Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Baristas showcase their skill at national championship

The winner, Paras Bindra, will take part in the World Barista Championship, which will be held in Dublin this year

Bengaluru: If you are a coffee aficionado and haven’t tasted it yet, order the Kaapi Nirvana the next time you walk into a Café Coffee Day outlet. The iced espresso with its coconut undertones, laced with shards of dark chocolate and topped with whorls of light-as-air whipped cream is delightful. And I’m not the only one who thinks so: it won the silver medal at the 2002 World Barista Championship in Oslo.

Vikram Khurana, who was working with Café Coffee Day when he won the medal nearly 15 years ago and was a judge at the 2016 National Barista Championship held in Bengaluru on 25-27 February, says that the coffee culture in India has evolved considerably since then.

“We are the sixth largest producer of coffee, but only one-third of what we produce gets consumed here. However, recently I have noticed there are a lot more cafes opening up in tier 2 and 3 cities here," he says, “It is a good thing—coffee helps people get more connected."

The energetic wave of applause that greets 20-year-old Nahid Khan, one of the finalists at the competition, seems to confirm it. With a shy smile, she acknowledges the applause and says, “The people who grow and pick coffee are women, but those who make coffee at baristas are almost always men. This is for all the women behind coffee in India. I wanted to prove that a woman could make coffee well too," she says, proceeding to do exactly that.

Out of 100% finely roasted Arabica beans, she prepares three sorts of coffee—an espresso, a milk-based beverage and a signature special coffee blend—which need to be made in 15 minutes without waste or spillage and served to the judges. Incidentally, there are eight of the judges around: four to focus solely on the tasting, while the other four hover around the contestant, grading the efficiency with which he/she makes the coffee. Obviously, coffee is taken very seriously here.

“The winner of this championship will attend the World Barista Championship, which will be held at Dublin, Ireland, this year," says Aarti Dewan Gupta of the Coffee Board of India, which is organizing the national competition. “We hope to streamline the coffee industry and attract more girls and boys to it."

Young talent is certainly not in short supply here. Take Sachin Krupakar, another finalist, whose signature drink had people in the audience clambering on to the stage to taste, “It has khus syrup, cheesecake with cream and coffee in three distinct layers," he laughs, pointing out that the vermillion, white and green colour of the drink also bore a patriotic message.

“It is a great event that showcases the coffee industry in India," says one of the judges, Sunil Pinto, who works with Tata Coffee, “It is a happening industry today. After all, coffee shops aren’t so much about the coffee as the experience."

And it certainly has been a fantastic experience, agrees this year’s winner Paras Bindra, whose signature concoction of reduced orange juice, espresso and cinnamon will take him to Dublin this year.

“I have already started thinking about the flavours that I will take abroad. What works on an Indian palate may not necessarily work on a western one," says the 30-year-old.

And we certainly hope he nails it.

As Khurana says, “No coffee-producing nation has ever produced a champion yet. I hope India will be the first."