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A shot of Espresso in Expresso land

coffee ExpressoAccording to an old tale, coffee first reached India with Baba Budan, a pilgrim on a visit to Mecca, who stole seven coffee seeds and took them back hidden in his clothes. It is a charming tale but in all probability entirely untrue. Though coffee does indeed have Arabic origins, it was the Dutch who started growing it in the Malabar in the 16th century, introducing us to the beverage. But while filter coffee and dosas may be legit Indian “fast food”, many of us will concede that the “café” (versus “coffee homes”) culture came to us only quite recently. All through the nineties (and later), it was not just the lifestyle of Friends but also Central Perk, their favourite hangout, a character in itself on the sitcom, that caused envious pangs. Then, came the Baristas and Café Coffee Days, the home-grown Mocha and UK-bred Costa Coffee and everything changed.

Today, going to a café is more than stepping out for coffee. You can spend an entire day—or days—strumming the guitar, writing a book, selling art (or jewellery) and being interviewed by potential bosses. It’s a growing market, and a tough one in India — what with expensive retail space and patrons who’ll shell out sometimes just the cost of a shared cuppa. Which is why, it will be interesting to watch how Segafredo Zanetti, Italy’s leading espresso producer (it serves 50 million cups of espresso each day all over the world), recently launched in India (in Gurgaon), will fare. Segafredo now makes its first appearance in Delhi too — at a mall in Saket — and from there, it will keep adding outlets. Its USP is genuine Italian-style espresso — the dark shot that few in India still understand and many still confuse with “expresso”, served up at weddings. But if you do decide to try the brew at Segafredo, you will be pleasantly surprised: If one is permitted to use a whisky term—this one is “smooth”, less concentrated perhaps than elsewhere, and therefore much more drinkable. Segafredo is the only coffee company to directly control the entire coffee production process — from selecting the beans and blending to roasting (it has plantations in Brazil and Costa Rica).

A trademark blend is used (as it is elsewhere) and the resultant espresso is special. On the other hand, I tried a café macchiato, which seemed more ordinary. Segafredo seeks to promote the Italian café culture— leisurely and unhurried. The ambience is cheery and bright and there is no pressure to vacate your table should it get crowded. But why you should head here – and not to any of your preferred chain—is because of the liquor. Once the licence comes through (by April 1), the café will be like any other abroad where it is entirely possible to have a beer or a glass of wine (though they should extend their wine-by-the-glass list here) while watching a cricket match. Liqueur-based (French, Carribbean, Scottish—not Irish—even Calypso) coffee is also available and I’ll go back for that. Must Try: In tea-drinking northern India, no café can survive on coffee alone.

Nitin Mayor, the young man who has brought the brand to India, has thus introduced some of his own concoctions to the “espresso culture”. Apart from the usual Earl Greys and Masala teas on the menu, you will also find Indian Summer, with a fruity bouquet, and an “Arabic” tea mix— not named thus for any reasons of authentication—which is mint fresh. And, oh! yes, don’t miss out on the cup cakes, which can come with icing (an international trend of last year, no doubt) and even a small candle to please an irritable child! Where: Segafredo Zanetti, Ambience Mall, 3rd Floor, Gurgaon Meal for one: Rs 250 (approx), exclusive of liquor ooth”, less concentrated perhaps than elsewhere, and therefore much more drinkable. Segafredo is the only coffee company to directly control the entire coffee production process — from selecting the beans and blending to roasting (it has plantations in Brazil and Costa Rica). A trademark blend is used (as it is elsewhere) and the resultant espresso is special. On the other hand, I tried a café macchiato, which seemed more ordinary. Segafredo seeks to promote the Italian café culture— leisurely and unhurried. The ambience is cheery and bright and there is no pressure to vacate your table should it get crowded. But why you should head here – and not to any of your preferred chain—is because of the liquor. Once the licence comes through (by April 1), the café will be like any other abroad where it is entirely possible to have a beer or a glass of wine (though they should extend their wine-by-the-glass list here) while watching a cricket match. Liqueur-based (French, Carribbean, Scottish—not Irish—even Calypso) coffee is also available and I’ll go back for that.

Must Try: In tea-drinking northern India, no café can survive on coffee alone. Nitin Mayor, the young man who has brought the brand to India, has thus introduced some of his own concoctions to the “espresso culture”. Apart from the usual Earl Greys and Masala teas on the menu, you will also find Indian Summer, with a fruity bouquet, and an “Arabic” tea mix— not named thus for any reasons of authentication—which is mint fresh. And, oh! yes, don’t miss out on the cup cakes, which can come with icing (an international trend of last year, no doubt) and even a small candle to please an irritable child!

Where: Segafredo Zanetti, Ambience Mall, 3rd Floor, Gurgaon Meal for one: Rs 250 (approx), exclusive of liquor

(The review has appeared in Business Standard, Sunday, earlier)

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