The rise of Chennai’s coffee roasters

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The past year has seen a boom in specialty coffee offerings, as more local roasters get creative with the business of beans.

When Divya Jaishankar founded Chennai’s first roaster, Beachville, in 2018, the city was starting to look beyond the traditional dark roast and filter coffee. Back then, her imported small-batch roaster, grinder, and farm-sourced coffee blend with “no chicory, no robusta” were enough to surprise customers, she recalls.

Now, encouraged by adventurous customers, Divya is exploring naturally sun-dried coffee cherries instead of washed arabica, and the different ways they can be used. The latter, she says, “is considered by many to have a cleaner taste. But sun-drying allows the cherry leech flavor to leach into the bean over time, making it a lot heavier and fruitier: the market is more funky tasting. Wale is moving to coffee, and I want to experiment.”

She is not alone – Divya is accompanied by a fraternity of coffee entrepreneurs trying out a variety of processes, working with farmers, exploring different beans and playing with flavor profiles.

Increasing competition is keeping him on his toes, admits Akshay Vaidyanathan who founded Kapi Kottai in 2019. Divya sees what she calls “natural”, Akshay’s latest product Hamir Kalyani is a slow controlled fermentation. “It’s a very technical process, but fermented coffee is definitely a trend now,” says Akshay, adding that their 2020 product, named Curveball, is double-fermented, resulting in an intensely fruity, niche, but loyal, following. With is a polarizing decoction.

These experiments are taking roasters to coffee plantations, the grounds of growers and planters, in an effort to enhance the flavor in coffee before it even takes the form of beans. The latest in the field, its process began plantation-first.

Cat & Kin Coffee Roasters was started by husband-wife duo Katherine and Anek Ahuja earlier this year amid the lockdown. “I’ve been interested in making coffee for 25 years, and I was looking for a challenge,” says Katherine.

Catherine Ahuja, founder of Cat & Kin Coffee Roasters

After restrictions were eased he began with a visit to a plantation in Chikmagalur, where a patch of Ethiopian-origin heritage coffee at the MF estate appealed to him, “I knew I wanted to start with that bean”. The smooth-tasting floral coffee lends itself to multiple brewing styles, the couple found, making it the ideal launch for a new customer-base with varied preferences.

Then followed the investments: a roaster that took three months to be imported from Taiwan (“no roasting machines are made in India,” many say), a commercial-scale grinder, and a year’s stock of coffee beans. “The harvest is only once a year, so we must commit to being productive for that long,” explains Many, laughingly, “We burned a lot of beans before we could manage a good roast. “

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Now, Cat & Kin offers six coffees, including the popular Monsoon Malabar and a naturally processed product called Iced Honey. Roasters have made their mark even beyond city and state boundaries – “While most of our customers are in Chennai, we are getting repeat orders from some people in Bengaluru and Hyderabad too,” say many, “In Chennai, community filters There is an increasing number of people making coffee other than coffee. Some see the process as an art form; I know people who like slow overs simply because they find it calming and therapeutic. ”

Meanwhile, Kapi Kottai not only sells to individual customers, but also to cafes and restaurants across the country. Bread Bar in Mumbai, Mart Cafe in Chennai, One Dollar Mophie’s in Raipur, Three Beans Coffee Bar in Nagpur and Pot Boiler Coffee House in Kolkata are part of Akshay’s clientele.

The Rise of Chennai's Coffee Roasters

Beachville, on the other hand, is putting more energy into serving its local, post-lockdown customers at the cafe that opened in October 2020. “The current trend is towards finding more interesting coffees and interesting ways to process them,” says Divya. “But right now, the experiential angle seems to be more important than blends per se. Over the past year, we have been experimenting with what cafes serve: types of cold drinks, espresso-based drinks like coconut water, coffee And mint espresso drinks, and other drinks with tonics.”

In the coming harvest season itself, Divya plans to really get into naturally processed coffee, and is also importing coffee from Ethiopia and Colombia. “It is usually difficult for a grower to maintain consistency when the process is natural, but there are some estates that are doing a really good job,” she says. She sees cause for optimism not only in the growing customer base, but also in the rising retail price of coffee, which is an indicator of how much people value specialty products and “green products.” In the end, she says, it all depends on the relationship you have with the coffee growers, and how much you’re willing to pay them for their labor.

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