Nepali Times
Roasted in Nepal

"Nescafe is the enemy here," firmly declares Peter Graif, a partner and main coffee roaster for the smart new Café Society located next to the European Bakery, near the RBB bank building in Baluwatar.

The tiny storefront currently offers eight different varieties of imported single-origin beverages from some of the finest coffee-producing areas in the world-Bali, Guatemala, Yemen, Ethiopia and more. Sales are by the bag or by the hand-pressed cup of cappuccino, espresso, or straight coffee. Prices are comparable to the other high-end coffee outfits in town.

The stated goal of Caféé Society is to introduce Kathmandu and Nepal to the international standard and taste of fine coffee, and to produce a perfect cup for every customer. All of the beans are sourced from the farmers themselves and shipped, unroasted, to Nepal.

Graif and his partner in the venture, Surendra Shrestha, have built a custom roaster - a jumbled contraption of fans, wires, and clay that allows them to roast all the beans themselves, to exacting standards. Once roasted, every cup of coffee is prepared from freshly hand-ground beans and pressed through a hand-operated espresso press. The result is a painstakingly perfect shot of jet-black espresso topped by nearly a centimeter of golden crema. The attention to detail is astounding-even the cups are washed in mineral water to keep the flavour pure.

And pure it is. The coffees have a depth of flavour and aroma that rival a very expensive wine. They demand to be sipped slowly, to be savoured, their flavours floating along the back of the tongue. Some varieties of beans are described as having 'brightness' in the taste, others as producing 'a dark brooding cup.'

Making a handmade cup of coffee does take time. Be prepared to spend a few minutes waiting for your fix, especially if there are people ahead of you in line. It's definitely worth it.

Conspicuously missing from the menu is coffee grown in Nepal. When pressed about this, Graif replies, "there is a lot of potential for coffee in Nepal, but it'll take some time for us. Most Nepali coffee is sold on a commodity scale, and I'm still looking for the right Nepali coffee." It becomes obvious, talking to the Café- Society folks, that they see this as a long-term project. By showing how good coffee can really be, they hope to bring the production here up to that level.

"We want to change people's palates and expose Nepal to the best the world has to offer. For coffee production to succeed here, there needs to be a culture of coffee, and that culture needs to come from international exchange," says Graif.

Some of the menu descriptions are a touch on the lyrical side. Tasting the Yemen/Ethiopia blend did not feel 'like eating a bar of bittersweet chocolate in a field of wildflowers.' But it felt like I was drinking really fantastic coffee early in the morning, as Kathmandu was beginning to wake up. The flavours were wrapped around the plying taxis, the temple bells, the lokgit quiet on the radio. That was good enough.

Ben Ayers

Update: Another branch of Café Society with more extensive seating is opening this week directly above Nhuchhe's Organic Bistro between Bhatbateni and Baluwatar.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)