The growing café culture in urban Bhutan

MAIN STORY:   THIMPHU – It’s grey, so grey, the weather. And cold. The city looks as though it’s been gripped by cold wave that’s sweeping across continents, leaving behind grim reality of fragile human lives.

But the weather is perfect for quite get-together. So cafés are filled with people young and old, chatting away over warm fire and drinks. Cafés are everywhere and become part of new urban culture.

Sonam Tshomo and Tshering Choden are at their café (Yummies) located in the heart of Thimphu city. The two graduates decided to open a café right after their graduation instead of looking for a job. With an intense love of coffee and good food, the two friends, who are actually cousins, decided to share this love through the café.

The spirited pair is busy preparing the day’s menu with their staff. One’s chopping the vegetables; the other’s got her hands on pastries. Muffins go good with coffee.

And the customers walk in. On the order slip is coffee with hoentey, a curious combination. But Yummies’ got all that. With a soft smile come coffee and hoentey on a cold day.

Sonam Tshomo, who sits behind the counter, says that with number of graduates increasing by the year, best option for young graduates is to start a business of their own instead of vying for a job in the civil service.

“We realized that opening a café was by far a better option. One can be one’s own boss and pursue one’s interest,” said Sonam Tshomo. “I don’t regret the decision one bit.”

Sonam and her friend opened the café in December 2014.

“It’s mainly due to western influence and exposure to different cultures that many Bhutanese have embraced the café culture today,” Sonam Tshomo said. “People find it more comfortable to hangout in the café with their friends, family and loved ones. They have become the best place to unwind after a tiring day.”

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A family at Yummies on a chilly day

About 10 minutes walk away from Yummies, near the Clock Tower Square, is another joint, Thija Café, the favourite place for tourists and elderly citizens. Warm and soft lights of the café are inviting. It’s got out-of-Thimphu look to it. The café serves all kinds of coffee combined with different flavours of ice cream and pastries. If one wants to try something different to taste, this is the place to come to.

Manager of the café, Nima Wangchuk, said the location is perfect because many youngsters hang out around the area.

“The surprising element is that besides youngsters elderly too come to the café,” Nima Wangcuk said. “People don’t mind spending on delicious meals.”

One can get suja, milk tea or masala tea anywhere in Thimphu, coffee culture is picking up. “With free wifi and fast and clean service, cafés are fast becoming best hangout places in town,” said Nima Wangcuk. Young people spend hours in cafés discussing issues private and public.

Thija was opened six months ago. It remains open seven days a week.

And there are few old favourites besides new cafés that are gaining popularity by the day. Ambient Café is one. It’s all modern and posh, located near the main traffic at Norzin Lam. It’s got a big space and comfortable setting. This is where most of the tourists and expatriates hang out. It’s got a mini library too!  There are reading materials aplenty there and customers can swap books.

Karma’s Coffee up in Hongkong market has a sign as you enter that says: “Give me coffee and nobody gets hurt”. It is a popular place for locals and tourists. It offers a wide selection of freshly brewed coffees, pastries and varieties of continental items.

Located next to the famous Swiss Bakery is the Art Café that offers a wide selection of coffees, pastries and dishes. The first café in Thimphu, Swiss Bakery, used to be the only hip place, recalls Tshering, who loves spending good amount of time in cafés.

“Art Café is my new favourite. Cafés provide a good and relaxing atmosphere. I enjoy going there to relax and to try out different types of food,” said Tshering.

 

Thinley Zangmo 


 

The first coffee plants came from the Horn of Africa. Native tribes would grind the coffee cherries together, mixing the paste with animal fat. Rolled into little balls, the mixture was used to give warriors energy for battle.

Coffee cultivation began in the 15th century. For many centuries, Arabia’s Yemen province was the world’s only source. The demand was very high, and beans leaving the Yemeni port of Mocha were highly guarded. No fertile plants were allowed to leave the country.

Despite the restrictions, Muslim pilgrims to Mecca smuggled coffee plants back to their homelands, and coffee crops soon took root in India.

Coffee also made its way to Europe through Venice, where fleets traded perfumes, teas, dyes and fabrics with Arabic merchants along the Spice Route. Many European merchants grew accustomed to drinking coffee overseas and brought it back with them. The beverage gained popularity when street vendors began selling it.

The demand for coffee ensured that it would flourish outside its original homeland. In the 17th century, the Dutch introduced it to their colonies in Indonesia, and the French were the first to start planting it in the Americas. Today, coffee is the second most traded commodity on the planet – only petroleum outranks it!

Courtesy: Starbucks, Australia


 

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