Introducing Nel – a barista, coffee roaster, and the founder of Cuppa City. She roasts freshly harvested green coffee beans and brews them into a delicious beverage. As an SCA-certified coffee roaster, she has in-depth knowledge of espresso brewing techniques and taste evaluations.
Nel’s product Palmy ra Caffe is India’s first community-backed coffee project. An innovative take on cold brew coffee, her coffee drink is naturally sweetened with neera ( a sap extracted from toddy palms), Nel believes its time for Indian makers to create their coffee inventions, much like the filter coffee
Cuppacity’s new innovative drink – Palmy ra Caffe is now EXCLUSIVELY available on Gloo! Check out our campaign page and become an early backer of Palmy ra Caffe to win exciting rewards
To better understand Nel’s journey with coffee below is a short conversation with our Maker of the Month
Interview with Founder and Chief Coffeeist of Cuppa City, Nell!
Tell us your story, where you come from and how did your journey begin?
I have always been a creative person with a flair for storytelling. So I decided to major in English and started my career in writing and journalism. While writing was my love, I soon realized it wasn’t challenging enough. Naturally, I ventured into advertising and marketing. Today I have over 20 years of experience in the corporate space. When I went into advertising, the internet was not the norm, I used to hand-design pamphlets and deliver them door to door. The experience gave me critical skills of persistence and resilience. Gradually, after I moved to the states I began working on digital marketing and entered the digital space.
Wow, Nell, you went from marketing to opening Cuppa City. I have to ask, why coffee?
Back when I was in India, coffee meant instant coffee. Like everyone else, I drank instant coffee during exams or overnight study sessions. But when I moved to Seattle, I got a bag of coffee beans for free, and I had no idea what to do with it. One of my friends gave me his old basic espresso machine to brew that one bag of coffee, and since then there was no turning back. I started reading more and more about coffee, I began to experiment with different brewing methods. I started a blog on coffee to pen down my coffee journey, this was 9 years ago.
How did you go from writing a blog on coffee to becoming an experienced Barista and a roaster?
Coffee became my passion; I loved brewing it and experimenting with different apparatus. Whenever I began brewing coffee, my family, friends, or colleagues would love the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. People would come sniffing around, asking for the coffee place. They used to be shocked when I told them I brewed it myself. It was all the encouragement I needed, and I started working as a Barista on weekends. The USA has a huge brunch culture. Because of it, I was able to learn a lot and received training from both the Barista in the coffee shop and the brand they sourced the coffee beans. The bean seller taught me how to brew coffee in a way that would make sure the flavors of the beans are reflected perfectly in the cup.
To brew the perfect cup of coffee, it needs to be appropriately roasted. Instead of relying on others, I began learning how to roast my beans. I got a small roaster and began roasting.
What made you want to start your own coffee venture?
I think in the back of my mind, I always knew I wanted to do something with coffee. When I was shifting my house, looking at all the coffee equipment’s I had accumulated over the years, the movers asked me if I sold coffee. I said, no. They went on to ask if I had any other sort of coffee business, and again I said no. But it got me thinking, I think it was the push I needed for.
Why did you decide to start your entrepreneurial coffee journey in India? Tell us about ‘Cuppa City’
I knew that if I wanted to enter the specialty coffee space, Indian markets were the best place. While the market in the United States was already saturated, the Indian coffee industry was blooming since 2015. People were getting accustomed to specialty coffee through Starbucks and other franchises, and they wanted to try it out. Additionally, there is a gap in the relevance of the products sold by multinational coffee chains in India. Say for example pumpkin latte sold in October, while that makes sense abroad, it’s scorching hot in India. The spicy drink loses its sensuality in the October heat.
This is when I decided to return to India and start my coffee venture. In 2017, my first coffee-based brew “Pearly Oat Cold Latte” was launched in the market. It is an oat milk-based brew, which is sweetly refreshing and has the perfect punch. Cuppa City was launched in July 2021. Rooted in India, the venture is built on doing social good, sustainable practices, and planet-friendly packaging. My primary goal is to be transparent in the way we trade and to honor and respect the producers we work with.
You were inspired to brew Palmy ra Caffe on a hot summer day, right?
You are correct; I did get the idea for Palmy ra Caffe on a hot summer day when I was drinking Neera. As a staunch environmentalist and a sustainability supporter, I strive to use recyclable material, with minimal waste. I wanted my brews to have the lowest amount of artificial stabilizers and emulsifiers. It was the main reason I choose oat milk as the base for Pearly Oat Cold Latte. However, oats are not a natural crop for India, so I decided to opt for something local for the next Cuppa city brew.
Neera is made from Toddy palms which are a native species to the western region of Maharashtra. It is a very useful plant with no wastage. To make the product more holistic, the Neera packets are sourced from a small cottage industry approved by the government of Maharashtra. Additionally, 5% of all Cuppa City sales go to Women on wings, an NGO empowering rural women.
You are also an SCA-certified roaster, so will you be personally analyzing the bean quality and taste profile for Palmy ra caffee?
After years of researching, writing, and brewing coffee, I know the correct questions to ask. Not only do I have all the necessary experience in brewing and roasting coffee, I know the coffee growing parameter that affects the flavor. Most people believe that geographical conditions affect bean taste, but there are many other things to consider. Today when I ask the coffee estate about the moisture content of the beans, and the growth temperature, I know the impact these factors have on the taste. Beans sourced for all the products sold under the Cuppa City banner are carefully selected and brewed for maximum taste and flavor.
What Have Been the Biggest Challenges Running a Coffee-Based Company in India?
During my 20 years of experience in corporate, I have dealt with B2B ventures. I have since realized business with customers is very different, here you have to get in their headspace. Once a customer loves your brand it becomes a habit, but until then, you need to be visible and imbibe yourself in their minds. Being a holistic coffee venture, to reduce the carbon footprint I source my beans from coffee estates in India. But people in India associate specialty coffee with Colombia or Africa and not India.
When it comes to coffee, are people more selective than ever? And if so how does Palmy ra Caffe fit in it, Nell?
After I launched the first of my products and started conducting events, people often complained about the bitterness of coffee. In India, people have a notion that coffee on its own is bitter. I used to offer people chocolate-covered coffee beans, just to make them realize that the bean is not bitter when they crunch it. Over these past two years I have focused on creating content to engage and educate people about coffee and its various flavors All my coffee brews aim at creating a sweet, delicate coffee taste, with enough punch and that’s where Palmy Ra fits in.
What are your thoughts on Gloo’s approach to supporting passionate makers in the Community?
The Gloo approach is very unique. As a business owner, getting the perfect customers is very important. The Gloo community offers you helpful, very specific suggestions which help you take your business to the next level. It’s not just about the funds, there are multiple other small tasks that you have to put in, and the Gloo patrons help you with them.
Cuppacity’s new innovative drink – Palmy ra Caffe is now EXCLUSIVELY available on Gloo! Check out our campaign page and get to become one of the early backers of Palmy ra Caffe