One of the one per cent in 13 million.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He fills the jug with cold milk, checks the temperature on the thermometer (it should be 32 F) and keeps the jug aside. He switches on the espresso machine and brews the ground coffee into the white primo cup, then turns on the steam muzzle and fills the milk jug with foam. After banging (breaking the air bubbles) and swirling (mixing the froth), he pours the milk into the primo cup and sprinkles chocolate powder on the top. Cappuccino is ready to be served.
Ajeet Singh Chauhan, 28, has made the morning’s first coffee. The Delhi Walla meets him at a Costa Coffee outlet in Green Park, South Delhi. It is raining outside. A lanky man with a shy smile, Mr Chauhan is flying to Dubai next week for the regional finals of the ‘Barista of the Year’ competition, a championship that the international coffee chain outlet is conducting to select its best barista. Barista is the Italian word for ‘bartender’ and is used for a person who makes and serves coffee. Mr Chauhan was chosen after winning the India round. If he cracks it in Dubai, he will go to London in October for the final Champion of Champions round. If he reaches the top, who knows… he may buy a car and stop commuting in EMU trains and DTC buses.
Till five years ago, however, our coffee man had never tasted a cappuccino. “I had my first cappuccino on August 4, 2009,” he says. “This was the first day of my first job in a coffee chain.” Then Mr Chauhan was in Bahrain, a tiny Middle-East monarchy. This was his first sojourn abroad and it came after much resistance from his parents who live in a village called Atohan in Palwal, a district 50 kms from Delhi. “My family feels odd about my profession. We are jaats (traditionally a farming community considered very conservative). It is very tough for me to explain what I’m doing to Papa and Maa.”
There weren’t many opportunities in Mr Chauhan’s village, where his father farms over three acres of land. The future barista grew up in Faridabad at the home of his chacha (uncle). Faridabad, technically a city in Haryana, is across the border from Delhi. Today it has malls and multiplexes but when Mr Chauhan was attending a school there, it was a dusty town. There were no cafes and Mr Chauhan never tasted anything more sophisticated than what could be brewed from instant cofee sachets, which his aunt would make for him on special occasions. Unlike now, he was also not fluent in English. After finishing school, he enrolled in a management institute in Gurgaon, Delhi’s neighbouring city famous for its malls and high rises. “My dream was to become an executive in a multinational company in Gurgaon, but then I got a part-time job in a Pizza Hut outlet in Faridabad and I drifted towards the hospitality industry.”
Once Mr Chauhan’s parents came to visit him at the pizza outlet. “They saw me from outside the glass wall. I was wiping forks and knives. I gestured, asking them to come in but they refused. Later, papa said, ‘Beta, what do you think you are doing?’”
So, what was his reply?
“I said, ‘Papa, it’s my choice.’”
Mr Chauhan was not the best student during his coffee-making training. “I was the last to learn the tricks. Once I burnt my hand. See the mark here.” Showing the back of his right hand, he says, “In my first outlet, I learnt how to make coffee, what it actually is and what exactly is a coffee bean.”
Mr Chauhan was chosen the best barista among his coffee chain’s India outlets after he created the ‘Dates & Figs Frescato’. “I hadn’t even heard the word ‘frescato’ till I joined my company.” His parents are probably still unaware. They prefer chai. “No, my folks don’t call it chai,” says the barista. “It’s chaa, very milky and very sugary.”
[This is the 28th portrait of the Mission Delhi project]
Pour the milk
No big froth bubbles, please
Three cheers to the Barista