When the Amerian coffee chain Starbucks opened its first outlet in Mumbai last November, the queue for a latte had people waiting for over an hour. It wasn’t the first international coffee brand to enter the Indian market but was surely the one that opened with the loudest cry. Café coffee day and Barista, were once upon a time synonyms for coffee shops in India. Today, we have international brands like UK’s Costa Coffee, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf from the USA, Australia’s Di Bella and now Starbucks competing for the top slot. Still more are expected to join the competition in 2013. These recent entrants to the Indian economy speak highly of the growing coffee culture across the country.
Though malls today might have multiple coffee shops, the latest trend in coffee consumption has people preferring a mug of home brewed coffee instead of the store bought takeaway cup. At first it was a spoonful of instant coffee added to a mug of milk which progressed to beaten coffee and now has moved a step further to freshly ground coffee. Till recently the only way to get the aromatic freshly ground coffee was at a coffee shop that retailed it or one of the Madras stores that dot our metro cities.
A walk through Matunga circle in Mumbai will have you dreaming of coffee as its aroma flows down the streets. The last six months saw three online retailing websites open that promise to deliver freshly ground coffee to your doorstep. Mumbai based The Coffee Coach and The Indian Bean set up in the end of 2012 while Gurgaon based Blue Tokai went live in early January this year. The Coffee Coach retails both equipment and coffee grinds while The Indian Bean and Blue Tokai focus on single estate ground coffee. Currently The Coffee Coach and Blue Tokai deliver coffee in cities pan India, while The Indian Bean delivers only in Mumbai.
Sahil Jatana, Head Coach at The Coffee Coach identified two main reasons for the growing demand for ground coffee beans. The first is a spike in international travel in the past five years to places where it is easier to get a latte compared to chai. While this is a main reason for switching from tea to coffee it has also opened the Indian mind to the various varieties of coffee. Premixed coffee dispensing machines in corporate offices is the second reason. While this coffee might not be the best it is what most of rely on to get us through our long working hours. Office coffee is in most cases more a habit than appreciation of its taste and soon the aspirational aspect of drinking good coffee makes brewing a good cup to start or end the day seem like a good idea.
Brewing coffee might sound fancy especially after you’ve stood at a café counter watching the server on the other side turn fancy levers to filter a precious trickle of espresso or froth milk to the perfect consistency but it isn’t really rocket science. There are many methods to brewing coffee but there are four methods that are most popular; the French press, the drip machine, the espresso machine and the Moka pot.
For the uninitiated don’t try brewing coffee from a Nescafe packet or using ground coffee like instant coffee. The first step towards a perfect cup of home brewed coffee is to get the aromatic coffee bean ground to the right consistency. Madras stores in almost every city are clouded in the aroma of coffee as they grind coffee beans in burr mills. Grinding coffee is not the same as grinding kitchen spices and cannot be done in the usual kitchen mixer grinder. This is primarily because the type of equipment being used to brew coffee dictates its consistency which cannot be controlled in kitchen grinders. Coffee grinders are not currently manufactured in India and the imported varieties available are currently only for those with extremely deep pockets. It isn’t a reason to sigh though as all three websites grind coffee in varying consistencies as required by common brewing methods.
The consistency of coffee grinds is related to the technique used in different coffee brewing methods. Coffee from a French press is claimed to be ideal for tastings as it does not use any external influence in the brewing technique. It works best with a medium coarse grind so that the finer particles are not a part of your filtered drink. The drip filter which works on gravity also needs a medium to coarse grind for an optimum taste. The espresso and Moka pot both rely on pressure to extract coffee from finely ground beans. Since the Moka pot uses much less pressure compared to the espresso it requires an even more finely ground bean.
Coffee is brewed mostly in a ratio of 1;10 with water. The ground beans should ideally be stored in airtight containers and used within 15 days of grinding. Ground coffee does not go bad when kept longer but loses its aroma with time and has a slightly subdued flavor. This explains why coffee is usually sold in 250 gram packs which last for 12-15 days based on a two cup per day consumption rate.
