dynamic speciality coffee culture. The interest in different roasts and brewing methods in smaller metros has gone beyond cafés, with coffee experts conducting workshops that run full.

Pratyush Thakur, founder of the Pahadee Coffee Roasters, a speciality coffee roastery, started workshops in Bir to educate café owners and supply premium beans from single estates as well as house blends. Amit Patel has created a community of brewers in Surat under his brand KOKORO, where he teaches brewing techniques and information and tips on new beans or estates are exchanged. Patel, a real estate developer by profession, had a taste of his first dark roast at Surat’s popular café Meraki in 2018. He took lessons from a barista on selecting the right beans, roasting and brewing before he founded KOKORO in August 2019. He started organising home-brewing workshops and meet-ups at different cafés in Surat. After the covid-induced lockdowns were lifted, KOKORO started selling coffee beans from Chikkamagaluru. Now, Patel’s clients include Veronicas in Mumbai, Three Beans Coffee in Nagpur, O Brew and The Bake Affair in Udaipur, Babka in Goa, and Cafficana in Kochi. In January, Patel started the KOKORO School in association with the Coffee Board of India, teaching the craft of brewing along with soft skills as a part of the training.

Sameer Godara, founder of Jaipur’s Half Light Coffee Roasters, sources from farms in Karnataka, Meghalaya and Tripura that support sustainability and are certified by Rainforest Alliance, a non-profit. While some of the most popular offerings are the flat whites and cortados, they curate a variety of beans, each boasting distinct flavour profiles ranging from earthy and chocolatey to fruity.

What is driving the coffee culture in the smaller cities? For most people, it comes from awareness. “We observe trends in different parts of the world, imbibe them and bring them home with us,” explains Dishant Modi, co-founder of the Commoner’s Kitchen cafe, who spent 12 years in China before moving back to Surat in 2017. “In a place without alcohol, coffee is the next best bet. Cafés in my city are not just limited to serving coffee but have become great networking zones,” he adds.

When Godara returned to India after his postgraduation in London in 2012, he noticed that the daily ritual of coffee culture was missing, but there was a demand. Along with his brother Yatin, he decided to focus on roasting and crafting coffee products. With travel becoming more frequent and youngsters returning to their hometowns, there is a need to replicate their experiences abroad, and speciality coffee culture is a big part of it, says Godara. Flexible work options are also on the rise and people are actively seeking places where they can meet, work, relax and enjoy some quality coffee.

Jyoti Kumari is a Pune-based lifestyle and travel writer.

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