Thousands of miles east of the Seine, the romance of caf? culture is seducing Nepalis who have caught on to a global trend-the joy of a perfect cup of coffee, sipped in the company of friends or in solitude with a book as a prop over which to watch the world whirl by. The Americans call it "down time" and in truth, the social coffee drinker today belongs to a lifestyle common to millions of people around the world. Central to this tableau is a little bean that has sent the world spinning ever since the Ethiopian goatherd Kaldi caught his flock frolicking among the coffee trees.
Nursing a warm cup of french-press Nepali coffee in the dappled sunshine of Chez Caroline in a quiet corner of Baber Mahal Revisited feels almost Mediterranean. It is exactly this ambience that French-born Caroline Sengupta strove to create. "People come, read, have a coffee, a cake and people meet," she says, "For me you cannot have a French place without good coffee."
Good coffee is central to caf? culture but it's not enough. Gagan Pradhan, the owner of the Valley's most popular caffeine joint Himalayan Java, adds two c's to complete the trinity of what defines a true coffeehouse: conversation and community. "And it is happening here," acknowledges Gagan. "Folks come in for a cup of coffee, meet people, converse and then form a community." Java has a devout clientele, mostly the young and restless who come in late afternoons for their blended vanilla mocha or double skinny tall fix. Java brews 100 percent arabica green beans and uses only fresh grounds of the day.
Knowing the importance of a good roast, Chikusa Coffee Shop in Thamel takes pride in roasting the organically grown beans from Palpa themselves. "We serve real coffee brewed from Nepali beans, freshly ground," says Bishnu from behind the bar. The Japanese owned coffee shop is clean and cozy. It is popular with Japanese tourists, who much to their delight, find a small yet authentic Japanese menu which includes maki-zushi, onigiri and Japanese green teas. Fresh milk, from which homemade yoghurt is prepared right at the caf?, comes all the way from Bhaktapur.
For those who put a premium on homemade, Kunal Lama's jewel of a place, Caf? Mitra in Thamel offers a parade of delicious desserts to accompany a snappy shot of espresso. Indulge your sweet tooth and up the sugar rush with a caffeine high within the warm coral walls surrounded by stunning works of art on display after exhibitions at the Siddhartha Art Gallery.
At Via Via in Paknajol, a Belgian based international chain, Phillip Henderickx takes his coffee seriously. For a superb South American blend, he uses a percolator designed to release a full-bodied flavour using steam. Via Via's delightful espresso drinks are slowly gathering a following among the art-loving coffee drinkers. The caf? operates as a platform for Nepali artists to showcase their talent and, because the caf? is part of a chain, the artists receive international exposure for their work, which travels around the globe.
Through Himalatte Specialty Coffee and Cuisine's window to the world, one can spend time musing over the hustle and bustle of Thamel. Rest assured the American menu is not accompanied by infamous American "coffee"-reheated instant grey slush on a platewarmer. A big coffee machine, imported with special care from Canada, churns out a whizz of various coffee drinks.
For a hot beverage with a cyber twist, Nanglo's Cyber Kitchen in Jawalakhel will serve a range of coffees. Pranavesh, the resident computer whiz, has set up a program to order food and drinks from each computer station. Though Shyam Kakshapati's brew of choice is a regular old drip, the CEO of Nanglo International intends to add some pizzazz to Palpa grown beans with different flavours to meet consumer demands. "Before we only knew instant coffee but now the public's knowledge of the brew has grown," he says.
Alan Rudderham's Lazimpat Gallery Caf? doubles as an art gallery where patrons encounter fine art and the fine art of coffee together. With it's tiny outdoor seating area and blackboard menu, the place has all the charm of a street side caf?. As a man with his finger in many pies, Alan found he could combine varied interests like education and promoting art through his gallery caf?. And with laughing irreverence Alan quips, "'Art is anything that makes the place interesting!"
If the French Bohemians invented caf? culture then the Italians perfected it. At the Espresso Bar at La Dolce Vita in Thamel, life is sweet indeed with a trained barista who turns out superb lattes, espressos, cappuccinos and mochachinos made from fine Italian arabica beans to accompany perhaps the best tiramisu in town. After 14 years in the business, Chandan Kayestha's restaurant has a patronage that has increased by word-of-mouth among tourists and discerning locals.
An Italian aria is the perfect aural backdrop to the delicious scent of pizza and aromatic coffee that perfumes Fire and Ice in Thamel. In the past eight years, Italian-born Anna Marie Forgione-Wiseman has seen her Nepali clientele for coffee grow. She points proudly at a La Cimbali machine that turns out delicious espresso-based drinks from a South American blend imported from Thailand. Filtered Nepali coffee is available but Anna Marie laments the pick of the crop rarely sees the domestic market.
What makes Jivin' Joes in Kupondole stand out is it's firm no smoking policy-not even if you lean out of the third floor window to blow smoke. "A coffee house can be a unique location for the young where they can study and get together, that is not in a smoky bar with a drink in hand," says Rajan Shahi. On Friday nights live music brings in the punters who lounge around with coffee brewed from Nepali beans. "Growing coffee is expensive because it takes at least five years before the first harvest and roasting is an expensive process for most Nepalis. With our own trademark we can promote export quality Nepali coffee."
So, in a strange turn of events an imported coffee culture will probably one day result in the export of Nepali coffee abroad, to sit beside beans from Colombia, Vietnam and Kenya.