Undeterred by the challenges of 2020, Chennai’s artisan coffee roasters have been scouring the country for beans with character; finding unexpected stories and intriguing flavours
How do you launch a café in a pandemic? Divya Jayashankar is approaching the task with an optimistic burst of imagination, caffeine and cake.
A part of the country’s new wave of roasters focussing on terroir and technique to celebrate the nuances of Indian beans, Divya began Beachville in 2018. The brand’s focus has been on sourcing high quality beans from across the country, and testing different roasts to bring out their best characteristics.
Now, Divya is launching a roastery café on St Mary’s Road to further her mission. “It will be a coffee experience centre. I will be roasting on one side, so people can talk to me, and see what is happening. There will be a manual brew bar with AeroPresses and V60 Hario brewers, so people can also experiment with making their own coffee,” she says.
Yes, a menu is in the works — but undoubtedly the star here will the coffee: Expect Nitro cold brews, flavoured cold brews and classes on pulling a perfect cappuccino.
However, with COVID19 lurking, you could also choose takeaway. Or geek it up at home with grinders, pour over equipment and her 100 percent Arabica coffee, sourced from Cauvery Peak in Yercaud and Kelagur Heights in Chikmagalur. She is also working on fascinating new project: The first crop of coffee from Meghalaya.
Filter coffee snobs, look away. Instant coffee drinkers: Lakshman Sevugan is determined to improve your morning brew.
The founder of year-old start up Farmgate, which specialises in filter coffee blends, has spent lockdown experimenting with a takeaway decoction, made using beans from his family’s estates in Coorg.
Stating that they have seen a rise in sales since lockdown began in March, Lakshman says they have been expanding their offerings. Namma Chennai, which they began with, has 20% chicory, while the more recent X blend has 15%. He explains how an ideal filter coffee needs chicory for the pleasing viscosity that marries so well with milk and sugar.
Delivered in sleek glass bottles, it is rich and strong: 110 ml (₹50) stretches to three cups of coffee. Of course, this doesn’t have the fragrance of freshly ground and brewed cup, but it is certainly many steps up from instant coffee. And with a three-day shelf life, it is an enticingly easy way to caffeinate your mornings.
Farmgate is brewing daily, and stocking it across the city. For purists, they have also launched The Purest Blend, using Arabica, and no chicory.
Auroville-based Marc Tourmo has a knack for identifying responsible, promising estates. His latest find is from the forests of Odisha, where the tribes of Koraput, in collaboration with the Tribe-O-Project are growing semi-wild, organic coffee.
“A friend send me some, and I loved it,” says Marc. “The smell is caramel-y — like toffee. There is a very soft, sweet vanilla flavour. And a nice fruitiness, like gooseberry.”
The coffee is a recent project, so it is still work in progress, says Marc. “We are doing a medium roast. It works well with an AeroPress, or a moka pot. Ideally drink it black.” There is not much of it this year, so if you want a sample, move fast.
Marc’s has another surprise: in a market that lauds Arabica, he is elevating Robusta. The bean, disparaged for being harsh and bitter, is a pleasant revelation. Sourced from Coorg’s Sandalkand Estate, it is pulped and fermented for 40 hours. “Then it is washed, and slowly dried. This removes the woodiness and bitter aftertaste, because we degrade the acids,” says Marc. The result is a unique flavour and deep body. An added bonus: everyone loves it when the underdog wins.
Chitravina player Akshay Vaidyanathan grinds coffee at home, between Carnatic music practice. A self confessed coffee geek, he recently graduated from painstakingly roasting small quantities in his convection oven to operating a sleek Bullet R1v2, whom he has named Ms Ashely Bakington.
Despite Ms Bakington’s recruitment, the start up is kept deliberately small, which means Akshay can tailor roasts to individual preferences.
Although his popular ‘Mind Blown’ coffee from Coorg is over for the year, he has another ace up his sleeve from the same estate, Mooleh Manay: Excelsa, an under-appreciated, climate resilient varietal. “They did a micro lot with their excelsa,” says Akshay, adding “Many estate owners plant it as an ornamental bush: the coffee is ignored, and therefore not too good.” This one is being cosseted like Arabica. He has also come up with the perfect name for this 2020-born coffee: Curve-ball.
This weekly column tracks the city’s shifting culinary landscape. Heard of a new food venture? Tell me: firstname.lastname@example.org