How South Asians Transformed the Bay Area Coffee Culture

Pujit Siddhant

Jun 25 2024

<div style=' background:#FFFFFF;color:#000000;font-family:Verdana;width:auto;padding:5px;max-height:100%;'><span><p>Indian coffee has recently gained popularity in San Francisco, driven by a dedicated group of South Asian coffee enthusiasts. The Bay Area is experiencing a growth in South Asian coffee culture, led by individuals like Anand Upender, whose coffee pop-up, York Street Cafe, offers unique drinks such as cardamom lattes and milk-washed teas. Upender’s mission is to highlight Indian flavors and culture through coffee, breaking away from traditional career paths typically expected in his community.</p><p>Upender is a key figure in the South Asian coffee movement. He often collaborates with Roaming Bean Coffee at events like the Night of Ideas, where he introduces patrons to Indian-inspired beverages. His background is in technology, but his passion for coffee has led him to explore new frontiers in the beverage industry. Upender’s drinks are based on recipes from his family, blending traditional Indian ingredients with modern coffee techniques.</p><p>This South Asian coffee revolution is a collective effort. Upender is part of a group of South Asian beverage entrepreneurs in the Bay Area who communicate through WhatsApp, organizing pop-ups and events. This collective includes individuals like Jasraj Singh Sangha of Roaming Bean Coffee, who incorporates Punjabi hospitality into his coffee business. Sangha’s coffee cart business emphasizes community and conversation, mirroring the coffee culture of his birthplace in Punjab.</p><p>This movement is part of a larger trend where South Asian and Indian beverage businesses are emerging globally. For example, Chaiiwala in the UK and Kolkata Chai Co. in New York are popularizing traditional Indian drinks. The late chef Floyd Cardoz and his wife, entrepreneur Barkha Cardoz, launched the Cardoz Legacy Collection, bringing loose-leaf masala chai to a wider audience. These businesses are reclaiming and promoting traditional Indian beverages on an international stage.</p><p>In the Bay Area, the South Asian coffee scene remains grassroots, more like a hip-hop collective than an organized campaign. Upender and his colleagues are working to bring greater awareness to Indian coffee culture. Indian-born residents are the largest immigrant population in Santa Clara and Alameda counties, contributing to the region's diverse cultural landscape.</p><p>The history of Indian coffee dates back to 1670, when Sufi religious pilgrim Baba Budan smuggled coffee beans from Yemen into India. This led to the establishment of coffee plants in Karnataka, a region now known for its coffee production. Today, Indian coffee houses and coffee culture continue to thrive, particularly in southern India.</p><p>In the Bay Area, coffee businesses like Kaveri Coffee Works, founded by Tanya Rao, are showcasing Indian-grown beans. Rao, a third-generation coffee roaster from Karnataka, imports beans to create unique blends. She is part of a broader movement of South Asians in the Bay Area who are passionate about coffee and are bringing their cultural heritage to their businesses.</p><p>Masala chai also plays a significant role in the Bay Area's South Asian beverage scene. Elaichi Co., located near UC Berkeley, offers chai and other South Asian-inspired drinks. The owners, Muhammad “Mojo” and Zainab Joyo, view their company as a celebration of Pakistani drinks and culture while supporting other South Asian pop-up owners.</p><p>This burgeoning coffee culture in the Bay Area represents a blending of traditional Indian flavors with modern coffee practices. Entrepreneurs like Upender and Rao are at the forefront of this movement, introducing unique beverages and fostering a sense of community. As more South Asians bring their heritage into the coffee world, the Bay Area is becoming a hub for innovative and culturally rich coffee experiences.</p><span></div>

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