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The oldest café in Kolkata is perhaps Indian Coffee House. Two cups of coffee/tea and long hours of discussion, debate and bonding – or, as the Bengalis love to call it, ‘adda’ – is the definition of Indian Coffee House. The bond between the Bengali intelligentsia and Indian Coffee House has been eternally strong over the years. Indian Coffee House, with all its glorious past, still exists and the intelligentsia brigade still visits it, but with the influx of the new age cafés, a considerable amount of the attention has shifted. The newer generation perhaps does everything their predecessors used to do, but they do it in these new cafés rather than only depending on the long withstanding Indian Coffee House. The early signs of change were through Barista (now Lavazza) and Café Coffee Day, and soon others jumped onto the bandwagon. Like all other cities, these two chains have a significant presence in Kolkata; however, when in Kolkata, there are a few cafés worth exploring. These places are frequented by the youth and old alike and they stand out for their uniqueness in concept and offerings.
8th Day Café – This place is loved by coffee connoisseurs. The 8th Day Café at Park Circus has been one of the recent entrants into the café world with a nice collection of coffee beans, a handpicked menu of typical American bakery products such as cinnamon rolls and apple pies, freshly made salads and sandwiches and other titbits that have won the hearts of many. They have a great selection of teas from Darjeeling and Assam and some floral concoctions too. On some weekday nights, there are special events where a band or a stand-up comedy act performs. And just in case Grant Walsh, the owner of the café, is around, he will most likely take your order and suggest a few dishes with a smile.
Mrs Magpie – This one is a quintessential English tea room/café at Southern Avenue, with bright pastel shades of wallpaper and lots of fun cakes and pastries on display. Cupcakes are their strength, and they sell an assortment of cupcakes in different sizes and flavours. Their hot chocolate, home-made ice creams, typical high tea sandwiches, scones and the quiches are all quite inviting and mouth-watering.
Ornate – The Café Store – A tiny and cosy joint in Golpark, the place is run by an ardent coffee lover whose idea behind the café was to keep experimenting with coffees for himself and, in turn, offer them to his friends and other coffee lovers. The coffee beans are personally procured and they have some decent food to pair up with the brilliant coffee. Music is an integral part of this café and, most often, you will find special gigs by local groups. The added attraction is the decorative and exotic costume jewellery store on the top floor.
Abar Baithak – Nestled in one corner of Jodhpur Park, this café resembles a true chill-out zone. With the big bean bags, indoor and outdoor seating options, board games and a constant buzz of the essential ‘adda’ of the youth happening around, it is more than often that you do not realise how time flies. The very pocket-friendly menu consists of a good selection of teas from Darjeeling, a few flavoured teas, some cool coffees and a pretty engaging food selection of sandwiches, wraps and other finger foods. The chicken and the all meat platter are quite popular here.
Raj Spanish Café – Unknown to many, this is one jewel in the crown of the café world. It is situated in an obscure lane of Sudder Street, frequented by a lot of foreign travellers and the creative population of the city; this place has a charm of its own. They serve great freshly roasted coffee, a huge selection of pizzas with toppings of your choice, pastas, and Mexican and Spanish food. They have a healthy and hearty breakfast menu as well. While they have WiFi with some outdoor seating, one can spend hours here simply chatting while nibbling on the gorgeous food.
The Chaiwala – Another fairly new joint near Tollygunge metro station, this place is small but has a lot of character. The menu is in a newspaper format and is spellbinding. While there is an impressive selection of tea and coffee, the food menu is definitely more formidable. The double decker grilled chicken burger and the bacon wrapped cheese chicken burger are a must-try along with freshly baked dessert of the day.
Café Pranah – This place is very easily discoverable, as it is on the main road of Ballygunge Phari. A very different and holistic approach has made this café stand out from the others. The décor focuses on peace and tranquillity and menu focuses on health and nourishment. Steaming aromatic teas, beautiful infusions and some sublime ice teas to sip on, along with some low-calorie Indian and street food from all over the world to munch on, it may be low in oil but definitely tasty. One can customise sandwiches, salads and some wholesome wraps to truly appreciate the menu.
The Royal Bengal Tiger Café – This is a unique café tucked away in one by-lane of Tollygunge, with an indirect focus on the preservation of the Royal Bengal Tiger. They have dared to present the Kolkata street food in a stylised manner and they have done a great job. Indoor and outdoor seating, Kolkata street food, the famous Kolkata breakfast dishes such as luchi cholar dal, chicken dim sum and soup, puri subji and other refreshing accompaniments (e.g. the chicken and mutton mughlai paratha) are what define this place.
So what coffee for you?
A true blue Kolkata foodie, Anindya loves cooking and eating his Kosha Mangsho. Anindya weaves stories around food as he believes exceptional food is an emotional experience. Previously a restauranter, now a passionate photographer and traveller, he runs a successful blog called Pikturenama and contributes to other publications.