India Coffee House / An Article by Isabel Putinja

After having obtained joy from this find, I wish to share it with the Coffee Dramatist readers and with that, most surely multiply my joy.

Isabel Putinja spends much of her time writing about her culture and her surroundings. A couple of her articles address a special Coffeehouse concept found in India. These Coffeehouses serve not only a coffee with a demanding approach based on tradition, but they are owned and operated by coffee worker co-operatives. Even for many of us, who perhaps will never visit these parts of the world, it is inspiring to see how throughout the planet the coffee industry is not only contributing to the economy, but also to the culture behind and around it. Most of all it is satisfying that also on the political level much progress is being achieved.


Coffee House Waiter/Server

Like the Calcutta Coffee House, Bangalore’s own India Coffee House on MG Road is one of the city’s historical landmarks. It’s part of a nation-wide chain of coffee houses run by the Indian Coffee Workers Co-Operative Society of which the Bangalore chapter was established in 1957.

The India Coffee House, ran by a Coffee Workers Co-operative Society (Street View)

As part of my personal protest against coffee chains like Café Coffee Day and Barista, which remind me too much of very similar chains in other parts of the world, I try to frequent independent cafés which usually also happen to have more character and ambiance. The India Coffee House definitely has lots of both and stepping through its door is like stepping into the Bangalore everyone reminisces about. Though I have visited it several times since I’ve been here, I haven’t gone as often as I would have liked to. If I had known that it wasn’t going to be around forever, I definitely would have visited much more often. Now that there’s news of its imminent closure, I’m truly sad that this Bangalore landmark will soon disappear into dust and probably make way for one of those horrible glass structures which are slowly taking over the city’s landscape. The face of MG Road is also changing at a fast pace… in the past few months many old buildings have been torn down and trees have been chopped down to make way for the metro which will permanently scar this major artery.

I was at the India Coffee House not too long ago… on a Sunday morning in December. The downstairs section was full as it often is, so we headed upstairs via the narrow outdoor passage and stone staircase. From the front window I had a good view of MG Road which is almost treeless now. There was only the trunk remaining of one of the huge trees and a worker was busy sawing its last remaining branch… A sad sight.

Inside the café, patrons were busy having breakfasts of omelettes and dosas. The waiters serving them were dressed in their trademark India Coffee House turbans and uniforms, elegant but completely filthy. I sipped at my coffee and nibbled at my dosa and remembered that I don’t like their coffee or their dosas – you can get better South Indian filter coffee and crispier dosas at any of the city’s many sagars and darshinis! OK, so the coffee actually isn’t great, the café is more than a bit shabby and the toilets are definitely a no-go area, but all these things do not matter. These are just minor minus-points which I’m willing to easily overlook because I don’t go to the India Coffee House for the coffee. I go for that old-world ambiance and to get a feeling of how Bangalore once was, in a place that probably hasn’t changed for the past 50 years.

The Coffeehouse Guests

There are reports that the lease has now expired and the café will be either renovated or demolished by the owner of the property. It may move to another location if a suitable one is found, but of course the original atmosphere and setting will be difficult to recreate. The India Coffee House will close its doors at the end of the month. I think many of Bangalore’s inhabitants and visitors will mourn the loss of this favourite haunt.

Also in India a Mirror is welcomed in a Coffeehouse for some extra elegance

Photos: India Coffee House.

* Reblogged with kind permission of Isabel Putinja and originally published in her blog India Outside My Window *




Hawelka – Smoking in Coffeehouses / Coffee Quote #36

What am I to do in a Coffeehouse, if I am not allowed to smoke?

Günter Hawelka – Sohn of the legendary Josefine (October 1913 – March 2005) and Leopold Hawelka (April 1911 – December 2011) at Café Hawelka.

To Complete a Circle – Mexican Coffee in New York City

Closing cycles give me a sense of elevation through deeper understanding. I like connecting occurrences of the past with current ones.

Mexican Coffee Cup at Cafe el Portal

While living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I frequented a Mexican Restaurant near Harvard Square, mainly because I was impressed with their coffee. I felt it was prepared with honest passion and it satisfied my need for good tasting experiences. Such coffee was by no means self-evident in the USA of the 1980s. It was, however, my very beginning as coffee drinker, hence, mine could have been more of an impression in the mind than one on a knowledgeable coffee palate. After visiting a New York Mexican Restaurant recently for the third time, a circle might have closed, or reached a certain completion.

Mexicans seem to be patient people, or at least they appear not to rush time. No time for espressi. The Mexican coffee is cooked in a large unglazed clay pot over fire: water, coffee, “panela” and “canela”.

Canela – our cinnamon – is also used in several coffee versions in other cultures, but it does not always play the balanced role it does here.

In several Latinamerican countries many recipes call for panela. This whole cane sugar, aside from having received a heat treatment, is in its raw state. Its taste reminds me clearly of the magnitude of a single sugar source. Refined white sugar, brown sugar, muscovado and panela are all very different taste contributions to a coffee. Besides their sweetness, only the brown sugars have a noticeable taste, but only the white one seems to alter the coffee taste, while the others are a pleasant and agreeable result in pairing.

Two things I remember from sugar cane in my childhood, long before I even considered sugar. The first is the delight for one’s whole being, when chewing the juice directly out of the cane, after it has been peeled with a machete. My father was one of those educated men that could manage a machete just as well, especially by preparing coconuts or sugar cane for his
family to eat and drink them. The second memory is drinking the cane’s juice, obtained by turning a crank and thus the cylinders that press, crushing the complete cane. This is nothing but the pure and direct juice from a cane, turning brown within seconds due to natural oxidation, known in the Caribbean as ‘melao de caña’.

Mexican Coffee at a Circle Completion (2012)

How does the trajectory between two points in time become the completion of a circle? A first contact starts with innocence. No circle, no line, no life, no experience is foreseeable. The initial tasting is there just for itself. Bitterness might lack true bitterness. The sensation might be based for the most part on the surprise itself, the first impression, more than on a conscientious perception of bitterness, an aspect within the uniqueness of coffee complexities.

It takes some time before such a coffee initiation could set itself. Repetition accommodates a wider taste spectrum for each of the additional future cups. This could multiply immensely if the types of brewing vary. Being reminded today of coffees I drank in the early eighties, completes a circle. This circle encompasses recognizing the characteristics of a Mexican coffee, drank at the beginning and at the end of a 25 year span, with hundreds of others in between – espressi, Turkish, Ethiopians, french pressed, frappes and a few other cold and hot experiments.

Tasting these different coffees kills any possibility of monotheism. In all I have repeatedly found masterpieces for the palate. And those making these drinks prepare them each time in the conviction they are creating the center of the coffee universe that very moment. When Doña Gloria lovingly explains the process and part of her story, this is precisely what she is doing. Unhappy she explains that for many years she used the clay pots. Her kitchen staff broke these pots on a weekly basis and each time she had to order a new one from Mexico. This forced her to use unbreakable pots.

Doña Gloria, owner/operator of Café el Portal

Through that change some of the valuable taste and characteristic have diminished, but none of the passion and demanding attitude. In the Café el Portal Doña Gloria sits and stands daily, while her portrait on one wall expresses tradition and aesthetic. Her smile and her attentive eyes speak honest dedication quite clearly, ever inviting me to taste the completed circle.