Normally, when you (grudgingly, and with the right level of embarrassment) admit that you like your coffee black, with no sugar, in a nation of tea drinkers (preferably with enough milk to turn the complexion of the drink into a shade that would be acceptable to rishta aunties when screening prospecting spouses, and just as sweet), you are met with a response that would not feel out of place in that scene from a 70’s Nadeem – Shabnam blockbuster where the “side heroine” learns that her spouse has tragically died in a car accident, and proceeds to smash her bangles at the nearest doorway.
This disbelief is rapidly followed up with revulsion: it’s so bitter! How can you countenance pouring this poison down your throat? Plus, don’t you know coffee is bad for you?
As a result, it takes a special kind of resilience to be an avowed coffee drinker in these parts. It also takes skin of elephantine thickness to be able to smile through a conversation where others are proselytizing about the flavor profiles of various types of instant coffee, without needing months of therapy afterwards.
When the preferred drink of the coffee aficionado in your office is a latte, you know you are in the minority.
The upshot of this is, it isn’t easy to get a decent cup of coffee in this town, and even more so when you know what you are talking about. Thankfully, the last decade or so has seen television and movies play a role in making drinking coffee to be a desirable, Western choice (I shudder to think where we would be if “Friends” hadn’t been the phenomenon it was), and the number of places where one can get a cup of joe have reached a point where your choices aren’t limited to one or two mediocre offerings.
To acknowledge this journey, here’s a run-down of some of the places in Karachi where a decent cup of coffee may be obtained, and others to avoid:
Espresso: Going backwards by standing still
Espresso was the first “true” coffee shop in the city, and while others have fallen by the wayside, this brand continues to grow. But, while they diversify their dining offerings, the quality of the coffee leaves much to be desired. Anyone with even a bit of a palate will tell you that the coffee there tastes and smells ‘burnt’; the reason for this is that they use the cheapest beans available (a mix of the lower quality Robusta and the better tasting Arabica beans), and that comes through strongly in their flavor. If you want a nice cup of coffee, avoid this one.
Mocca: Pretty but inconsistent
Mocca, new to Karachi, has a nice vibe and good staff. They are also one of the few places which offer you the option of a French Press (the grounds steep for longer, bringing out more flavor). Unfortunately, the quality of their coffee is hit and miss. On a good day, fantastic. On a bad day, almost undrinkable. The French Press is normally good, though.
Pappa Roti: Speaking of undrinkable…
I’ve only ordered coffee from here once, and that was enough. The chai and caramel bun place is rightly not known for its tea; the coffee was basically warm water with a vague flavor in the background, which could have been a distant memory of a coffee bean.
Dunkin Donuts: Buyer Beware
Generally speaking, Dunkin outlets have a decent, fairly drinkable drip coffee (it’s a percolated coffee so don’t expect gourmet awesomeness). However, be warned: some of the outlets have those horrible Allegria machines that use instant coffee (and that too the lowest quality possible) to simulate a proper coffee experience. Ask before ordering, the staff is always truthful.
Lal’s: Not just for chocolate
Lal’s is one of those places which has really expanded its repertoire nicely. All of its outlets serve a decent cup of coffee; it’s a darker roast, so not the best for subtlety of flavor, but certainly drinkable and consistently well made.
Butlers: Sweet Departures
Other countries have Starbucks and Costa in their departure lounges; we have Butlers. The Irish (I think) franchise may get brickbats on social media for food hygiene issues, but their outlets at Karachi airport are a life saver for early morning commuter flights. Another dark roast, and another chain where the consistency is maintained.
FLOC: New kid on the block
Probably the most promising one in the lot. A wide variety of coffees, beans that have been especially selected for flavor, and the only one (that I know of) with a selection of cold brew coffees. For a coffee affectionado, this place has to rank highly, as it most closely evokes the spirit of micro roasteries in the West.
Gloria Jeans: Verging on the inglorious
Aussie chain Gloria Jeans opened with a bang, and is one of the few places that has an outlet outside of the Clifton / Defence ‘bubble’. Their coffee is less than great, though, and the less said about the food, the better.
Top restaurants = top coffee
Go to any of the high-end restaurants in the city, And you are more or less guaranteed a decent cup of coffee. I include in this category the higher end cafés, such as Mews and Xanders, where people go for breakfast, or a meal, rather than for a cup of coffee. Special mention in this space goes to Flo, Okra and Loco, where the coffee really stands out. The brew is, understandably, a dark post-dinner coffee flavor, and really works extremely well after a nice meal. One aberration is the Siphon Coffee at Aylanto. While their espresso-based drinks are good, this was really weak and under-developed; which is basically the converse of the outcome that should happen.