After working as a chef in the UAE for 15 years, Lalu Thomas (45) returned to his hometown Kollam, Kerala, in 2019.

In a bid to start his own venture, he initially decided to take up mushroom farming, which had been his mother’s hobby during his childhood.

But the business was not profitable due to low demand. “Also, it was not really what I had in mind as my business plan. But I was sure I would do something in the food industry,” he says.

Lalu mulled over the idea of tapping into Malayalis’ love of beverages — especially tea and coffee.

In 2022, he started a fusion food startup called Chef Bae with a unique brew, La Bae, which is made with mushroom-infused coffee powder.

The coffee powder can be used to make delicious mochas and lattes, but Lalu suggests boiling the powder in hot water without adding milk or sugar to enjoy the flavour to the fullest.

He uses five kinds of mushrooms — taiga, oyster, turkey tail, spawn, and milky — which are collected, cleaned, and dried before being chopped and ground to powder.

“This is added to the coffee, which gives a very unique texture to the drink. It would taste pretty much like regular coffee at first, but leave a subtle hint of mushroom at the end,” he says.

“Mushroom coffee is a more sustainable source of caffeine than regular coffee, as the energy boost is slower and more long-lasting,” he adds.

In the future, Lalu wants to explore more unique fusion products like mushroom honey, mushroom chocolate, mushroom cookies, etc.