By Anubha Saggar
After almost a year of surviving on the average instant coffee at my corporate job I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across this lifestyle exhibition showcasing something called ‘artisanal foods’. Among the most dynamic and innovation-driven industries today, the Indian food and beverage segment offers the largest diversified production base and artisanal foods is the highest growth segment within this
With an increase in internet penetration and cross-community exploration of local cuisine, there is a fresh perspective on the rise: of looking at gastronomy as an artisanal experience. These are exclusive, expensive foods handcrafted with regional techniques and fresh ingredients by local artisans. It does certainly allow you great bragging rights if your Instagram accounts are adorned with the freshly churned, flavoured cream cheeses or the glitter cappuccinos.
Artisanal foods, a relatively newer concept into the Indian market, classify as a very niche and limited demand segment – a business where an early breakeven is difficult to achieve. This demand is typically led by the health conscious, millennial consumer between 20 – 40 years of age who is willing to pay a premium for wholesome, sustainably sourced food. Furthermore, digital platforms like the Insider community and offline retail chains like Foodhall, Modern Bazaar have enabled the delivery of such gourmet fare directly to Indian doors.
A recent entrant into this revolutionary whirlwind is the world’s favourite dose of caffeine – coffee. A quick history lesson for you – this much-loved bean beverage came up for its intense flavour and ability to energize the drinker during the early 15th century often referred to as the first wave of coffee. With industrialization, came the second wave around the mid-18th century – this made coffee more household friendly with tins for storage and the production of instant coffee. By this time, coffee socially had become a drink for the masses.
The third and current wave of renaissance originated when consumers started to recognize the mediocre quality and bitter taste of instant coffee and consequently, began to explore the different roasting techniques and flavours one could create. This led to the birth of artisanal coffee as we know it today – a marriage of sustainable sourcing and flavour exploration. The “artisanal” brand tag targets the uber millennial via a two-dimensional approach – first, by delivering high-quality coffee and second, by creating a heightened experience via ancillary marketing tactics.
Producing a high quality and differentiated product is a long-drawn process of ensuring strict quality control at various stages. Coffee cherries are grown sustainably in small batches under special microclimates and high-quality beans (pit of the coffee cherry) are harvested, processed and dried. Post-harvest, these beans are then roasted, ground and are delivered in a smaller traction time to retail stores, ensuring that fresher coffee reaches your morning breakfast table. Within speciality coffee, three major developments stand out:
- Signature blends- These are carefully selected coffees from various origins blended for a taste which is universally appealing. High on flavour balance, these can be commonly associated with brews served at high-end cafes like Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
- Single Origin- Sourced from single estate farms, these beans are grown in specific geographic regions and unlike blends, are not mixed together. Rather, they are marketed for their distinct flavors. Brands like Blue Tokai, Flying Squirrel, Estate Craft offer such brews
- Micro lots – a very small and exclusive batch of coffee, set aside from regions which usually produce the highest quality beans (cupping scores of 85+)
With a shift in focus to highlight the natural flavors in coffee, brews are now increasingly differentiated by their roasts (the light roast for mild bodied, the medium roast for the rich, dark brown and the dark roast for the heavy, bitter coffee) and their grinds (from the finest granular Turkish grind to the coarsest French Press and everything in between).
Once synonymous with the masala dosa and filter coffee order, coffee shops have today transformed into pretty cafes which sell the entire boutique experience. With the coming of new age entrepreneurs, upcoming brands are carving out their niche positioning in the market, each a little different from the other. While The Flying Squirrel grows its own coffee on a 160-acre farm in Coorg, Blue Tokai identifies the estates from which it sources its coffee and roasts its own beans. Black Baza looks to provide biodiversity while Estate Craft focuses on single origin brews and Vero is pursuing the next big trend in the market – it sources its own beans and makes capsules in-house.
All these brands have a heavy online retail presence and efforts aimed to convert the commodity coffee drinker to speciality – this they achieve with cafes attached to micro roasteries, curating tasting tables and pop-ups etc. to educate the consumer about their offerings. To further retain the acquired consumer, coffee subscription packages and exclusive access to speciality events are offered. Introducing variety in flavours – jaggery coffee, exotic monkey bit coffee highlights the sweetness of the bean and help target a younger audience which hasn’t been introduced to the caffeine loyalist bandwagon yet.
On the production front, brands try to innovate at every step of the coffee brewing process. Smart coffee tech is gaining increasing traction. Wifi enabled coffee machines which help monitor roasting temperatures, grind levels and are pocket-friendly are coming up to help consumers have the same quality of coffee on the go.
New brewing techniques like the cold brew, nitrogen brew which churn out a healthier beverage are capturing the part audience who loves trying out interesting things. Add to it experimenting with fusing coffee with different flavours and you have got yourself an avolatte (latte served in an avocado shell) or a sparkling cappuccino (coffee with sparkling water) or the Vietnamese egg coffee. Portability of good quality coffee is further perpetuated by the emergence of handy coffee pods and third wave water capsules (mineral supplements for your brewing water)
The artisanal food wave has proliferated as a culture by itself, and a potential fourth wave of coffee may be brewing around the corner – with an anticipated greater emphasis on the scientific aspects of coffee growth. With a zero-waste consciousness to utilize everything from the cherry flesh to the coffee bean, beverages like Cascara tea made from the dried skin of the coffee cherries, are just taking shape. With more flavours and art to infuse the beverage into, the gourmet aficionado in me is already curious to know how this drink pans out its next step of evolution.
Anubha Saggar is a real estate investment banker and writer.
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