Mumbai is a sensational city. India’s economic capital, the home base of Bollywood, is a food-loving metropolis, offering a pleasing, intense mixture of stimuli. There is always something around the corner to experience, eat, or drink in Mumbai.
The beverage of choice here is not coffee, but chai. The tapri chaiwallah (chai vendor) is as prevalent here as a bagel shop is in New York City or palm trees are in Hollywood. Sold in tiny 7mL cups and consumed multiple times a day, the chaiwallah’s job never ends. Chai (as many westerners now know) is generally prepared using black tea, sugar, and one of several spices, including saffron, ginger, and lemongrass. Each chaiwallah prides themselves on their technique and produces several hundred liters of the stuff daily for the insatiable thirst of the Mumbaikar.
Mumbai’s first real exposure to espresso-based beverages was in 1996, when the national chain Cafe Coffee Day, or CCD, opened its bright interiors to the country. A menu of espresso, cappuccinos, lattes, and sweetened espresso beverages, iced and cold was offered up in a stylish, comfortable setting. A big hit among students and urban professionals, the chain capitalized on sugary-sweet beverages presented in kitschy cups. Today, the big green giant Starbucks has also found its niche in Mumbai as it increases locations and tests the limits of expensive coffee. A testament to the wealth and spending habits of Mumbai is that a cup of coffee costs more at a Starbucks in India than it does anywhere in the world. And its profitability is growing.
The Third Wave initially hit Mumbai in 2009 when theindianbean.co and Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters started selling their ethically sourced coffee beans from single farms across southern Indian states. South India is the prevalent grower of coffee in India. Baba Budan, a Sufi saint, is said to have smuggled seven coffee beans to India in the 16th century and planted them in what is today known as Chikmagalur.
Today, Mumbai’s coffee scene is an amalgamation of hungry entrepreneurs and self-taught or professionally trained coffee enthusiasts. Some are trying to expand their presence overseas, while others are consciously choosing to remain local. For lovers of coffee, all this means is something that can be best phrased using a Hindi colloquialism: “picture abhi baki hain“—the show is just getting started.
Let’s dive in.
Founded by a trio, now the show is run entirely run by one man: Australia native Shannon D’Souza. D’Souza’s grandfather owns and runs a coffee farm in South India and has been consistently delivering speciality coffee to Australia and other countries for decades. Combining the family tradition of coffee and his love for the Sydney coffee culture, D’Souza is making just more than amazing flat whites in Mumbai. Inside his cozy Chium Village cafe, you’ll find a complete black interior with a majestic Probat 150 taking up most of the space. Initially, customers would put their coffee cups to rest inside the cooling tray of the Probat, leading D’Souza to innovate an actual tabletop for the machine. You can sip an Amrut-cask-aged pour-over from the Kelagur Estate or have it as a honey-processed dark roast, served on the actual roaster!
Their Maravullah espresso is to date one of the most flavorful espressos I’ve had in Mumbai—by a long kilometer. The small cafe gets busy with regulars chatting away with each other as well as the baristas. The local expat community and older native residents have welcomed KC Roasters with open arms into their Mumbai.
The Craftery by Subko
Subko began with the sole mission to redefine, redesign, and inject the Indian subcontinent into the global conversation around specialty coffee and craft baking. Three days prior to the 2020 lockdown.
Despite the timing, the cafe’s clear mission has already been given the honor of being “the most ambitious new cafes in the world.” That is abundantly clear as you try to find a table on a weekend or holiday at their Bandra location.
The experience at “The Craftery”—the heart of their operation—is much more relaxed. Built in an abandoned printing facility, the stunning space is filled with all the modern trimmings and allows a mini-tour into the bakehouse and coffee roasting facilities.
Their house blend and single origin are always ready to fire on their La Marzoccos. Plus, their Sankalp 88 series has a unique mouthfeel for those who want to explore pour-overs. Try the rhubarb pop-tart for a delightful introduction to their prowess at bakes.
Dive into the refreshing alcohol-free beverages like the seasonal strawberry and red chili infused with club soda or “reward your curiosity” with their vanilla cold-brew and tonic, which has a singular major tasting note of the untouchable classic Vanilla Coke.
Whether you’re an avid fan of design, a coffee curioso or hungry for something fresh—there’s something here for everyone.
Blue Tokai Coffee
Everything about Blue Tokai Coffee fits right in with what you’d expect from a modern speciality coffee shop. Subdued colors, easy-going vibes, and a happy mingling of coffee driven people. A small shelf offers a variety of manual brewing equipment and accessories along with roast-date-printed coffee bags. Founders Matt Chitharanjan and Namrata Asthana started Blue Tokai as an e-commerce platform, selling coffee beans and equipment online before opening their cafe. (They also feature some of the best sesame seed bagels in Mumbai.) Blue Tokai roasts its own coffees, sourced ethically from farms across India. They also work closely with some small farmers to ensure fair prices and try to get as involved in the harvesting process as possible. Try the Vienna Roast pour-over or request a Silver Oaks blend as an AeroPress if you’re longing for floral, raisin, and nut tasting notes.
The shop is always filled with a smattering of TV and film personalities, directors, and aspiring screenwriters due to several film offices in the neighborhood. The shop is also a stone’s throw away from the recently cleaned up Versova Beach, giving you a perfect excuse to grab a coffee on the go.
Bombay Island Coffee Roasters
Opened in 2018, Bombay Island Coffee Roasters offers potent, affordable, coffee and delicious range of vegetarian and Jain-friendly baked goods and sandwiches in a planned urban community. Surrounded by lush trees, food outlets, it’s a daily ritual for residents and office workers within the complex, and specialty coffee fans from afar. Their coffee bar featuring various paraphernalia is a natural pull, making specialty coffee lovers out of novices. Cofounder Rupal Jain, a chartered accountant by profession, fell in love with coffee while studying for her accounting exams. So much so that she decided to leap to Singapore to obtain her SCA certification for coffee roasting. The first thing she did after returning was to buy a Probat 150 and start roasting. Today, Bombay Island supplies coffee to cricket teams, restaurants, and small cafes around the country. Their Nuova Simonelli espresso machine is home to some of the most consistent cappuccinos in Mumbai. An ode to the spices of India, their signature spiced iced latte features freshly ground star anise, cinnamon, and nutmeg combined to make a delicious coffee experience. Their iced mocha is a delight for the summer and their tomato and mozzarella sandwich on toasted sourdough is the perfect pairing, anytime.
Dhaval Mehta is a digital marketing consultant based in Mumbai, India. This is Dhaval Mehta’s first feature for Sprudge.