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Coffee, just the way Calcutta gulps it
- Brew masters spill the beans: there aren’t enough connoisseurs in the city

Calcutta is gulping down coffee by the gallons, but don’t dare ask it to distinguish between instant and brewed. The message from the Calcutta coffee drinker in one of the many newly-opened cafés in town is clear — understanding the beverage has very little to do with consuming it.

Proof of the cuppa — cappuccino, “the safe option”, is the highest-selling brew in most cafés, and although blends and flavours are gaining fair ground, discernment is a distant dream.

The right beans and blends make the coffee, and espresso is often the preferred choice of “real coffee-lovers”. Roasted or ground, Arabic or Brazilian, the choices are aplenty for the Calcutta coffee drinker. But few can fathom the brewed beverage.

Cappuccino is the favourite at Aqua Java outlets, points out Saket Agarwal, and despite blended flavours being hits, he believes Calcuttans don’t really understand the subtle nuances of the beverage. “Calcuttans like coffee… I don’t believe that espresso is the benchmark of connoisseurs, although here they have a lot to learn,” he adds. At Barista, D. Banerjee explains that people would rather go for the cappuccino than the mocha.

But that hasn’t stopped the café concept from catching on (though Banerjee points out that the city has had a “coffee-house culture” for a long time). Barista has six outlets in the city and is planning another, while Café Coffee Day has five, with three more on the way. Blends of the beverage are popular and the footfall is high.

“Culturally, coffee is not a traditional drink,” feels Arnab Pandey, regional head of Café Coffee Day. “I think it will take at least another five years to get people to really understand coffee.”

And for that, educating consumers are the budding brew masters. On Friday, the new Café Coffee Day outlet on Park Street was the stage for the chain’s first east India regional brew masters’ championship.

Twenty young participants from the café’s Calcutta, Bhubaneswar and Jamshedpur outlets had gathered to take a crack at the nationals, organised by the Speciality Coffee Association of India and Coffee Board of India, and then the international barista (coffeemaker) contest next year.

Regularly trained, from the growing to the brewing stage, they are the new-age coffee connoisseurs, mixing and matching to not just make the perfect cup of cappuccino, but create new flavours to please the palate.

“Coffee might still be far behind tea, but judging by the number of cafés coming up at every corner, it’s not a just phase, but a lifestyle shift,” observes M. Venkatesh, head of India operations, Café Coffee Day.

Not to mention the fact that the most popular outlets are at Woodburn Park and New Alipore, perhaps because of easy availability of parking space and distance from the city-centre chaos, allowing for an unhurried and leisurely cup.

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