To brew a cup of coffee in a French press the coffee grinds are steeped in hot water for four minutes after which the plunger is lowered to contain the used coffee grinds and the filtered drink is poured out.
Drip filters are available as manual filters as well as electrical brewers. The technique remains the same as hot water slowly trickles through a basket of ground coffee into a cup below. Manual filters require the person to heat the water separately before slowly pouring it over the coffee while electrical brewers heat the water and control the speed at which is flows through the coffee grinds. The famous south Indian coffee is made by adding milk and sugar to a decoction brewed in a single cup manual drip filter. The unique taste of south Indian coffee though is also because of the presence of chicory that is mixed with the coffee grinds.
Espresso machines are mostly automated that require you to put the coffee and part in their allotted spaces and wait a few minutes while the machine does its work. The machine uses upto 15 bars of pressure to extract oils from the coffee grinds. The high pressure allows it maximum extraction when compared to other methods. Higher end espresso machines also have steam wands that steam and froth milk for cappuccinos and lattes.
Moka pots which are also known as stove top espresso machines also work on pressure but use only three bars of pressure. The pot consists of three chambers; the bottom container for water, a funneled filter section in the middle for coffee and a top chamber to collect the brewed drink. When heated the steam creates enough pressure to force the water upwards through the coffee filter and into the top chamber. The two cup Moka pot is the highest selling equipment at The Coffee Coach primarily because of its appearance and the fascination of how it works.
These four might be the most commonly used equipment to brew coffee at home but there are many others. For those willing to sign five figure cheques there are espresso machines that come complete with manual old school levers allowing you to control everything from the temperature of water to the frothiness of milk. For others who prefer to make a ceremony out of drinking coffee there are Siphon Coffee Makers. Even though we’re not going into how to use this coffee maker we just had to include the picture because it was so fascinating. De Longhi, Hario and Chemex are some of the prominent high end coffee machine makers.
The true form of drinking coffee is hot and black but coffee is a personal drink which has no universal perfect recipe. The best way to find the perfect coffee suited to your personal taste is to experiment with different blends and roasts. A point to remember Is that the more the coffee bean is roasted the less acidic it will taste. Coffee tastings or Coffee Cupping as it is called hasn’t found a foothold in India as yet. The primary reason behind this is that it is very difficult to train the palette to go beyond the bitter base taste of coffee and appreciate its other aspects such as the texture, acidity, sweetness or aftertaste.
The taste of coffee is affected by various factors apart from the brewing technique. The temperature of water plays a major role. If the water is to cold it will not be able to extract the right oils from the coffee bean while water that is too hot might burn the coffee. Kunal Ross from The Indian Bean suggests an optimum temperature of 75-90 degrees of water for the ideal brew. He does know people however who like to steep their coffee overnight in cold water to make their morning brew.
Where the coffee is grown also plays an important part. The Indian Bean and Blue Tokai focus on single estate coffee. According to Kunal the other crops being grown around the coffee affect its taste through their interaction with the soil. Another that changes from farm to farm and affects the taste of the coffee bean is the compost used. He says using single estate coffee makes it easier to achieve a consistent taste as the soil interacts with the same crops from one season to the next along with the coffee plant. Try the two different varieties available on his website and see if you can tell the difference.
We wondered if the rising number of international coffee brands setting up shop here might restrict this growing trend of home brewed Indian coffee but were reassured by Sahil that it wasn’t such a bad influence. More international brands opening shop here gives Indians more exposure to coffee but the price difference between international coffee and Indian coffee will always keep Indian coffee grinds ahead. It’s a good thing we guess that we’re still such a price conscious nation.
We might have woken up and started smelling the coffee but there’s still a long way to go before we have a higher amount of Indian coffee being consumed here as compared to the tonnes exported. The Coffee Coach conducts coffee workshops for individuals and corporates in an attempt to introduce more people to coffee. Sahil says he has seen a rise in the number of people genuinely interested in coffee though there are still some who drink coffee only for bragging points. Giving an example he spoke of how a client once asked for coffee that was ground less than three hours before it was shipped while another claimed to drink only a special Mexican blend of coffee. It didn’t seem too strange until we realized coffee doesn’t grow in Mexico!