From cappuccino to cascara, Chennai's coffee offerings has evolved to woo the discerning
From being indiscriminately fanatic about any South Indian filter coffee to now being Americano drinkers with a leaning towards speciality coffees, we were surprised to find that we are part of a larger movement. Reasons vary from dairy becoming the new villain to well-travelled palates that can now find the difference between a slow-roasted Arabica and a robust single-origin bean from Chikmagalur. Nowadays, it is becoming more common to see your coffee brewing on an exacting digital stand that monitors the weight and the temperature of your brew. And, if you sniff and swirl and sip and not spit — then you are on the right track! Folks at the cosy cafe, Coffee Trotters, that opened earlier this year at Alwarpet, agree that there is a spike in black coffee drinkers. They tell us that their hand drip coffees have seen a strong following. In keeping with our earlier speculation about dairy, the brand has recently included almond milk in their menu — and yes, the much-talked-about pound cake is on the menu too.
Follow the trail
Not far from there, we find ourselves sipping on a tall glass of chilled Cascara at the new Bread & Chocolate down Cenotaph Road. If not for Rahul Reddy of Subko Coffee Roasters, we wouldn’t have known that this drink was made from the skin of coffee beans. Refreshing and sweet, tasting like an iced-tea, this is just one of the many experiences we encountered in the city as we flitted from one cup to another on a coffee drinking trail. Rahul is an Arabica Q-Grader, and is excited about introducing us to the various nuances of coffee roasting, sourcing and brewing. Having teamed up with Bread & Chocolate in Chennai, Rahul tells us that coffee has had a dynamic evolution in the country, with changes in the post-harvest processes including fermentation time and use of oxygen. He says, “I believe that the best quality speciality lots can compete with any origin globally.” While the SIF on the rocks at B&C is a sweet dessert coffee reminiscent of the iced Milo, as fans of the dark we loved the black pour-over from Balur Estate.
Time’s on our side
Strictly speaking, roasteries are not really a novelty in Chennai. We had Marc Tourmo from Auroville back in 2008 roasting and sourcing his beans meticulously from Indian farms. He introduced us to some finely crafted artisanal coffees at the Brew Room at Savera Hotel, where he had curated their coffee line up about six years back. Another roaster ahead of her times is Divya Jayashankar, who started her brand Beachville about three years ago. She ensured we were guzzling Americanos by the gallons at Old Madras Baking Company, where she had set up a small offering of her blends and single-origins. Now, this coffee connoisseur has teamed up with restaurateur and chef, Sandesh Reddy, to open their own roastery cafe in Alwarpet. We hear their Nutella Mocha is a delight, and you can ask for extra Nutella to satisfy your sweet tooth. Others can savour the cappuccino that is robust and strong, even as Divya tells us that their filter coffee blend continues to be wildly popular.
Nice but with spice
Earlier, we had caught up with Geetu Mohnani, Cafe Consultant from Bengaluru who had introduced us to some interesting speciality coffees. This was at the restaurant, Canvas by Sketch, where she had set up the coffee bar. The coffee beans are curated by Lazy Bee Coffee Roasters and profiled specifically for C a n v a s b y Sketch. On offer are two varieties — an espresso blend for milkbased beverages and a filter blend for all the manual brews and cold brew offerings. With Christmas coming up she promises that a different coffee blend will be introduced to brew festive beverages — think spiced.
Roast of ages
While the restaurant at The Farm on OMR has not re-opened yet, Shalini Philip tells us that their pursuit for that perfect blend started nearly two years ago. Talking about the grading system in the coffee world, Shalini tells us that they deal only in the super-speciality beans that are nearly exclusive to The Farm. Having identified a few estates that aligned with their ethos of Indian-origin and organic, she says, “Our focus has always been farm fresh and organic, regardless of market trends.” We love the names of their three blends, and Shalini promises that each comes with an interesting story that we can discover through a QR code when we buy those packets of freshly craft roasted and ground coffee (no chicory, of course!). The Bambaram is an espresso blend boasting bold fruity flavours while the Noothi Pathombodu is milder and works for cold brews and Margazhi is perfect for a filter coffee.
Talking about seed to cup, we connect with Viggnesh V, who is a self-taught coffee grader working with small estates and roasteries, and had also worked with The Farm in helping them curate their blends. Recently, he teamed up with Shivani Mudali and Venkatesh Kannan to start his own brand, Davrah. “Filter coffee is the most underrated drink. We at Davrah want to make people the best filter coffee, by working on all parts of the spectrum from the grower till the consumer. We aim to bring filter coffee to a global market where a Parisian cafe will proudly serve the South Indian filter coffee!”