It seems ironic that Matt Chittaranjan’s in-laws drink instant coffee. Ironic because Matt and his wife Namrata run Blue Tokai Coffee – a roastery that is part of the vanguard of Third Wave Coffee in India. Matt’s in-laws’ instant-coffee fixation is an interesting segue into the habits of India’s coffee drinkers, though. For anyone associated with the gourmet coffee business it can be exasperating to have well-meaning people declare they love coffee when all they have ever had is the instant kind.
Matt has a suggestion.
“I get that instant coffee is very convenient but I think that if people saw they type of coffee that goes in to those crystals, they’d reconsider drinking it. People in the speciality coffee industry (myself included) can tend to focus on brewing that involves fancy and expensive equipment that most people would rightfully baulk at using. But really all you need is a tea strainer and a bag of good coffee to make a cup that will blow any instant coffee away.”
Matt and Namrata’s is an Internet-based coffee roasting and delivery business. They source single estate and small lot beans from various growers across the country and roast them to different profiles. They accept one-off and subscription orders over the Internet and deliver all over India via Fedex. Matt is quick to point out that there is a lot of scope for improvement in the entire chain of growers, roasters and, even, customers. Says Matt,
“Coffee is such a complex beverage that it seems like every day we are learning something new. Whether its growing, brewing, roasting, tasting, serving, I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface in terms of coffee knowledge.”
Matt is being modest. Having sampled their coffees I can safely say that they stand head and shoulders above other roasters in India. In fact, I vote for them with my wallet. I am a regular customer, with a subscription to their Yellikodige Organic coffee in an Inverted Aeropress grind. Their coffees are fresh, diverse and great value-for-money given the great quality. Blue Tokai uses only Arabica beans and a computer-controlled roaster for consistent roasting across beans and batches. Beans are roasted twice a week and dispatched via courier the same day.
Matt’s go-to is the Nachammai Estate made via the Pour Over method. He explains that he finds this particular coffee the most nuanced and, given how often he needs to brew multiple cups for himself and company, pour over is the ideal method. The Aeropress, the Vacuum Syphon and other brewing paraphernalia stare at us, unused, from the cupboards all around us as we drink our coffees.
Click here to watch Matt make us a cup of coffee.
Changing customer mindsets is the greatest challenge Matt and Namrata face. There are some individual customers who are willing to pay extra for really good coffee. But these customers are few and far in between. Most sale is still wholesale – to the hotels and restaurants Matt and Namrata have managed to convince of their coffee’s superiority.
Set up in an extension of their family home Blue Tokai Coffee has invested a lot of time and effort to be where they are and be headed where they are headed today. High standards were set and met. Individual estate owners were met and their coffees examined. Overall, Matt is happy with the quality of Coffee in India. He scores it in the mid-80’s compared to, say, 90+ for some of the finest coffees around the world. The processes in India, though, leave a lot to be desired. There is only one coffee harvest a year, compared to 2 in other parts of the world. Storage and Transport are also poorly managed resulting in much higher loss-to-spoilage. At one point Matt and Namrata put their metaphorical foot down and insisted their suppliers change their ways. All green beans now come to Blue Tokai in GrainPro™ bags that enhance the shelf life of the delicate green beans. That isn’t the end of the headaches Matt faces.
I’ll let him explain:
“India ranks in the bottom quarter in ease of doing business for a reason. Complying with all of the laws and regulations is a huge headache. On top of that, finding reliable suppliers is a big challenge. For something as simple as a cardboard box, we’ve cycled through more than 5 companies and constantly following up with courier companies to get people their deliveries is the least enjoyable part of my day.”
Don’t, for a minute, think that it’s all bad, though. Blue Tokai now has over 2000 customers. They have had to upgrade the site to keep up with demand. From the 10 Tonnes of green beans they bought last year they expect to move up to 18 Tonnes this year. Word is spreading and, as connoisseurs of good coffee we wish them the very best.