Care for a cuppa?

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By The café scene in Calcutta is undergoing a makeover with a host of new joints opening their doors, says Suktara ghosh
  • Published 5.08.12

If you’re in Beckbagan, it wouldn’t be surprising if you skidded to a stop at 222, A.J.C. Bose Road. Fresh cupcakes and trees made of macaroons laid out as window-dressing usually have that effect on people. Inside the cosy white-and-pink parlour, you could perhaps spend an evening nibbling on red velvet cupcakes accompanied by orange or cinnamon-flavoured tea.

Welcome to the new smart but casual café on the block, The Rouge.

Yes, Calcutta is finally waking up to smell the tea — and coffee — in style. The city, thanks to a handful of entrepreneurs, has lately become home to a clutch of cafés that are taking the experience to a whole new level.

Take Chai Break, the 2,000sqft snazzy tea-cum-hookah bar in Chowringhee that opened its doors last November. It has an al fresco section with a live pizza counter, an indoor non-smoking area and a mood-lit hookah lounge — and a menu with some 16 varieties of tea on it. Another outlet opened in Alipore this April while the third has been in business in Durgapur for a while. The cafés are favoured by the young crowd and are registering average daily footfalls of about 1,000. Aditya Ladsaria and Anirudh Poddar, the duo behind Chai Break, are raising a cuppa to their own success.

Says Ladsaria: “We realised that there was no place to go out for tea here except a dhaba. So, we decided to open a cha bar and figured that hookahs would be an added attraction.” Chai Break will have a new outlet in Ballygunge before the Pujas and will move to Bhubaneswar and Ranchi next year.

Kesar Chai, peachy or jasmine green tea are some of the specialities here. Check out the Italian and Continental quick bites menu and the range of flavoured hookahs to puff on — from Kiwi to Paan Salsa to Pink Olada.

At Amber Cafe the focus is on offering quality food and beverages

“Most young people don’t think tea is classy,” rues 34-year-old Rishav Kanoi, who opened The Tea Trove @ 18th Street (TT) in Lansdowne in June, offering 26 flavours of tea. Coming from a family that owns tea plantations in Assam, Kanoi’s out to woo youngsters with his tea café.

TT is high on funky décor — smart furniture, an old ladder turned into a bookcase, board games and even foosball. There are also jazzy tea-based slogans on the walls like ‘Take life with a grain of salt, a slice of lime and a shot of tea!’ Bills come in colourful kettles designed by the NGO, Anjali, and have been painted by differently-abled children. Our fav corner? The bay window seating — perfect for a long, lazy adda.

Chai Break complements their impressive menu with a range of flavoured hookahs

Pick from Mocha Tea Chilo, Pick-Me-Up, A Tea of Iceberg (ice tea in peach, strawberry or lemon flavours) and even tea shots. Salads, cold pizzas and even ice-cream sandwiches help keep hunger at bay. “I plan to open 100 cafés all over India in the next four years,” says Kanoi.

The Rouge’s Red Velvet Shake ‘n’ Bake Milkshake and assortment of fresh cupcakes has many takers

Now if you’re a Bong, you get the full import of cha and tata referring to the delightful munchies that accompany a cha-adda. The new cafés have made sure no one leaves disappointed.

So, The Rouge has madeleines, cheesecakes and tarts along with a rotating menu of 22 varieties of cupcakes. There are milkshakes, tea and coffee too. “We bake fresh daily and are focusing on quality over quantity,” says 23-year-old Sumedha Singh, who is now planning to add bagels and breakfast to the kitty.

Amber Café on Middleton Row, which morphed into a café from a restaurant last month, takes its food seriously too. “I wanted to create a space for young adults where they can hang out or read a book. But I also wanted the food to remain impeccable for that’s what Amber is known for,” says owner Aradhana Khullar, who’s just back after graduating in Hospitality Management from Les Roches, Switzerland.

Done up in white and green with carnival-style masks on the walls, the café has an elegant feel. Khullar has introduced salads, pastas, wraps and even an Indian and a Mongolian wok (a Mongolian platter with a choice of chicken or veggies) on the menu. Chocochino Frappé or Strawberry Coolers make for great accompaniments.

The cosy 34-seater Tea Café Kolkata (TCK) near Vivekananda Park is the place to head to if you want a bite — Goan or Malayali style. Opened in March, TCK is owned by Vivek Dempo who also runs Tea Café Goa and Tea Bungalow, a heritage resort in Fort Cochin. TCK is done up like an old Goan house with porcelain artefacts and vintage car models decorating the shelves. “We were almost giving up on our three-year search for a property with a vintage look when we found this place,” says Preethi Menon, director-marketing, TCK.

Dawdle over coffee in traditional tumblers or a Mango Smoothie. For the foodie in you, there’s Chicken Burger Loaf or Jalapeno Poppers, and even Fish Mappas and Mutton Vindaloo.

Also adding zing to the café scene are coffee chain Aqua Java’s new outlets — Vanilla Crêperie on Elgin Road and Fiesta Mexicana on Russell Street that were launched this June and April respectively. “We’re focusing on wholesome food and drinks,” says Nivedita Agarwal, co-owner, Aqua Java.

Quirky décor and fun games make Tea Trove @ 18th Street a hit with youngsters

The charming French-style Vanilla Crêperie is done up in white, with black graffiti on one wall. The wooden chests used for tables and metal milk cans on the shelves add to the cool quotient. Sip on a Brownie Java or Strawberry Shake and dig into a Bengal Special Crêpe or a Fruit Blitz Crêpe. There’re also baguettes, waffles and pancakes on the menu.

If you’re in the mood for chimichanga (stuffed fried tortilla) or quesadillas however, head to Fiesta Mexicana. There are pizzas, sandwiches, puffs and sundaes too. Sporting a vibrant red and ochre décor, this 35-seater café is a great place to hang out in.

Interestingly, the cafés are also conjuring fun ways to keep their young clientele hooked. So, TT organises interesting events — besides spray-painting and puppet-making workshops, there’s a tarot card reader dropping by once a week.

Amber Café has a Happy Hour everyday between 3pm and 7pm to promote set combos at special prices. On the other hand, Chai Break is planning to host pizza festivals for the young crowd.

Up for some cha and adda?