Formerly known as India Coffee House, Indian Coffee House once used to be a place where Indians were not allowed and was sadly a place of discrimination!
Founded by the Coffee Cess Committee in the late 1980s in Mumbai, Indian Coffee House is the very first coffee house in India that now has over 400 outlets across the country which were frequently visited by politicians, writers like Phanishwar Nath Renu, and poets such as Firaq Gorakhpuri. In fact, it was the place from where the breakfast of our former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi would be brought. But did you know it was also a place where Indians were not allowed to enter?
Even though coffee beans had arrived in the country in the 16th century by a Sufi mystic named Baba Budan, as per some records and many upper-class Indians enjoyed the drink, it wasn't very common. After the downfall of the Mughals and with the emergence of the Britishers in the country, the popularity of coffee had almost diminished.
But during the 20th century, it was back as the Britishers had started cultivating it in South India. The purpose of the same was to boost the export as well as local consumption. With time in Tamil Nadu, coffee even replaced Kanji which used to be the usual morning drink among the local people. According to a letter from an edition of Gandhiji’s Young India, it was also considered a fashionable drink.
"The greatest obstacle in the way of success to our [non-cooperation] movement in Madras are our women. Some of them are very reactionary, and a very large number of the high class Brahman ladies have become addicted to many of the Western vices. They drink coffee not less than three times a day, and consider it very fashionable to drink more"
In 1942, The Indian Government even set up a Coffee Board to promote coffee drinking and the sale of coffee seeds. But the very first coffee house named India Coffee House was finally established by a British government body Coffee Cess Committee in 1936 in Churchgate. Around 50 more such outlets of the same were opened in different cities at that time. The motto was to make it popular among Indians, but Britishers did the opposite and it discriminated against the natives by not allowing them to even enter, let alone enjoy a cup of coffee.
However, it changed after the Independence but the Coffee Houses were asked to shut down as the government had faced a massive loss due to some policies. Since this was going to lead to a loss of livelihood for many workers, The All India Coffee Board Labour Union stood up against it. Mr. A.K Gopalan, who was the leader of the union, reached out to the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru who advised him to form the Worker Co-Operative Societies.
After this, the coffee houses were revamped and inaugurated first in Bangalore and then in New Delhi. There were 14 new outlets in total and they all were renamed 'Indian Coffee House'. Gradually these outlets became a hub for important conversations and renowned poets like Firaq Gorakhpuri, filmmakers, activists, and political leaders were seen conversing, especially during the era of Emergency.
Today, there are 13 cooperative societies that run these coffee houses that are governed by managing committees elected by the employees and serving coffee and pocket-friendly food to the locals across the country.