April 04, 2010

Indian Coffee House..going, going, gone?

I read an article on ICH and got surrounded by the wonderful aroma of the south Indian coffee. Coffee connoisseurs may argue to the contrary but I still think Indian coffee has the best taste.
The India Coffee House chain was started by the Coffee Board in early 1940s, during British rule. In the mid 1950s the Board closed down the Coffee Houses, due to a policy change. They were restarted in the 1950s as a workers' co-operative that supports south India's small coffee farmers. When I googled it, came across info on it that I never had bothered with all the while I ate there.for eg.I didn't know that Kerala has the maximum number of ICH, 51!!With nearly 400 of them across India, aren't they the first chain of coffee shops?

ICH-Indian Coffee House.. its's economical(I don't want to say "cheap") , its fast food and it serves home grown excellent strong coffee. Low on ambiance though, these are one of the remnants of the olden times, now slowly giving away to the new hip "starbucks" style coffee shops in all the big cities.

Never a fan of the over priced bitter coffee here itself, even though the ambiance is deceptively inviting and charming; I do feel a twinge of regret that the youngsters there now think it's okay to get charged 150 (how much exactly?)Rupees for a coffee ( that probably grows locally and hence shouldn't cost as high) at the new coffee shops.... that's coffee for you at Western prices. It's a welcome change  to have comfortable places to meet friends though the bill shouldn't set you back so much! I can't begrudge the change for the youngsters.. .I don't know how to say this without sounding hypocritical, but  does getting a coffee shop  like that up and running really cost that much? Not really! Couldn't the ICH's themselves shape up with the times?


See this writer supporting Indian Coffee Houses. According to him,"After having sampled the delights of coffee around the globe, I have come to conclude that there is only one place to drink it: India. And there is only one establishment to drink it in – the Indian Coffee House. There are around 160 branches throughout the country. I’ve visited branches in Shimla, Allahabad, Pondicherry, Calcutta, Trivandrum and many places beside and have never been disappointed. Whenever I visit a new place, one of the first things I do is find out whether there is an ICH in town."

                                              Photo Courtesy: World is round


I still love the spiralling turret shaped ICH in Trivandrum,  strategically located outside the Railway Station, where we used to go for a quick bite before boarding the train heading home, or after getting off the train, before heading out.  Good food, quick and easy..all the staples of local cuisine, but especially the veg cutlets.:)

The building was designed by the great Ar. Laurie Baker,  well known for designing  beautiful structures with masonry construction, creating privacy with brick jali walls, a perforated brick screen which invites a natural air flow to cool the buildings' interior, while creating intricate patterns of light and shadow inside. The coffee house has a walk that spirals upwards internally as you enter, and the seating is along the ramp, with the service core in the center....similar to the ramp in the Guggenhein Museum ...you walk viewing the exhibits without realizing that you are walking up a ramp and lo.. you are at the top looking down below.

After some more time, I guess the only people left frequenting these bastions will be the foodies, the foreigners, the expatriates and the travelers!  If only these places re-marketed themselves as the bright, open, ethnic, sustainable, locavore places, they would realize how unique they are. Then as a western concept, the idea would take off and everybody would swarm there.


Read this article in the Guardian, which sparked off my thoughts and see the video of a ICH.
Related Posts- ICH in Bangalore to close
Indian Coffee House

30 comments:

notyet100 said...

thnks for this

Sarah Naveen said...

Nice post mallu girl..
njan nattil poyittilla...thursday pokum :)

my husband is crazy about the coffee from indian coffee house , and we buy coffee powder from there every time we go...we were talking about ICH yesterday , when i saw his to do list back home...4 times a week "chumala masala dosa"(with beetroot and potato) (from indian coffee house, apart from the fact that he makes me to cook the same every week here...he is so addicted to it..
btw the pic of tvm ICH , brings back lot of good memories to both of us...

miri goes phishing! said...

Hi Malabar Spices....i love ICH too...we used to go to the ICH on M G Road in Bangalore on Sundays and what i used to love the most is the general pace of life inside. It feels like from the busy world you have stepped into some other planet. The waiters are so old and i'm sure has grown this old with the branch itself. Yeah, but i understand what you are saying, i wish they had changed with the times and improved the ambience a little...other than that i would change nothing about them..:)..this is a nice article..

Mythreyee said...

I saw this coffee house once in NDTV in a foodis show by two guys, I don't know their names. That is a great place to go. I definitely want to visit this place one day.

anudivya said...

They have this pineapple ice cream which I happen to love, don't know if they serve it anymore though.

crispus said...

wow..this is an gr8 post mallugal! I have heard so much abt the gr8 food and coffee from this place..back in the 70's i think, my uncles in college would frequent the ICH and when my aunt told me about the excellent coffee that u get there..hmmm i have always wanted to visit this place. I really wish the ICH would be marketed and hope they are still there when i visit India some time!..the video was nice and i OH so wish wish i cud have the porotta, dosa and coffee :(
Nothing here compares to our Indian coffee is true.

Sumi said...

Hey I remember going to this place several times, when we were put up fo a training in Trivadrum..it was almost 10 yrs back...nice place..brought back memories

Nupur said...

Great post! The pic of the building is very interesting, and yes, I hope they take your advice, brand themselves as the local and sustainable places that they are, and make a success of it.

If I remember correctly, ICH has a branch in the IISc campus, Bangalore; the coffee I remember drinking there (and the food) was amazing.

Mallugirl said...

Not yet100, have u been to any of the ICH?

