In search of the perfect brew, a whole new world opens up. With every cup, the mundane becomes exotic and conversation flows easy
Words & Photographs: Ambica Gulati
You can lose 10kg drinking green coffee. In 15 days, you can fit into your favourite skirt or the aspirational swimwear. We buy this green coffee bean packet for a princely sum of INR 1,500. The beans are crushed, brewed and diligently drunk for two days. The needle doesn’t move. A promise unfulfilled, but every evening we enjoy a cup of this light green liquid in our balcony, watching the shimmering orange sky. With each sip, we go down memory lane to rediscover a destination.
Rustic is a casual dine out in plush Malviya Nagar, offering innovative platters. A large coffee menu is mind boggling. Away from the humdrum, here there is no hurry. Rustic is owned by young entrepreneur Dushyant Singh. He offers a mean Vietnamese coffee which is made with condensed milk. “You have to mix the milk,” he explains for a guest had drunk it without stirring and couldn’t understand the coffee. As the spoon turns, the attentive demeanour slips off. The soothing blue décor, the pleasant service, rows of Devi coffee, a roaster machine, and we talk about the changing culture of this heritage city.
He jumped into the F&B business because he is passionate about coffee. “I fell in love with coffee during my travels to Europe. My family enjoys the place and I enjoy my search for new coffee,” he smiles. His first restaurant OTH aka ‘On The House’ is located in C-Scheme, which is the pink city’s hot ‘n’ happening zone. “We are the first standalone restaurant to offer breakfast seven years back. We are also the first ones to introduce world cuisine, breaking away from the trend of traditional cuisine.” The logic behind this risk: Jaipur is a hub for foreign and domestic tourists, palates have evolved.
More firsts, he is the founder of the annual food festival called Gourmet Getaway. At the third edition, which took place in October 2019, “I took a masterclass and did a Tiramisu coffee with eggs. The company from whom we bought our coffee machines, offers courses in roasting. I learned roasting there and also did a course in Copenhagen. I like the egg coffee in Vietnam, Cuban coffee with cigars. And that’s why you see so many coffees on our menu. Do try the deconstructed one before leaving”, he smiles. The restaurant offers takeaways too, should you be interested in carrying a cuppa as you explore the attractions of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The route to this unique viewpoint goes through the guardian—a tiny shop which sells coffee, snacks, tea. Buy a ticket for INR 50 to climb up or buy something to eat and drink. I decide on a cup of coffee costing INR 80, expecting nothing. Lal means red and tibba means hill, the point where the sun turns the mountains red. This houses an old Japanese telescope, placed there in 1967. This is the highest point in Landour at a height of 2,275 metres (7,464 ft). This is also called Depot Hill as there is a military depot closeby. On good days, one can see the peaks of Badrinath, Kedarnath and other Himalayan ranges.
The little space is cramped as families arrive. At that same moment, my coffee arrives. The frothy mixture with chocolate sprinkled on top. I slowly take a sip and my heart melts. I take a seat, forgetting the fight to the see the peaks through the telescope and enjoy the breeze. I listen as the guide explains, remembering nothing but the blue sky, the green forest and the rolling peaks in the distance. This is the hand-beaten coffee which we would have at home during the winter. This is the coffee that we loved before Starbucks, Café Coffee Day hit the markets with their jazzy machines. This is real coffee in real mountains, and I feel like a real tourist on a trail to see the vistas that the little town of Landour offers.
It’s been a religious day. In search of bliss and experiencing the many ways in which Vishnu is worshipped, we go from temple to temple. We have been to the famous Tirumala hills, Padmavati temple as well as ISKCON. Then we reach this Shiva temple, Kapileshwara, located on a crossing. “Let’s offer our prayers and then we can have a cup of filter coffee,” says my host Lakshmi. I am staying at the Marasa Sarovar Premiere hotel and Lakshmi is hesitant as she does not know my preferences, but I am all for it. This is a clean city and I like freshly prepared filter coffee.
I see rows of little steel glasses. A family runs the Nandhi Café and they sell over 1,000 cups in a day. The glass is priced at INR 10 and the coffee has an aroma that lifts my spirits. I like the strong flavour and then Lakshmi shares that she wanted to take me to the prasadam hall in Tirumala. “Why didn’t you? I would have preferred that lunch over the fancy place we went to,” I tell her.
My favourite from this trail is the 2600-year-old lesser visited Sri Parasurameswara Swamu Devasthanam in Gudmallam village, I share with her. With the trinity in a linga, it is believed that every 60 years, the waters of river Swarma Mukhi reaches the sanctum through an underground path. People come to take blessings for good health, having a child and solving marital issues here.
We are in a 100-year-old souq. From Al Asrah begins the story of Sharjah. The little emirate became a modern country in the 1970s when oil was discovered. Today this traditional monarchy offers a high standard of living. However, in this souq lie yesteryear tales. People from all over Asia brought their goods to sell and exchange here.
As we sit, our guide gives us small cups filled with brown liquid and opens a box full of dates. There are many varieties—some large and sweet, some stuffed with nuts. This is the traditional gahwa aka coffee. And all guests are greeted with this. There are shops all around us, selling souvenirs that we are dying to take a look at. Not too expensive either, I am told. But I have to first shake my cup so that my host knows I am done. I take two small cups before doing that, as the dates are so tempting and I end up trying three varieties. No sugar in this coffee but my host says her mother prepared the coffee mixture with some cardamom. That sounds different, it sure tastes yum.
The Heart of Sharjah is the government’s 15-year-long restoration project. Once completed in 2025, it will be a world of cafes, art galleries, souqs et al. Right now, it houses a shop which sells Omani halwa. Even the King of Sharjah, Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, buys it from here. This also has a luxury boutique hotel–Al Bait. The interesting part is that this hotel is a collection of private homes. And the hotel has retained that character. The homes belonged to the Al Midfa and Al Naboodah families who played a crucial role in the history of Sharjah. No covered passage here. Walking through alleys, you get the impression of being in a little village. It houses a museum, library, ancient windtower and 53 rooms. The crucial part—a door opens right into the souq.
The chocolate aircraft lies on the bed of froth. My cappuccino is a work of art lying on my table in a busy airport. I have five hours before flying to Mumbai. I wait at a Costa Coffee which is located far from the airline counters in Indira Gandhi International Airport, T3, Delhi. Google is my guide to the world of cappuccino. This espresso coffee has travelled all the way from Italy. The name of this coffee is credited to the Capuchin friars, referring to the colour of their habits. The similarity lies in the colour when milk is added in small portions to the dark, brewed coffee. It is only after the 1930s that this coffee travelled, hitting Viennese-style cafés in Trieste and other cities in Austria. It is traditionally prepared with steamed milk foam but now there are variations with flavours. I like the hazelnut and cinnamon ones. In Italy, it is drunk only till 11am, but hazelnut can’t be controlled by a clock. And I need the stimulation to explore Mumbai.
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