ALL PICS: BIKRAM RAI
MR BEANS: Founder and owner of Himalayan Java, Gagan Pradhan, at the chain’s outlet in Civil Mall, Sundhara.
When Himalayan Java
opened for business in 2000, coffee culture was almost non-existent in Nepal. While the Valley was littered with chiya pasals, even in the narrowest of gullies, a search for a freshly brewed cup of joe meant taking a trip to one of the five star hotels around town, a luxury few could afford to indulge in.
Gagan Pradhan, whose love affair with the beans began while he was a student in Australia, sought to change that. The small, independent coffee shops that he frequented while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in hospitality management at William Blue International School in Sydney, became the model and inspiration for his own franchise.
With Himalayan Java, the first of its kind coffee house in the city, Pradhan brought coffee within the reach of the middle-class and demystified this once foreign sounding drink. But the 38- year old admits the initial days were far from smooth. Convincing natives who enjoyed their sugar and milk laden tea to switch to a steamy brew, not of the instant variety, took time and patience.
Pradhan had opened his first outlet at Heritage Plaza in Kamaladi to attract office-goers. But the outlet was later shifted to its current location in Thamel, a move that proved to be utterly fruitful.
Once in the tourist hotspot, the foot traffic increased, but few Nepalis left satisfied recalls Pradhan.Once in the tourist hotspot, the foot traffic increased, but few Nepalis left satisfied recalls Pradhan. Many a time, customers simply refused to pay because they didn’t like their ‘bitter’ beverage. “I know I had taken a huge risk by trying to offer something that Nepalis were not necessarily ready for,” he says.
But that was 14 years ago and the risk has clearly paid off. Himalayan Java is now the most recognised coffee house in the city. Growing demand and surging popularity paved the way for expansion and today, it is the largest Nepali coffee chain with eight outlets in the country. And with outlets in Toronto and Lhasa, also the only coffee business to expand beyond borders. But Pradhan shows no signs of slowing down. This year alone, the coffee connoisseur has plans to expand to four more locations within the country which include tourist favourites Pokhara, Jomsom, Lukla, and Namchhe and add a few more international locations.
From its humble beginnings, Himalayan Java has grown into a ‘coffee institution’. Other than the fact that it only uses locally grown coffee, the organisation is also involved in bringing in high-quality machines such as roasters, grinders, espresso machines, and commercial urns through Mocca Trading, an arm of the company that also exports Nepali coffee to other countries.
Pradhan, who made a conscious decision to use only organic beans at his shops since the start, says the government should develop programs that would encourage more farmers to plant this cash crop. Nepal’s climatic conditions is said to be particularly suitable for growing the Arabica variety. Although coffee plantation has taken off in places like Kavre, Nuwakot, Palpa, and Syangja, studies show only three per cent of the total cultivable land for coffee is currently in use, thus limiting the production output. Of the 600 tonnes produced annually, 70 per cent is consumed in the country leaving little to export to the foreign market.
“The amount of coffee that we produce is miniscule, we need to boost our production to make our presence felt outside the domestic market,” he explains.
Himalayan Java Barista Coffee School opened in January last year at Civil Mall in Sundhara. Since then, the school has trained more than 2,000 students in the art of coffee-making. Program director Madhav Devkota says the course has been specifically designed for individuals who are planning to go abroad. Besides foreign employment seekers, the course also caters to those who are looking to enter specialty coffee business. The 10-day course, which costs Rs 25,000, includes classes on history of coffee, espresso equipment, steaming and foaming milk, cleaning and roasting and blending techniques, safety and maintenance, customer service, occupational health and safety.
Coffee culture, FOO CHEE CHANG
Our reason for bean, SRADDHA BASNYAT:
Branded brew, PAAVAN MATHEMA