What limits would a coffee lover go to get a perfect cup of coffee? Well, this duo from Bengaluru went on to open their own coffee shop that celebrates Indian roasters and their variety of coffees.
Shibani Murlidhar (40) and Rajiv Majumdar (49) have been friends for over 20 years. While they both worked on their individual careers — Shibani as an educator and Rajiv as an architect, it was their shared love for coffee that would ignite discussions.
“We have been friends for too many years and I think that is what led to this cafe. Rajiv is like a coffee evangelist. He has so much knowledge about it and would convert everyone around him into ardent coffee drinkers,” says Shibani.
On Crescent Road in Bengaluru, it’s called Nerlu Cafe — ‘nerlu’ means shade in Kannada and is representative of the Arabica coffee which is a shade-loving plant. “The word is also representative of our idea to provide a canopy to various Indian roasters and their unique coffee blends,” tells Shibani to The Better India.
‘A hyper-local Indian coffee place’
It was nearly after two decades of being an educator that Shibani decided to take a detour in her career.
“She would always say to me — ‘What would you do with all this coffee knowledge?’. Then one day, she just called me casually and said, ‘Let’s open a cafe’. She wanted a small hole in the wall; the kind where you open a book and enjoy a coffee, but we kept pushing ideas around and blew the top off,” says Rajiv.
“It was very organic; we didn’t even start with a business plan. We just wanted to share our love for great coffee with people. I would bore people with my knowledge about coffee, so we thought why not use it,” he adds.
Driven by the need to show every coffee drinker the vast variety of brews India has to offer, Nerlu Cafe came into existence.
“The main factor driving us was that there were so many untold, unheard-of coffee roasters in the country that needed to be showcased. We wanted to be a hyper-local Indian coffee shop that showcases all kinds of coffee available in this country. If you look at the international market, Indian coffee is restricted to only Instant and Robusta coffee which is so unfair. We have so many great coffee roasters that go unnoticed,” says Rajiv.
He goes on, “We realised that many Indian coffee roasters don’t have the bandwidth to open a cafe or showcase their coffee. So, we thought, why not bring them together and make something amazing? 95 per cent of the roasters have small over-the-counter services or they sell online. But, they are passionate people, doing amazing things with coffee.”
While the cafe does serve regular coffee like espresso, cappuccinos and lattes, they have a unique evolving menu.
‘It is not just coffee but an experience’
“The unique thing about our coffee shop is that we have a manual bar where we have a machine called Hario Switch. We have a coffee discovery menu and every couple of weeks, it changes. It will have a different roaster following a similar theme. We do this so that the visitor can experience the whole coffee-making process and taste a unique mix each time,” Shibani explains.
Rajiv reaches out to different coffee roasters and asks them to create a variety of brews — roasting the beans from light, dark to medium.
“For this week till the end of December, we have ‘Malabar Monsoon Coffee’. So, we reached out to the roasters and curated a collection of seven brews,” says Shibani.
“The idea behind having a dynamic menu like this is to introduce people to the vast variety of roasters that India has to offer. Our upcoming menu is all about natural processed coffee. We are planning to have 10 coffee brews which will be all naturally processed. We once did an estate profile on the Ratnagiri Estate, where we basically presented all the coffee of the estate at one place in one menu,” shares Rajiv.
Calling themselves a multi-roaster coffee shop, Shibani says, “We have not branded ourselves with one roaster. We have multiple roasters come in and create new menus every couple of weeks.”
“The fun part is that the same coffee handled by a different roaster will taste different. It is like wine, even more complex, I would say. It is bizarre how the bacteria of a specific location affects the taste of the entire brew. The same coffee beans processed in different locations will taste completely different,” Rajiv explains.
“One special thing about Nerlu is that they highlight coffees from all over India. Every second week they have such different menus. Last month they had a week called ‘Prajwal Fiction’. We are based out of Chikmagalur in Karnataka and we got a chance to prepare a menu for them. The people loved it so much that we ran out of coffee midweek. It was a special experience telling the visitors about the entire farm-to-cup process,” says Prajwal K Singh, who owns a coffee brand called Harmakki Coffee.
So far, Nerlu Cafe has made 10 unique menus of Indian coffee and has served hundreds of cups of goodness. They have had roasters from places like Nashik, Bengaluru, Coorg, Chikmagalur, Jaipur, Gujarat and Bombay.
“It has become more of a community-building and knowledge-sharing place. All the coffee lovers unite here — share ideas, talk about roasters and experience coffee like never before. The idea was always to bring forth similar people and promote Indian coffee. And, we have succeeded in this,” says Shibani.
“The enterprise has been successful from day one and we are planning to open another shop soon. The community and people have just accepted us, and given us so much love,” concludes Rajiv.
(Edited by Pranita Bhat)