There’s something ineffable about rainy evenings in the hills. If you’re a traveller here, it isn’t really possible to stay tucked inside once the sun has begun his downward descent. Having taken a little stroll along the many Malls of our many hill stations, your hands thrust in your bomber’s pockets for want of warmth, you eagerly step into a café. Luckily, the round table in the nook at the back hasn’t been taken. You motion the friend towards the counter and proceed to grab the little island.
“Coffee, sir?” the owner, who is also the server, confirms, and swiftly places the familiar ceramic cups of hot, creamy, homestyle coffee on the table. This humble moment is propitious enough to make the two of you awkward. Much like J. Alfred Prufrock, I am ready to measure out more of my life—in the hills—with coffee cups (too much of a millennial to rely on spoons).
During daytime, when the unsophisticatedly plentiful mountain sunshine thaws my insides, I prefer soft serve after soft serve, but I mix it up with coffee even then. And one knows that when in Shimla, there are avenues aplenty to savour coffee. Be it the tray coffee at the Indian Coffee House at the end of the Mall or the slightly fancier Colombian brew served at Trishool Bakers in Middle Bazaar. It’s largely basic, but hasn’t lost the characteristically mellow aftertaste, pretty much in the way of kaapi. I’m eternally thankful for my partner patiently adding the right amount of milk to the black, knowing as she does, the peculiarities of my hardened palate.
Situated at the point where the road from Summer Hill splits into the Mall and Lower Bazaar like the blades of a pair of scissors, the Indian Coffee House is an affordable establishment that offers quite a few options for coffee. The gentle aroma lingers till after you’ve taken a walk down the Mall, the high point of which is a café called Wake and Bake that overlooks the regal Gaiety Theatre. And if one is too smitten with the view, the hazelnut cold coffee is enough to drag you back to the reality of tooth sensitivity.
When it comes to coffee in the hills, our beloved caffeine drink doesn’t have much variety in the northern parts. As a friend of mine, telling me about her favourite cuppa served at a Dharamshala café, remarked, “Anything you ask for here—cappuccino or latte—they serve you this: traditional hot coffee. But it’s delicious. Piping hot, with a view to die for in the background.” The same goes for the fragrant roadside version one gets out of vending machines, usually at small bakeries and confectioners. This ubiquitous version is sweeter and somehow feels less acidic, but is perky all the same, and doesn’t demand the kind of appetite or commitment that milky coffee usually does.
Coffee in the northern…