City of Coffee

Bangalore’s quaint,unique coffeeshops are slowly giving way to its great export — CCD...

Written by Saritha Rai | Published: July 19, 2010 3:59:05 am

In cramped,old-fashioned joints in its quainter neighborhoods such as Basavanagudi and Malleshwaram,coffee-drinking is still a hallowed tradition. In the newer,glitzy,neon-lit lounges downtown,it is an amusement and a diversion. Therein hangs the tale of a changing Bangalore.

In the older coffee houses such as the renowned MTR on the fringes of verdant Lalbagh,it has to be filter coffee,a sweet milky concoction made from dark-roasted coffee beans blended with chicory. The filter coffee here,a south Indian specialty honed to perfection,comes in steel tumblers. It is usually sipped noisily and savored froth,conversation and all. For old Bangaloreans,there is no greater pleasure than lining up at MTR on chilly mornings to relish their first fix of the morning.

On the other hand,Bangalore is the base of India’s biggest coffee retail chain,Café Coffee Day. At the swank,red sofa-decked CCD Square on the ground floor of the company’s bean-shaped headquarters on Vittal Mallya Road,it is an assault of blends and aromas. The coffees come in a dizzying array of choices. Less than a kilometer from there,the antiquated India Coffee House on MG Road died last year. Many a coffee pilgrim shed a tear as they dug into their last masala dosa and drained the dregs off their final cup of coffee at the revered institution.

In the standing room-only Darshinis,as Bangalore’s fast-disappearing fast food outlets are called,coffee is deftly poured back and forth between two saucepans in generous arc-like motions of the hand. Here,it is possible to order a “by-two”,local slang for a single serving shared between two drinkers yearning for a quick mid-morning or late-afternoon shot. The Darshinis may be disappearing because of the killer real estate costs and overheads,but modern coffee chains are flourishing. CCD has 1,000 company-owned outlets across the country and a further 1,000 or more franchise owned outletsincluding half-way across the globe,in Vienna.

Nothing can quite beat the charm of savoring a cup of the hot liquid in the Coffee Board of India’s café at its Queen’s Road headquarters. Here,turbaned waiters amble along with your order of sandwiches (stone cold) and coffee (piping hot). The cost of a cup of coffee? A mere fraction of that in five-star coffee shops.

The Coffee Board’s quality specialist Dr K Basavaraj rues that traditional coffee orders such as meter coffee — so called to denote the distance covered by the arc made by the pourer’s hand — and degree coffee,implying that the ingredients were of a high degree,are all but gone. “The small coffee joints in the highways that used to specialise in unusual coffees have vanished,and the smaller coffee places within the city are fading away too.”

In all this,there is somewhat of a balance in what Kalmane Coffee does. Like Café Coffee Day’s plantations,Kalmane’s coffee is grown in the hills of Chikmagalur,a four-hour drive from Bangalore. Legend has it that coffee beans were first brought to India by a Muslim pilgrim called Baba Budan in the 17th century and planted in the hills of Chikmagalur named for him. Coffee plantations then spread to neighbouring Tamil Nadu and to a lesser extent to Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Kalmane’s outlets,including one in the flashy Forum Mall,serve estate branded coffees. The beans are roasted in full view. Kalmane offers filter coffee for a mere twenty rupees. Those who brew their own coffee in the pierced-bottom metal filters at home will vouch for their coffee’s authenticity.

Not everybody thinks of coffee-drinking as a cultural ritual,of course. In Bangalore’s high-tech offices and steel office towers,the modern ritual comprises getting a mug of hot water from dispenser,spooning instant coffee and adding milk and sugar to taste.

Still,Bangalore’s coffees cater to a wide spectrum: from traditionalists who will not touch a cup of coffee that is not property aerated and topped with the appealing froth to those who will swear by their mochas,lattes and espressos. In its own gentle fashion,coffee drinking is a passion in Bangalore.

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