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Features

Punjab on a new high: Three cheers to coffee

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The land of lassi is waking up to smell the coffee as youngsters hang out at cafes to down the brown brew in dusty towns of Punjab.

It’s a little past sundown and the border town of Ferozepur is lulling itself to sleep. But a fleet of cars in front of a dimly-lit shop prompt you to slow down. And then, you smell the beans. Conversation over coffee is in full swing at one of the popular hangouts for youngsters in town. Ditto in Moga, Phagwara, Faridkot and a legion of dusty towns in Punjab’s countryside where youngsters are queuing up to down the brown brew.

Forget chitta (the byword for a synthetic intoxicant much abused in the border state), Punjab is on a new high. It’s called coffee.

Kartar Singh, the manager of The Chocolate Room in Ferozepur, and much-in-demand Barista, takes a moment off work to tell you how coffee has won the Punjabi heart. “When we first started serving freshly brewed cappuccino here in 2013, people used to choke on it and ask ‘Is this poison?’ Now they guzzle espresso shots as though they were having nimbu paani (sweet lime juice). Some even demand double shots!”

Venu Madhav, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Café Coffee Day, which has 10 outlets in the mid-rung city of Jalandhar alone, admits coffee is doing a roaring business in Punjab. CCD, he says, has contributed to the coffee culture in the state with initiatives such as coffee festivals.

Taking a cue from Punjab’s new-found fascination with coffee, Congress spin doctors came up with the ‘Coffee with Captain’ to connect Capt Amarinder Singh’s campaign with young voters in the run-up to the Punjab elections this February. If Amarinder’s win is anything to go by, the coffee sessions did resonate with the youngsters.

CAFÉS IN COUNTRYSIDE

Explaining the popularity of cafes serving coffee in Punjab’s countryside, Madhav says, “Today, the aspirations of small town youth match that of a metro youth. The e-commerce numbers validate their comfort with new age initiatives. They are all looking for a space to unwind after college and between or after work.”

When we first served cappuccino, people used to ask, ‘Is this poison?’ Now they down espresso shots as if they were nimbu pani!

That work could well be agriculture as was evident at a CCD in Nawanshahr. Gopi Sandhu, a resident of Anokharwal village, says it’s his favourite haunt. “We come here to chitchat,” he smiles shyly as his friends, who were discussing the axle of their tractor-trolley over cappuccinos before you butted in, clamp up. Ask them if they enjoy their coffee and they nod, “Vadiya hai ji (It’s great).” Probe a little and they tell you it’s the combination of the “energising” brew and café ambience that keeps them coming for more.

Unlike the homely tea, coffee is considered upmarket in the state, which is prompting everyone, including villagers, to stock it in their kitchens. Even caterers at village weddings have started serving a very milky version of coffee instead of the traditional tea.

FITS THE DIET

Chand Mehra, an Amritsar-based entrepreneur, says the growing coffee culture in the holy city — there is a Nescafe counter opposite the Golden Temple langar hall as well — prompted him to open a second café called Backbencher last year. Mehra, who imports Arabica beans for his coffee, says most of his clients are in the age group of 18 to 35 years. “They are diet conscious and like their coffee without milk,” says Mehra, who is increasingly seeing Americano and espresso shots nudging out cappuccino and latte.

Black coffee, youngsters believe, helps in burning fat. Kartar Singh, the coffee shop manager in Ferozepur, says many youngsters take espresso shots half an hour before hitting the gym “to derive maximum benefit”.

FAD TO HABIT

The growing popularity of coffee has prompted some aficionados to invest in cafes. Karan Veer Singh from Jalandhar, who claims his 2,500-sq-foot Barista lounge is the largest in India, says it’s a hobby that is making money for him. Coffee drinking, he says, started off as a fad but has become a habit now.

“People in this region are widely travelled. Now they can tell the good coffee from the bad.”

Preet Chandoke, the president of Foodologists, a Ludhiana-based society dedicated to great coffee and food, with members in Punjab, Delhi and the United Arab Emirates, has been holding coffee-tasting sessions to educate the locals about this brew. India, says Chandoke, grows one of the finest coffees of the world. “Unfortunately, there is very little awareness.” Chandoke, who has links with several coffee plantations down South, is trying to bridge this gap.

Harjinder Kukreja, the owner of a popular café called Bel France in Ludhiana, and a coffee lover himself, says Punjabi taste buds have evolved over the past few years. “Three years ago, people would only drink latte with additional helpings of milk, now they have started savouring Americano and espresso,” Kukreja says.

LUDHIANA LEADS

Ludhianvis, he says, have developed a soft spot for this brew. “It’s a big hit with realtors who go café hopping as opposed to pub hopping. Coffee kitties are also a rage here,” he says. Chandoke, the connoisseur, says it’s the caffeine in the brew that is working its magic in the state. “Caffeine gives a high, it is addictive,” he explains.

Punjabis are happily succumbing to this addiction. And this time, no one is complaining.

Karan Veer Singh sums up the sentiments of many when he says, “I’d rather have youngsters addicted to coffee than drugs or liquor.”

Back in Ferozepur, it’s time to pack up and a customer is griping about the timings of the café. “Jaldi khol deya karo yaar, coffee de bina neend hi nahin khuldi (Open it early, it’s impossible to wake up without coffee),” he says.

Source: Hindustan Times

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