Coffee is a sweet rather than bitter affair for ‘coffee guy’ Mithilesh Vazalwar
Q Grader, Coffee Roaster, Barista - Call him what you may, but Mithilesh Vazalwar prefers being called ‘the coffee guy’. At the forefront of bringing Indian single-origin coffee to the world market, by adopting international best practices of roasting & brewing, this ‘coffee guy’ feels it’s about time Indian coffee got its due on a global platform.
Life Before Coffee
Brought up in Nagpur, Mithilesh has been a national level Badminton player and was one of the Top 10 Badminton players of India. His father is a Chartered Accountant and his mother was a distributor for Tupperware for the Vidharbha region. Not surprisingly, at home it was mom’s Masala Chai and not coffee that was everyone’s favorite including his own.
His tryst with coffee began in the corridors of his school. He remembers being fascinated by the smell of freshly brewed coffee made for the school staff that would fill his school corridors. While travelling for championships, Mithilesh would try coffees from different parts of the world and this made him more interested in coffee. He remembers tinkering with home coffee brewing machines; experimenting and trying out different things but never imagined that this would become his career one day.
Health issues and sport injuries forced him to take a break from Badminton. Having trained as a Chartered Accountant, he pursued that for some time. Talking about grappling with health issues and being in a career he didn’t really relate to, Mithilesh says, “That period was difficult for me, it changed my perspective in life and made me realize that this is not what I am made for. I needed to find something I could wake in the morning for”.
Finding His Calling
While in Australia for work, Mithilesh decided to do the Barista Level 1 & 2 course at the Australian School of Coffee. Once back, he joined the Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters in Delhi and worked there for 1.5 years, eventually becoming the Head Roaster and conducting training programs for other roasters and home brewers.
In coffee, he found his calling. He decided to approach his dad with the idea of doing something in the space, but he adds, “I wanted to first educate myself completely and then start something rather than starting with ‘half roasted knowledge’".
Joining The Ranks & Becoming A ‘Q Grader’
In May ‘17 he was certified as a ‘Q grader’ by Quality Coffee Institute, in Melbourne, which requires a person to pass 22 tests before certifying them. Over the course of the 5 days there, Mithilesh had cupped about 700-800 different coffees. ‘Cupping’ in coffee means evaluating coffee on its Taste, Smell, Defects and Scoring the same. To put it into perspective, there are only about 25 ‘Q Graders’ in India and he is one of them. A rare feat for someone so young.
But as Mithilesh has proven, he isn’t a stranger to achievements.
Recently, he represented India at the World AeroPress Championship in Seoul, where he competed with coffee experts from 60 countries and cupped close to 400 coffees.
In Jan, he is set to talk as a Guest Speaker at the India International Coffee Festival 2018 to be held in Bangalore.
A couple of months back he launched his own venture in Nagpur called the ‘Corridor Seven Coffee Roasters’, a roastery, shipping and supplying freshly roasted Indian coffee to home brewers, cafes, offices, restaurants and hotel chains.
Corridor Seven Coffee Roasters – Promoting Single-Origin Coffee From India
The name of his new venture, Corridor Seven Coffee Roasters, is a testament to the memory of his school corridors. The ‘seven’ refers to the beginning of coffee growing in India in the 17th century, when the Indian Muslim saint, Bada Budan smuggled seven coffee beans from Yemen and planted them on the Chandragiri Hills in the Chikmagalur district.
Through his venture, he hopes to popularize Indian coffee in the world. “The farmers in India are extremely hardworking and have not got their long-due recognition. Consumers deserve some real good coffee too, by real I mean - freshly Sourced, Roasted and Brewed.” All his packs contain information about the farmers and the estates the beans are sourced from along with the roasting dates.
From Bitter To Sweet – Dispelling Notions
One of the things he wants to do is demonstrate to people the different ways to roast and brew coffee. In his roastery, he offers three different types of roasts; light, medium, and dark. “The Indian palette is exposed to the dark roasts, which is more bitter. I want to say, don’t just associate coffee with bitterness, there is a lot more to coffee. There are about 830 naturally found flavors in coffee”.
Mithilesh has conducted coffee roasting and brewing workshops across Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, and Nagpur. His main aim is to dispel the notion that black coffee is unpalatable, “I tell people in my workshops, that we are going to make and taste a lot of black coffee and it’s not going to give you stomach acidity or a dizzy rush. I always get unbelieving looks, but at the end of the workshops people are amazed at how non-bitter the whole experience was”.
Shaping The Future For Indian Coffee
“My career gives me the opportunity to meet amazing people with a sound background in global coffee practices that help me implement the same in my trade”, says Mithilesh. He has trained under greats such as Alexandru Niculae - World Coffee Roasting Champion, 2016; coffee legend, Simon James; and renowned Roasting Consultant, Anne Cooper, who invited him to be a part of her coffee roasting workshop, a highly sought-after program, when she saw his interest and dedication.
“Indian coffee is growing with such positivity. It’s amazing to see the flavors and tastes coming out and how the farmers are experimenting basis the feedback they get. Through Corridors Seven we also offer Coffee education for those who are keen on pursuing a career in Coffee I want to see more roasters enter the market, with a better feedback chain back to the farmers and healthy competition for all”, he says.