You can get everything from traditional South Indian coffee to a cup of artisanal joe in India’s capital city. Here are the best coffee houses to visit for an instant pick-me-up.
Though plantations in South India grow coffee beans in abundance, the country as a whole is still one of chai (tea) drinkers. For the average Indian, a cup of coffee is taken with sugar and milk (as is tea), and one of the most popular orders at coffee houses is a cold coffee – a tall glass of iced, foamy, sweet milk flavoured mildly with instant coffee.
Delhi-based Geetu Mohnani, a coffee connoisseur and café consultant, says she has seen a sharp shift in this trend recently, thanks to a boom in speciality coffee, in-house roasting and café culture. Mohnani worked as a barista and was the national champion at the 2018 World Barista Championship in Amsterdam, where she represented India. These are her recommendations on where to get your morning cup of coffee in Delhi.
Innovative, artisanal coffee
Slowly but steadily, Delhi is catching on to the artisanal coffee trend. If you’re in town, try Blue Tokai, Coffee Bond or Quick Brown Fox.
Blue Tokai sources its beans from South Indian farms and estates and roasts them in-house. While Mohnani recommends the chain’s first Delhi café in Saidulajab, Blue Tokai has many locations, so you can choose the one nearest to you. “It is the first roaster in India, and it started in Delhi. People who have been following the coffee trend should definitely visit Blue Tokai. You won’t find it easily at first because it is located right behind the Saket metro, but its coffee makes the search worthwhile. You won’t get any traditional Indian cold coffee here. Stay simple and get yourself a beautiful black cup.”
The quaint outdoor seating and wooden interiors at Coffee Bond could charm even the most wayward of visitors. “It has a huge number of loyal customers who take their coffee to go or walk in for a quick chat or hearty breakfast in the morning. It serves great food – sandwiches, waffles, pizzas and more. Its staff are chirpy, friendly and mostly women!” Mohnani highly recommends its café latte, which also comes in caramel and honey-cinnamon flavours. You’ll also find a range of cold coffees, iced teas, herbal blends and smoothies. It also has a special menu for manually brewed coffee, a decaf section with items such as raspberry and matcha lattes and nut milk add-ons for vegan visitors.
If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth along with your coffee craving, head over to this wine and coffee bar in Khan Market, an upscale outdoor market lined with stores and eateries. With stone-wall interiors, plant-lined surfaces and large windows, Perch is both quiet enough for conversation and quirky enough for drinks. Mohnani recommends Perch if you’re a coffee-powered hustler by day and a chilled-out wine drinker by night.
Quick Brown Fox Coffee Roasters only has two cafés in India – one in Delhi and another in Nagpur. “It serves coffee that is not available anywhere else,” says Mohnani. “Get the Riverdale Estate pour-over, made with beans sourced from Yercaud in Tamil Nadu. The Riverdale Estate [sends most] of its coffee to Australia. Only two roasters in India have its coffee, and one of them is Quick Brown Fox. This is a micro-lot of coffee from Yercaud, and [Quick Brown Fox] has roasted it beautifully. Definitely try this if you like fruity notes in your coffee.”
Long before speciality coffee attained its high status in India, filter coffee was the reigning monarch. The South Indian filter kaapi is brewed in a metal coffee filter and served with milk and sugar. “South Indians love their coffee mild and sweet, but they also want that coffee kick,” says Mohnani.
Although traditional filter coffee is stronger than espresso, you can order an even stronger filter coffee to complement the sugary taste or ask for sugar on the side.
Saravana Bhavan is a South Indian brand from Tamil Nadu, but there are outlets across the country. It has an enormous following of loyal patrons, owing to the old-world charm of the eatery and the consistency of flavours. “The queues I’ve seen outside Saravana Bhavan in Connaught Place, Delhi are unbelievable. It has four floors, but there’s always a queue. You have to wait in line for 40 to 45 minutes or make a reservation. People usually visit for a South Indian meal and filter coffee,” says Mohnani. South Indian food cultures are often centred around the value of eating together as a community. During auspicious occasions, meals are served on banana leaves to large groups huddled in proximity. Following tradition, seating at Saravana Bhavan is close-knit, almost cramped during peak hours. However, the true joy here lies in raising a tumbler of filter coffee to a stranger sitting beside you and knocking elbows as you do.
Don’t go to the Indian Coffee House for the ambience – go for the coffee! The pre-colonial Indian Coffee House (ICH) has simple seating, but back in the day, it was where writers, artists and intellectuals gathered to share ideas and chug filter coffee.“Indian Coffee House is now a tourist destination. There will always be maharaja (servers dressed in traditional clothing) or a few chaukidars (watchmen) standing outside. There’s no glass door like modern cafés, so you can’t see anything. When you go inside, you’ll see how old the Indian Coffee House is,” says Mohnani. She also finds the filter coffee at ICH easy on the pocket. “The coffees are priced very well even though ICH serves [and roasts] its own coffee. It has its own coffee suppliers, and you’ll see its coffee bags for sale, which have ‘Indian Coffee House’ printed on them.”
Starbucks makes it onto this list because Mohnani has a soft spot for Delhi’s first Starbucks store in Connaught Place. “When you talk about the second wave, cafés come to mind. My go-to place would be the first Starbucks of Delhi, which is, in fact, the first Starbucks in all of North India, in A Block, Connaught Place. This store has a lovely ambience and feels truly Indian in design, with chandeliers made out of jute and a map of India on the wall, [showing the country’s coffee heritage],” she says. If you’re sick of milky coffee and need an Americano in a cosy, air-conditioned venue, this is the place to go.