Feeling Brew? Go For A Cup Of Coffee In The Hills

We take a look at how the drink fares in the hill stations up north
For representation
For representationShutterstock

There's something ineffable about rainy evenings in the hills. If you're a traveller here, staying tucked inside isn't possible once the sun has begun its downwards 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 isn't occupied. 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).

Shiva cafe in Mcleodganj
Shiva cafe in Mcleodganjspicydilli/Instagram

During the daytime, when the 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 the peculiarities of my hardened palate as she does.

Indian Coffee House in Shimla
Indian Coffee House in Shimladelhifoodwalks/Instagram

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 has little in the way of variety in the northern parts. As a friend once remarked about her favourite cuppa served at a Dharamshala café, "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 from 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.

Landour Bakehouse in Landour
Landour Bakehouse in Landourchaudharynitin016/Instagram

Coffee in the northern parts might not get artisanal and heirloom-y like down south where the Robustas and the Arabicas rule the roast, but it does promise experiences beyond just the sweet and piping hot. The espresso at Landour Bakehouse in Sisters’ Bazaar, Mussoorie is one of the finest one can sample in these parts—just the right kind of sweet—and can be enjoyed at one of the tables by a window affording views of the gorgeous deodars. This serene café/eatery with an increasingly recognizable front, thanks to Instagram, is known better for its teas and hot chocolate, but I keep imagining curious strangers often come looking for an affogato from far-off places.

Moonpeak Espresso in Mcleodganj, a one-of-its-kind gallery-style eatery offering unbelievably good brews
Moonpeak Espresso in Mcleodganj, a one-of-its-kind gallery-style eatery offering unbelievably good brewsmoon.peak/Instagram

The Tibetan settlement of McLeodganj offers plenty of opportunities for espresso fans. Walk over to the Temple Road and step inside Moonpeak Espresso, a one-of-its-kind gallery-style eatery offering unbelievably good brews—if the titular espresso promises a subtle zing to your palate, the uncomplicated macchiatos and cappuccinos aren’t too far behind. The whole point of sipping black coffee in the hills up north is how they prove a foil to the easy-on-the-eye visuals so that they may stimulate one to think better. As for myself, I often employ the potent Americano to wash down a heavy meal (rolls, pastries and the like). The brew you get at the cutesy Coffee Talk, also on Temple Road, is quite full-bodied and strong.

Convinced for years by an acquaintance from Chennai who I know solely through Twitter, I find it difficult to shake off the belief that to think I can have decent filter coffee in these parts could be a little naïve. But earlier this year, en route to Dharamsala via Palampur with the latter’s rolling tea estates, I stopped for snacks at the cabin-in-the-woods-style café called Cliffy’s (but only just off the road). Given that they specialise in south Indian with a modern café spin, I did the unthinkable. Froth in place? Check. Nice, tantalising rings of dark brown on the top? Check. Is the aroma overpowering enough to risk scalding the tongue? Check.

Served in a thick glass mug, with the cream floating nicely on top, the Irish Coffee in Kasauli stays loyal to the deep, rich flavour of the recipe
Served in a thick glass mug, with the cream floating nicely on top, the Irish Coffee in Kasauli stays loyal to the deep, rich flavour of the recipeyogini_in_making/Instagram

My personal favourite happens to be Irish coffee—in fact, such is my reverence for it that I make sure not to have it more than twice a year. I especially savoured the one I had in the tiny hippie establishment in the middle of Kasauli’s Heritage Market. Served in a thick glass mug, with the cream floating nicely on top, the Irish here stays loyal to the deep, rich flavour of the recipe. The black coffee beneath the moderately-sweet cream top was almost a stimulating tonic that washed down the unhealthy snacks we tucked into before at the market.

Talking of imports, Manali’s quaint, well-concealed Kilta Café, with its Turkish/Greek and Brazilian coffee, can give the fanciest establishments a run for their money. You see, coffee isn’t just in the cups here—the aroma of freshly roasted beans hangs thick in the air. Even as you sip your creamy mocha, your nostrils will get their fair share of its best parts. Unlike the everyday northern Indian hill café, Kilta has won approval from the snootiest of coffee aficionados, thanks to its exquisite, handcrafted brews. The cramped coffee shop, located in the Aleo area in Manali, is run by an amicable American in turn married to coffee. Kilta, their labour of love, also serves some fine machine-brewed coffee (breve and bonbon); everything is dirt cheap.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Outlook Traveller