Sunday 21 July 2024
  • La Cimbali

Are new age cafes defying the traditional definition?

• French traveller Jean Chardin described coffee-houses as places of ‘political discussion where people played games, recited poems and told stories. • In India, coffee culture existed much before Independence.

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by Smita Mishra *

The first coffeehouse did not originate in a dainty European town, but in the dusty by-lanes of Middle East in medieval age and by 1512 several of them were already banned in Mecca because they had become the centers of political gathering and turmoil.

Europe got its first taste of coffee around the same time when Venetian merchants brought it to Italy. Initially coffee was sold by lemonade vendors in streets!

French traveller Jean Chardin described coffee-houses as places of ‘political discussion where people played games, recited poems and told stories’. No wonder these were culturally, places of social interactions where people assembled to spend time in a leisurely fashion.

In India, coffee culture existed much before Independence. In the 1940s there were over 50 coffee houses across the country. The reason behind their establishment initially was to popularise coffee in India by the British. They were basic places with bare minimum furniture that served coffee with light snacks.

The last two decades saw the growth of a young coffee culture, with the expansion of joints like Cafe Coffee Day, Barista Lavazza and Costa Coffee, which invited people to come, spend time, hold meetings and brood leisurely over a cup of coffee. Unlike regular restaurants where the staff pestered you to order something, these new joints were loved by the young crowd as they didn’t mind even if you ordered nothing!

Umag Tewari, the owner of Big Fish Ventures which owns an array of cafes like the Junkyard, Vault Cafe etc, says, “In India Coffee houses traditionally served coffee with some quick bites but now people want a place to hang out and have meals and get entertained in a casual environment.”

The words ‘coffee house’ and ‘cafe’ are used synonymously, particularly in India though traditionally there is a slight difference between the two-which no longer exists now. A cafe can be located inside a building or it can be an open-air establishment and is relatively a smaller place. French called their coffee houses ‘cafe’. “In Europe” says celebrity chef Ranveer Brar, “Cafes also serve alcohol and this culture is now picking up fast in India.”

Celebrity designer Nida Mahmood who has done the interiors of Junglee Billee cafe and Vidit Gupta, owner, Cafe Dalal Street agree on the fact that drinking culture has changed a lot in recent times. It is no longer a taboo and social stigma. So cafes also also catering to the customers who want to have a drink or two in a relaxed, casual environment.

Says Sonia Mohindra, Director – Under One Roof Hotel Consultants “Cafes, traditionally, were outlets that served coffee and so originally, the Barista, CCD and local coffee places found themselves in this category. About 7-odd years ago, this definition underwent a transition and cafes, while continuing to be coffee and day spots, now had a food story as well. Today, a cafe refers to a concept place which has the potential for quality food and beverage in the day, and in the evening, converts into a neighbourhood bar or pub.”

A formal dining place may mean cuffing out more money for an elaborate, four-course meal that they offer. A cafe on the other hand is inexpensive and mostly has a multi-cuisine menu with innovative drinks and dishes. It thus is a convenient hangout place for a group of people with diverse tastes.

The concept of coffee houses may have changed over the centuries but we must agree with Chef Shipra Khanna when she says, “While the design, decor and concept of coffee houses may change, in essence they will always remain the melting pot of thoughts and ideas seasoned with the whiff and aroma of coffee! “.

Interesting ‘cafe’ facts
– The first coffeehouse in England was set up in Oxford in 1652.The same building now houses a cafe-bar called The Grand Cafe.
– Oxford’s Queen’s Lane Coffee House, established in 1654, is still in existence.
– The Indian Coffee House is a restaurant chain in India, run by a series of worker co-operative societies. It has a strong presence across India with nearly 400 coffee houses.
– The United Coffee House was established in Delhi in 1942 to cater to the capital’s cosmopolitan gentry.
– There is a book cafe in McLeod Ganj (Dharamsala) called Illiterati Cafe. Here people can get a free meal in exchange of adding a book to the collection.
– Our Story, a Noida based cafe tells the story of three sisters who are the proprietors, with interior decor that reflect their personalities. For example, one sister’s love for tea finds expression in a whole ceiling dotted with tea cups.
– House of Commons in Cannaught Place is themed on the the British Parliament and is a blend of vintage and modern decor.
-The Junkyard cafe in Delhi is made with scrap.

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