The Eastern Ghats near close to my hometown of Vishakhapatnam are a treasure trove of biodiversity. The birds are imbued with colours unknown to Pantone and the vine-filled jungles look like Pinterest for an Indiana Jones movie. It is paradise and it is within reach. The crown jewel of this region is Araku Valley, standing tall at 1300 meters above sea level. Its mild temperatures and lush terroir is the unlikely setting for the new wave of artisanal, luxe, sustainable coffee. There is a lot to unpack with indigenous coffee agriculture and the Adivasis of the region who have developed mountain-grown coffee as a cash crop. The role of Naandi Foundation in building sustainable practices cannot be overlooked. But here, we are going to talk about its arrival on the urban scene.
If you, dear coffee addict, HAVE to be spotted on the now goonda-infested streets of Indiranagar, then what brand name do you want your cuppa to be sporting? The prosaic Starbucks, the cult local Hatti Kaapi, or the post-millennial Blue Tokai? In this case, I submit to you the latest entrant in the scene with an unbranded, recycled container in eggshell white from Araku Coffee. We’ll tell you why.
The hip coffee bar
Located on Indiranagar’s swanky 12th Main Road, the first thing you’ll notice is the clean glass façade of the flagship store. Tropical plants in flute planters frame the stairs and every nook of the 6,500 square feet space. The focal point is the Mod Bar made up of two marble counters with gleaming coffee dispensers and manned by apron-clad staff. Matte gold dividers made from repurposed metal adorn the space between the bars and the tables. Araku Coffee’s custom-designed moka pots, French presses, books and ceramics find space here. The drop lights are encased in sculptural rattan; we especially dig the ones out front in ombre dipped indigo. There is a bookstore under the stairs and more seating, outdoor spaces and an intimate conference room one level up.
“What sets it apart is the design, the attention to detail, the ethos of circularity which extends beyond the coffee and the food, into the space,” says Aditi Dugar, CEO Designate, Araku Coffee Retail & Lifestyle. We concur and can’t take our eyes off the 3D installation of a topographical map of Araku on the wall. The café is designed by New York based architect Jorge Zapata and executed in collaboration with Delhi-based Shonan Purie Trehan of Labwerk. Araku has collaborated with the best design houses in India to produce bespoke furniture and products. The collaborators include Josmo Studio, Industhan (planters), Mianzi (light fixtures), Ayush Kasliwal, Sandeep Sangaru and Gomaads.
Where coffee is the star
As one could guess, all the coffee is sourced from the Araku valley, specifically from the lower foothills, protected by Silver Oak ascending to high altitudes in the shade of fruit trees. It’s what gives the coffee its fruity notes.
The riverine island plot of Bankubeda is where the rare Araku Micro-climate coffee comes from. Dugar reveals that “every batch of coffee terroir is mapped” akin to the wine mapping in French estates. The coffee menu is extensive and yes, they have a Cortado, which is the new way to say, “Just coffee without the trimmings, please!”
What we loved about the Mod Bar menu was that despite every item being unique, with tongue-in-cheek names, the coffee remains front and centre. The coffee menu is curated by Sherri Johns. We tried the Café L’Orange and the Black Forest. The L’Orange has a robust orange peel flavour that worked well with the medium roast iced coffee. Low on acidity, this is a gentle and mellow blend. Similarly, the Black Forest elevated by the tart and sweet flavour of the berries and coffee cherry skin.
However, in these summer months the ice melts quickly and everything gets too watered down for the flavours to come through until your last sip. So, if Iced coffee is your pick, drink up quickly! Next on our list is Rocket Coffee made here with desi ghee, coconut milk and Araku espresso.
Baristas have always been at the forefront of good service coupled with great passion and knowledge. This is a draw for all cool coffee shops.
Araku is no different, with a lovely crew whose smiles and enthusiasm are visible despite the masks. The big differentiator here is that some of the team members have made the trek to Araku, to meet the tribal farmers and spent a few weeks in the hills. They are connected to the region and you can tell.
Value for money
Araku doesn’t sidestep the fact that it is in fact a luxe coffee brand; the average pricing is between 300 to 350 rupees and steeper than other coffee chains. Besides the experience in the café, it is reassuring to know that the coffee is sourced ethically from indigenous farmers. Judging by the full tables from the day it opened doors, it is safe to say that Bengaluru has firmly stepped into Araku Valley.