Sarah,good idea, get me some too!!
though i hated the beetroot potato combo, have to try it now that ur hub is so crazy abt it. good memories?eh?:))

miri,i agree, there was a time warp in those places, like visitng your parent's hanuts. change would be good for the industry though.

mythree, that's what i mean..it shouldn't just be on TV!! it should the hang out place.:(

Anuvidya, pineapple icecream sounds good! at the TVM ICh?

Crispus, that porotta does look appetising, doesn't it? sometimes i think it may not be as good now, but the others comments are heartening.it's still a fav for a lot of people.

Jayashree said...

I love ICH masala dosas....those were a must-have during our visits to Guruvayur.

Myra said...

Lovely article,never knew that coffee was such a big thing in India, thought it was Tea?
thank you Shaheen for sharing X
150 ruppees for a coffee WOw !!!
Cool we have come back to the original posting comments :D
yours Myra x

sanjuice said...

My wife is from Trivandrum and every time we are there, we make it a point to go to ICH,opp Tvm station. It's a unique structure. I feel, we should, between ourselves strongly promote ICH on the net or WOM publicity and keep going to ICH's wherever they are in India. Old is after all gold! Two days back, I ordered Expresso Coffee (black) at CCD, Jodhpur Airport & got 50 ml for Rs.50/- (such a rip-off....black gold..eh??)

shankari said...

Never been to Kerala and never been to ICH- I am adding to my list. I want to go here, Cochin, the old jewish town..and the list goes on

AdukalaVishesham said...

thanks for this post.. We use to Visit ICH tvm when we were working there... My Dad introduced me to ICH.. He is a big fan and his fav is Masala Dosa...

starry said...

Interesting.I still love indian coffee and think it is the best.especially the madras coffee.

Aparna said...

The ICH does need saving. Its quite an institution in itself, though there's nothing fancy about the ambience or their service.
But then, they don't pretend to be anything else.

Despite this, we are staunch ICH fans. Where else can you get reasonably priced fresh, tasty and simple food these days> Yes, their coffee is very good too. :)

Mallugirl said...

jaysree, hmm.. masala dosas seem to be their speciality!! maybe i will get a chance to try it this time i go to India.

Nupur, it would be great if they could remarket themselves in a different vein. or is it only us who are still interested in all these oldies? u were at the IISc campus?interesting.

Myra, tea is the drink of choice but In the Southern India, its more coffee. or maybe an equal amount of supporters for both.

sanjeev, that is a rip off! how do we promote it amongst us? make a "i drink at ICH" button?

Mallugirl said...

shankari, u would like it. so when are you visiting? Mattanchery is on my list of places to visit too.

Starry, glad that u also like Indian coffee, yeah, madras coffee has that nice decotion chicory taste.

Aparna, u are right, its not the ambiance, its the institution and concept.. kind of like the udupis.. u go anywhere, if there is an ICH, u know u will get decent food.

AdukalaV, another masala dosa fan ,eh? :)) what else did u frequently eat from there?

sanjuice said...

Its all about positioning the Brand / Logo. We can do our little bit in our websites , blogs. Like you said make a I luv ICH button. Sperad the message through facebook...like I have added on my fb, the cute ICH video which came on www.guardian.co.uk Anything to promote ICH man! - Sanjeev Nair

sanjuice said...

BTW, wifey still goes ga ga over the Rose Milk she used to have at ICH Tvm when she was a kid !

sanjuice said...

Join us at http://www.lonelyplanet.com/groups/luv-indian-coffee

Spice Rack said...

Thank you for the wonderful post, I really love coffee and Indian foods, especially your spicy curry dishes. The herbs and spices are rally amazing, I also love your unique designed spice racks. India is a good place for trying new things such as foods and coffee.

cloud9ine said...

being far, it is easy to dismiss ICH and say it is facing extinction. Far from it. They have a huge number of customers and doing quite well.

No amount of starbucks popping up can kill that.

sahari said...

des anyone know how to get a franchise of ICH overseas? pls contact me on jake.rahim@gmail.com

RV said...

I love ICH, thou the ambience is not so inviting I like their food and coffee , Million times better than Starbucks

Nair said...

Are you from TVM? I love ICH's beef omlette, their meals and cutlet:-)

lan said...

cutlets and coffee.... a safe and open place that always welcomed regardless of which city you are in. need i say more? are they getting extinct??? i hope not. nice post.

Nasrajan said...

Wow..!! Such a nostalgic post. Have been to TVM ICH a few times. Everytime my menu is the same - Masala dosa & lime juice. Have heard that its instrumental in nurturing many talents of Kerala history in the 70's and 80's. All writers frequented the place for observing people, hot debates in many tables etc etc :-)

My most frequented ICH is CUSAT ICH though. Its more like a college canteen, except the waiters in Maharaja uniform :-)

marina said...

Hello,
Good insight on the coffee scenario in India.In fact, I'm an avid coffee lover and my husband gifted me Fresh And Honest Coffee Maker for my bdirthday. God Knows how many trips to the coffee houses the maker must have saved us. So i just wanted you to Checkout the type of machines that meet your business needs / personal machines for top corporate management or even your homes at http://www.fresh-honest.com/

Thanks
Marina Lobo

Anonymous said...

hey , I am visiting New Delhi,India for a month, I have heard about monsoon Malabar coffee from India, can anybody tell me where can I buy affordable good quality coffee beans (not ground)in India and how much it will cost in Indian Rupees.
Thanks
Robin