Raise a Toast to the Cup that Cheers

Coffee, a globally popular beverage, in several variants like Americano, Frappe, Latte, etc., is becoming popular in India too. Coffee is not just being consumed as a beverage but it is also being used in several bakery products. It can happily marry with baked goods like muffins cookies and cakes, fruit pastries and even with rich desserts and bread. No wonder it has its own special “Coffee Day”. Ashok Malkani finds that besides acting as a bracer to pep you up it also has several health benefits. 

Coffee, which is believed to have a worldwide consumption of about 3 billion cups per day, is considered to be one of the most loved beverages globally. However its popularity in India varies, depending on the region. It is said to be more popular in South India, where there are ample coffee plantations that grow Robusta species of coffee. While Filter coffee is popular here, worldwide there are more ways to drink coffee. Lattes, frappucinos, drip, cold brew and, of course, espresso, are just a few of them. The overwhelming popularity of coffee on the global front has enabled it to have an International Coffee Day on October 1.  

In India, however, tea is considered to be the preferred drink. So how does coffee compare with tea in India? 

Syed Kazmi, Assistant Manager at Venues, in Aloft Hotel Cessna Business Park, too is of the view that tea is more popular as compared to coffee. He adds, “This sweet drink is an integral part of the rhythm of life of more than 80% of Indians. Yes, coffee is popular among Indians but the preference is divided across states or cities - Bengaluru, Pune and Delhi are the most ‘chai (tea) loving cities’ in India whereas Mumbaikars consume twice as much of coffee than tea. But if we see the overall data in the country’s tea obsession, Ginger tea tops the list of favorites, followed by Masala chai, Iced tea and Elaichi / cardamom tea.”

Manish Garg, General Manager, Hilton Bangalore Embassy Golflinks also believes that tea supersedes the list of drinks. He says, “There is a reason why the rationale of “India runs on Chai” is so prevalent. In fact, I reckon, chai is unofficially the official drink of India. From street side vendors to popular tea joints to high-street cafes - everyone has a set of tea menu ranging  from masala chai to ginger tea – that beckons comfort - to internationally popular (and, now trending in India as well) rooibos to oolo n ng. But, that being said, from past – little more than a decade – there has been a burgeoning trend in coffee culture as well – exposure to our home grown coffee beans to internationally acclaimed Ethiopian to Tanzanian beans. Also, if we look around, we have seen a splurge in the café culture from global to home-grown brands and also in-vogue now – single origin coffee house/ roasteries.”  

However, Pragesh Chhikara, F&B Manager, Renaissance Bengaluru Race Course Hotel avers, “The consumption of tea in India is purely and mostly domestic, whereas the coffee consumption is mostly commercial. There is no doubt about the significant gain of popularity of coffee in the last few decades in India. It has steadily grown popular through brands like Café Coffee Day, Barista and so on. Coffee is becoming a lifestyle whereas Tea stands strong as a comfort or choice for Indians.”

Ishijyot Surri, Executive Chef, Pachinco café, Andheri (W), Mumbai, claims, “Coffee and Tea are two of the most sought after drinks in any Indian household and workplace. The immediate energy that coffee gives, thanks to the caffeine content, makes it very popular and the choicest early morning drink. Coffee is one beverage that goes along with any food be it a South Indian meal, an American breakfast or humble Roti Sabji. Also, it is popular across ages as there are variants available in coffee itself with cold coffee a top favourite among the teens and the youth. The distinct flavour in coffee is so likable that coffee tarts, coffee cakes, coffee ice-cream etc. feature among the top favourites of the youth.”

Prakash Kumar, Executive Chef at The Woodrose Hotel Bangaluru, is of the opinion that coffee is preferred in south India. He adds, “In south India, many prefer to have their coffee liquor with milk whereas in other parts of the country, mostly they use instant coffee blend.”

Coffee, preferred drink of South Indians 

The general concept of people is that coffee is the preferred drink only in South India. This could be due to the fact that the history (and origin) of coffee in India, which dates back to around 1600 AD, begins with the Indian Sufi saint,Baba Budan, who went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He made his ‘legendary’ journey from Mocha, a port city of Yemen, to his homeland. Besides being a trading hub for coffee, Mocha was the source of the popular Mocha coffee beans. Baba Budan discovered coffee in the form of a dark and sweet liquid called Qahwa1 on the way. He found the drink refreshing and secretly brought back seven coffee beans from Mocha by strapping them to his chest, since the Arabs were extremely protective about their coffee industry. After returning from his pilgrimage, Baba Budan planted the Seven Seeds of Mocha in the courtyard of his hermitage in Chikmagalur, Karnataka – the birthplace and origin of coffee in India. 

Coffee originated from South India but is coffee drinking popular only in south India? And if so, what are the reasons for this? 

