India's coffee houses were where many a poet, artist, and intellectual were born. It was the place where conversation flowed as freely as the coffee!
The coffee houses of India hold a special place in the hearts of millions of Indians. For decades, a coffee house was the place where people from all walks of life gathered. They discussed politics, gossip, or just caught up over a good, freshly-brewed cuppa.
Even now, walking into any of the country’s legendary coffee houses will mesmerise you with the scent of roasted coffee beans. You will also be transported to an era when the coffee house was not just frequented for a hot beverage and a quick meal, but for its engaging environment as well.
So here are seven of India’s oldest coffee houses!
1) United Coffee House, Delhi
On Connaught Place, there is the elegant United Coffee House. It was once a grocery shop that doubled up as a café. Then Lala Hans Raj Kalra, a liquor baron, bought the building and gave it a complete makeover. The new café-cum-restaurant was thrown open to the public as ‘United Coffee House’ in 1942.
Its golden walls, chandeliers, and elements of Victorian architecture was a shelter to many an artist, lawyer, poet, and intellectual.
Today, UCH has branches across Delhi, serving an amalgamation of its classic dishes, along with some recent additions. What stays forever young is its classic coffee, a signature blend which has ensured that its patrons keep returning to the celebrated joint.
2) Canara Coffee House, Vadodara
Vadodara’s oldest coffee house, located on Dandia Bazaar Road, staged a comeback, after being demolished in 2016.
It’s affordability, classic dishes, and fast service have kept Vadodara residents satisfied for years.
Pandurang Madhav Kudva, who has been running the coffee house for years, has managed to maintain its reputation as one of Vadodara’s most-loved places. Today, if you visit the local joint, you will be greeted by the same staff which has been around for 40 years, and of course, a plate of Poona Misal, their signature dish, made with sprouts!
Wash it down with a hot cup of coffee, and enjoy the warm ambience!
3) Mavalli Tiffin Room, Bangalore
In 1924, three brothers Parameshwara Maiya, Ganappaya Maiya, and Yagnanarayana Maiya established the Mavalli Tiffin Room (fondly called MTR) on Lalbagh Main Road. Leaving their home in Udupi in search of opportunities, the brothers proved their prowess in cooking, which led them to start their first breakfast joint.
The place would come to be one of Bangalore’s best addas for a good meal.
It broke records, for being able to serve 21,000 guests in 7 hours. During the time of World War II, when rice was in short supply, they claim to have substituted semolina flour into the mix, creating the iconic rava idly. Of course, all its beverages are served in telltale silver tumblers, a feature which makes MTR stand out.
On any given morning, MTR is packed with patrons, and getting a seat is a struggle, but is absolutely worth it.
Today, it is considered the home of one of the world’s best dosas. Crispy, and dripping with ghee, the mouthwatering dosa and its accompanying semi-sweet filter coffee, has had the entire city of Bangalore eating out of its hands for over 90 years!
4) Flury’s, Kolkata
Nestled in the heart of Kolkata, Flury’s was established in 1927, by a Swiss couple, Joseph and Frieda Flury.
During the time of colonial rule in India, this upscale tearoom was the place where one could enjoy a hearty English breakfast and delicious baked goods.
Their rum balls became iconic, as did their coffee.
Frequented by celebrities, such as Raj Kapoor and Satyajit Ray, the small tearoom was a slice of old-world charm that found a place in the hearts of many. In fact, Satyajit Ray was rumoured to have established a credit account at Flury’s, where he regularly had breakfast.
You may also like: A Taste of Nostalgia: 24 of India’s Most Famous Pre-Independence Eateries
5) Brahmin’s Coffee Bar, Bangalore
In the 1960s, a man by the name Narasimha Rao established Brahmin’s Coffee Bar in Shankarapura.
Two of Brahmin’s most coveted items are its world-famous chutney and its filter coffee.
The chutney, which is supervised by Narasimha Rao’s wife, KN Saraswati every single day, according to a report by YourStory, is what makes every single breakfast dish at the small coffee house, shine!
The much-loved roadside coffee bar became popular purely by word of mouth, and became the place for people across Bangalore to venture, at least once in their lives, to have a sip of the coffee and a taste of the chutney that made the city go crazy!
6) Favourite Cabin, Kolkata
Hidden in the lane just off College Square in Kolkata, lies a small shop, which has been serving people from all walks of life for over 94 years. It was started by brothers Nutan Chandra Barua and Gaur Chandra Barua.
Whether it was the person bunking college, morning walker, poet, the aspiring politician, or an intellectual, this small tea and toast joint became renowned for its adda sessions, which continued long after the tea was over.
The brothers who started the hole in the wall hub were avid supporters of the Swadeshi movement, and in no time, their establishment became the haunt of freedom fighters all over Kolkata. As a student of Presidency College, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was also a frequent visitor to Favourite Cabin.
Even today, the decor remains unchanged, with its iconic marble-top tables and simple wooden chairs, and of course, the tea and conversation which has kept Favourite Cabin alive for decades!
7) Indian Coffee House, Multiple Locations
This is a name that has been synonymous with good coffee and good company since pre-Independence.
It was once a place where intellectuals gathered to debate and exchange ideas, where poets and artists were born, and where conversation flowed freely.
The Indian Coffee House chain was started in 1936 by the Coffee Cess Committee but was under threat of closure by the mid-1950s. The workers of the coffee houses came together, to form the Indian Coffee House, a cooperative effort to save the beloved coffee adda.
The famous chain’s most popular joints included College Street, Kolkata, which was regularly frequented by many Bengali scholars, including Rabindranath Tagore, while Shimla’s ICH was one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s favourite coffee places.
Today, with over 400 chains across India, the Indian Coffee House remains the nation’s most loved coffee shop.