Smell the coffee - Indian baristas taking on bartenders!By Mayabhushan Nagvenkar, IANS
Sunday, November 21, 2010
PANAJI - Sure Tom Cruise played a flashy but endearing bartender in the 1980s Hollywood film “Cocktail”, but when was the last time you remember a leading actor play a barista - a coffee brewmaster?
The profession of a barista comes with odds stacked against it when pitched against the more glamorous trade of bartending. It lacks the obvious glamour and the panache that comes with twirling bottles, shakers and swishing spirits behind the marble slab.
But Felix Daniel, one of India’s ace coffee brewmasters, begs to differ. Felix, who has represented India in the World Barista Championship (WBC), says coffee making is an intricate art and that coffee has only just about begun waking Indians up.
“Coffee culture is just setting its roots in Goa. In Europe, baristas are studs in their own right,” said Felix, who was in Goa as part of Cafe Coffee Day’s (CCD) coffee festival Nov 16-22.
Hailing from Bangalore, Felix has represented India twice in the WBC, which is to coffee what the FIFA world cup is to football.
“WBC is a great platform where baristas from nearly 54 countries participate. Most of the participating countries are either from Europe or coffee growing nations,” Felix said.
The two WBCs that Felix attended were in Copenhagen and Atlanta in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
“The brews I prepared there were very Indian in nature. I used several Indian spices and herbs like cinnamon, tamarind and jaggery to sweeten the coffee concoction, instead of sugar,” he said adding the brew was just finding its feet in India.
“The CCD coffee festival is aimed at creating awareness about coffee. These festivals are CCD’s attempt to help consumers indulge in this fine beverage and take back a part of the cafe experience with them,” Felix said, adding customers can walk in and learn how coffee is made and blended.
“Customers can put together a cup of coffee as per their taste and requirement,” Felix said.
Brewmaster Naveen Kumar, who hails from coffee country Chikmagalur in the heart of Karnataka, says it was his family’s involvement in coffee plantations that made caffeine his kick in life.
“I have been a coffee brewmaster for over seven years now. That coffee culture is growing in India can be seen from the feedback we get from coffee drinkers,” Navin told IANS.
“I was virtually half-trained in coffee brewing by my family itself, but learning the art of a barista in a professional environment, brewing to perfection, blending coffees and tastes, is like conjuring a magic trick,” he said.
Said Felix: “Today coffee drinking is becoming more and more a part of our daily lifestyle and requests to learn this art is testimony to the trend,” he further said.
Decoding Indian preferences, Felix said they conventionally prefer a ’strong’ coffee.
“We generally prefer everything strong and coffee is no exception. Therefore Indians tend to prefer coffee with a slightly higher percentage of chicory, which is a powdered root, which when mixed with coffee powder, lends it body, makes it strong,” he said.
Felix, who has done a substantial amount of research on coffee, its origins and varieties, said the north India-south India beverage divide begins and ends with the availability of the brew.
While tea can safely be said to be the favoured beverage in north India, coffee is preferred more down south.
“Coffee is grown mainly in southern India, with regions like Coorg excelling in production, while tea is grown in eastern India, from where it proliferated throughout the north,” he said.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)