Manish explicates, “If we go down the history of coffee in India, the first record was found in the foothills of Chickmangalur in South India about 250 years back and additionally, Chickmangalur has been touted as the birthplace for coffee in India. Also, the birth of Kappi has taken place in South. Hence, putting all the facts together the genesis of coffee in India is definitely in the southern part of the country. Of course, some statistics also suggest that a majority of coffee productions happens in South of India – as the terrain is more conducive. 

“However, coffee is a culture - that has been adapted over the years, alongside tea, in India. But, the conception that coffee is preferred only in South of India would be a misconception. If you go towards the east of India it also has some amount of regular production and also the coffee drinking culture, which has spread to several other parts of the country.”

Ishijyot iterates, “While Tea is more prevalent in North India, Coffee has its roots in the South of India. This is because while tea plantations are famous in North India, coffee plantations are more prevalent in the South India especially in Karnataka and Kerala. As a result, it’s a staple drink of the locals here and a favourite too. So, while North Indians prefer to start their day with tea, it’s the opposite in South India with mornings seen only with a cup of coffee. However, with the world and India becoming smaller and, with a lot of expat population, who are coffee lovers, settled across the country, excellent coffee is available everywhere from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.” 

Pragesh adds, “India has been growing coffee since a long time. In fact, we are the 6th largest coffee producer in the world. Coffee has been enjoyed for generations in several parts of Southern India namely Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, they are the highest producing states in the country as well. For many people in these two states, coffee is a drink of choice. Street side bars serve the very renowned Indian filtered coffee “KAAPI”. Traditionally, if you order coffee in other parts of the country, you will probably end up getting a sad cup of instant coffee.”

Syed clarifies that it is the preferred drink of South “as this is where the coffee plantations are located. The soil here is best for growing coffee.”

But if one takes a second look one finds that the face of coffee consumption is changing in India. Just as Indian chai (or something like it) has become a staple in the Western countries under the redundant name of “chai tea latte” European style cafes are popping up in Urban India with a wide choice of coffee preparations. Café Coffee Day got the ball rolling in 1996 and now they are spread across 1500 locations across the country. Chains like Barista and Brewberrys were not far behind, and more recently international chains such as Costa and Starbucks have joined the scene.

People have now starting patronizing these coffee houses and they have now become not just a place to buy lattes and Frappuccinos, but also a much needed urban space. 

Reasons for increasing demand

The coffee consumption has doubled in the past 15 years since the first cafes were opened.

But how has it gained in popularity and which is the generation that has become aficionados of coffee?

Manish states, “I have observed that there has been a rise in coffee consumption in the last few years. Even the societal culture of coffee consumption has changed. We have observed meetings and interviews taking place over a cup of coffee. Our coffee shop – re:cess – at the Hilton Bangalore Embassy Golflinks, has seen an upsurge of coffee orders. Due to this we try to experiment with our coffee based drinks so that people have wider options to choose from.  

“We mostly notice (with reference to the TA we observe at our coffee shop – re:cess) that a age group between 26 – 40 is the one which mostly prefer to try varieties of coffee. At Hilton Bangalore Embassy GolfLinks, we believe that the trending culture of cafés and restaurants is moving away from automatic espresso machines to focusing on the craft of brewing individual cups of coffee.  

“I may add that there are also coffee based cocktails which have become a trend for some time now. It definitely has an acquired taste. We see bartenders experiment with coffee based drinks to whisky makers adding coffee to the malts and the likes.” 

Pragesh is of the view that popularity of coffee has risen as there are now several varieties available, ranging from filter coffee to espresso, cappuccino, latte, etc. “The current generation is making this brew popular.” 

He continues, “European style café shops are rising in numbers all over urban India. Southern cities are opening joints and cafes and eateries where friends and groups can hangout or socialize over a cup of their choice of coffee. The ambience of the place ranges and varies depending upon one’s preference and budget from bean bag couch to an upscale classy restaurant.”

He cites different and popular coffee preparations as: filter coffee, Americano, cappuccino, latte, espresso, frappe, macchiato. He reveals that the home prepared coffee and the commercially prepared coffee “differ in taste as the tools and equipment used to make the coffee in a barista or café is more professional with pressure and temperature control. Even the people working in coffee shops or high end restaurants are trained professionals.”

Ishijyot says, “Previously only filter coffee was common. This was because most people weren’t well versed with the concept of using a coffee filter or a percolator which dampened their spirits. Today, with the advent of instant coffee and coffee makers, this beverage’s fan following is increasing.  

“The love for the drink has led to the opening of the many café chains across the country. People have shown warm acceptance to the coffee shops all over India. The popularity of coffee grew with the drink making a place in each one’s heart by being available in many different flavours. With a good ambience and desirable food, a good cup of coffee makes life bliss anytime of the day. 

“The best part about the brew is that it is popular across ages- be it the teens, the youth, the middle-aged or the senior citizens. The teens and youth are more inclined to cold coffee that gives out a milk shake kind of taste and texture and while the late twenties to forties are obsessed with strong hot coffee either with milk, black or espresso coffee. For the senior citizens it’s the good old filter or instant coffee with milk and sugar.” 

