When Matt Chitharanjan and Namrata Asthana moved to Delhi in 2012, they found it challenging to get good coffee that was freshly roasted and used high-quality beans. Back then, there were either very few good coffee outlets or very expensive imported coffee, which lacked freshness.
To understand the root cause, Matt dug deeper to realise that although India is home to very high-quality beans, those beans were being exported to other countries and what was left behind in the domestic market was the average to low-grade coffee. As a specialty coffee lover who was in search of good coffee in India, he decided to make specialty coffee more accessible in the country, an issue that he faced first-hand.
He started connecting with Indian estates growing high-quality beans, understanding their farming methods and convincing them to sell a part of the produce to him for roasting and that a considerable market in India can be built for special coffee growers… and that’s how Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters was born in 2013.
If you speak to a specialty coffee connoisseur in India today, chances are they started on this journey of understanding and consuming high-quality coffee with Blue Tokai, a brand that attributes its genesis to a huge market gap that remained unaddressed in India for a very long time. In its initial years, Blue Tokai focused purely on its online channels and local events to create an impact and stir the coffee culture in the country. In 2015, the brand expanded its operations and opened its first coffee shop attached to the roastery that served as an experience centre for its customers. In the following year, Matt and Namrata were joined by Shivam Shahi as the company’s third Co-Founder, and ever since the company has expanded its offline footprint across several Indian cities.
Since its inception, Blue Tokai has held transparency, accessibility, ease of usage, knowledge and its community close to its heart and has directed its efforts towards strengthening these pillars.
In a market that is growing consistently, Blue Tokai’s uniqueness lies in the depth of its operations and range of offerings. Right from working with the producers, experimenting with new processing techniques, home to a Central Washing Station (to be launched soon), roasting high-quality green beans, brewing fresh coffee to offering ready-to-drink and easy-to-brew products – Blue Tokai has the widest active footprint across all segments of the value chain. The brand maintains that its goal is to make great-tasting Indian coffee more accessible and for Blue Tokai to be the go-to brand for Indian and global customers, whenever they want a good cup of coffee, no matter wherever or however that is. From the coffee one brews at home, to the cafes they visit, the coffee in their office and the restaurants they like to go to, Blue Tokai aims to be the brand of choice.
With very low awareness about high-quality coffee to a market that is now home to an increasing number of producers and several roasters, the company’s efforts in building knowledge around Indian specialty coffee have contributed largely to this growth. Sharing source farm’s information on the coffee packets, holding regular cupping and manual brewing sessions, creating dedicated self-brewing stations for customers at the cafe (called Coffee Play Bar), building an in-house knowledge sharing platform with the ‘Taster’s Club’, hosting conversations with coffee producers and using its digital presence to educate customers about multiple facets around coffee – Blue Tokai has steadily amplified its efforts in this direction.
The brand’s effort has not been restricted to its customers but also extends to the other end of the spectrum – its coffee producing partner estates. Besides working closely with several new and old specialty coffee producers throughout the year on various post-harvest processing techniques and working towards bringing small scale farmers into the specialty fold, Blue Tokai also celebrates the richness of their harvest through its initiatives like the ‘Producer Series’. These are limited-edition coffees that are grown, processed and roasted in nano lots and sourced from some of India’s most visionary coffee producers that are experimenting with innovative processing techniques. Each of these special coffees are lightly roasted by Blue Tokai’s in-house roasters to enhance their unique, complex profile. The first edition of the ‘Producer Series’ was launched in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, and the response for these lots is a reflection of the pent up demand for rare, high-quality Indian coffee. Last month, the third edition of this series was launched and was received with a positive response.
In June this year, Blue Tokai also announced the launch of ‘Debut Series’, an extension of Blue Tokai’s endeavour to foster a fair and commercially viable ecosystem for Indian specialty coffee producers. This series marked the onset of six Indian coffee producers’ journey into the world of specialty coffee. Finding their home in the dense coffee regions of Coorg, Chikmagalur, Araku Valley as also Koraput – an upcoming region for specialty coffee, lots from this series are exclusively sourced and roasted by Blue Tokai, ranging from light to dark roasts. With less than 50 specialty producers in 2013 to over 200 producers now, this magnification is a testament to the growing demand for good-quality Indian coffee and its potential to put India on the global coffee map.
On January 1, 2023, Blue Tokai will turn 10. In this decade, the company has changed the specialty coffee landscape in India, brought Indian coffee producers to the forefront and taken India’s highest-scoring coffees to the world. After 3 scaled up roasteries, over 50 cafes, an international debut in Japan, several awards and years of customer loyalty later, what’s next? We’ll find out soon!
Great read, Andy. I am looking forward to ordering their Producer Series!