Prakash declares, “Coffee has become the most sought after hot beverage of the millennials. With cafes such as CCD, Barista, Starbucks, et al. opening up more and more outlets in nook and corners of the country, its popularity is only going to get bigger and better in the coming days. With youngsters preferring coffee breaks during office hours coupled with availability of different flavours of coffee available at these outlets only ensures that this trend is here to stay.”

Syed states, “The increased number of coffee houses itself tells the story and the popularity of coffee among Indians. But the trend is reversing, as the big Chai houses with the same concept are entering in the Indian market and giving tough competition to the coffee houses.” He adds that the boost in coffee popularity has been due to the millenials, who have exhibited a long-standing and discerning taste for coffee.”

Health Drink?

Coffee has often been blamed for many ills – ranging from stunting your growth to causing heart disease. But newer studies suggest that there is no connection between coffee and an increased risk of heart disease or cancer. In fact, some studies have found an association between coffee consumption and decreased overall mortality and possibly cardiovascular mortality. Coffee has been touted by several people as a “healthy drink” due to high levels of antioxidants and beneficial nutrients including riboflavin (vitamin B-2), niacin (vitamin B-3), magnesium, potassium, and various phenolic compounds.  

Pragesh claims, “Coffee helps in the reduction of muscle pain, a cup of brewed coffee increases fiber intake, reduces risk of depression. It also reduces the chances of having heart disease. It helps in burning body fat, may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Coffee drinkers have up to 65% lower risk of having Alzheimer’s disease.”

Syed, besides concurring with the above, lists some more benefits: 

  • Cuts the pain.
  • Protects against cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Reduces the risk of depression.
  • Protects against Parkinson’s disease.

Ishijyot, aside from citing the above benefits adds, “It also cuts the pain experienced in the muscles post a workout session and hence makes up for a good post-workout drink. Coffee compounds are happy compounds that keep depression and suicidal tendencies at bay. Also, many youngsters who are into weight loss and muscle building consume a lot of proteins which in turn leads to gout. Coffee helps prevent gout.” 

Green Coffee Beans

Recently there has been the craze of green coffee beans. Green bean coffee extract became popular in 2012 after it was mentioned in the American television series, Dr. Oz show, as a ‘magic weight- management cure’.

Green tea and now green coffee? One may query: What exactly is green coffee?    

Manish maintains, “Green coffee bean is one of the latest fads in coffee drinking culture, intertwined with greater health benefits – as against a regular cup of coffee. 

Pragesh explains, “Green coffee beans are the beans of the fruits that have not yet been roasted. These beans contain a higher amount of chlorogenic acid that helps in reducing blood pressure and weight loss. The coffee made from these beans is not as you may expect a coffee to be. As the beans are not roasted, it does not give one the real feel of sipping a coffee. These seeds not roasted help in weight loss.”

Syed declares that since they have higher levels of chlorogenic acid, they also have the benefits of controlling blood pressure, help in diabetes management. “It is relishing too!” he adds. 

Ishijyot, besides concurring with the other benefits mentioned above says, “Consumption of green coffee helps in keeping a check on blood pressure and also helps beating obesity. Although green coffee contains caffeine, the content is far less than the caffeine content in normal coffee. As green coffee is made of unroasted coffee beans, the taste also differs.  It doesn’t taste like regular coffee but once you get used to the taste, you will love it.” 

Future of Coffee

With its rising popularity and immense variants available over the globe, to enjoy “the cup that cheers”, what is the future of coffee in India?  

Prakash avers, “With the explosion of numerous coffee outlets across the country and people preferring to consume coffee more often than not – and with coffee making equipments easily available – people can easily make cappuccino, mocha, frappe in the comfort of their homes. Taking all this into consideration, coffee will only see more popularity in the coming days.”

Pragesh declares, “Coffee – A human fuel, this is how I describe it. If we talk about the future of coffee in India, one thing which comes to my mind is that it is growing by every season and reason. People of India are travelling across and developing a habit of drinking coffee over tea. I personally feel that I am an example of this transformation. Being a small town boy from northern part of India and grown up drinking tea with a joint family, I travelled across the world and developed a habit of sipping coffee regularly and many times a day.

“With the encouragement of local coffee industry, the Coffee Board of India and also Indian Coffee Trust, coffee definitely is poised for better future.” 

Syed states, “Over the last few years, competition in India’s coffee popularity has increased and new brands are coming out with new styles of coffee. In the past two decades, there has been a spread in coffee consumption several parts of India, even if largely in urban centers. This penetration of coffee consumption is not restricted to the beverage alone but also in other forms like desserts and ice-creams. So the future is indeed bright!”

Ishijyot too is of the same opinion. “The love for coffee will continue to grow and so will the many cuisine experiments with it”, he iterates. 

Well, then, let’s raise a toast to the hearty and healthy cup that peps you up! 

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