Driving to India’s largest coffee growing region in Southern Karnataka in a Hyundai Kona Electric makes for an aromatic getaway, as we discover...
The scenery on my way from Bangalore changed dramatically once I entered the lush green scapes filled with swirling mists. Busy highways turning into narrow winding lanes and commercial activity making way first for paddy fields and then hills dotted with the monsoon waterfalls and sprawling plantations. What looked obvious is that Coorg is a blessed land and the star is coffee (from all my pre-travel research and reading). But it’s also home to a variety of spices growing in this tiny region – pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, clove and even honey. And in my search for chai in the coffee dominated hills, I was looking forward to be taken by surprise.
Here in the hills of Kodagu (Coorg) as the locals call it, my companion is Hyundai’s Kona EV for this episode of Chai with Hyundai. I’ve managed to drive just shy of 300 kms on a full charge from Bangalore airport to discover some recommended and undiscovered spots for chai and of course coffee!
With a few hours to go before sunset, we decided to first stop by a modern café in Siddapur by the name of Riverside Coffee. The drive through some winding sections of single lane roads was rewarding thanks to the tight handling nature of the Kona. I was perfectly cocooned inside but with the monsoon weather I simply rolled the window panes down, and that helped save some juice in the battery for later. And boy, the Kona’s compact dimensions helped in manoeuvring easily across narrow roads and by lanes of Coorg.
Once at riverside coffee, we opted to try their premium robusta roast of coffee by ordering a cup of Nous Nous (translates to half and half - it’s half milk and half espresso). Here Nous Nous was served in a cutting chai glass cup, with hot milk added first into the glass and then a shot of espresso coffee piercing through the foamy milk centre, to perfectly define two separated levels at almost the centre. With coffee at the bottom and the light and airy milk on top, it was a visual delight. Coffee felt strong, with some caramelly notes and I sipped through it pretty quick. Interestingly this place has been growing its own coffee for over 35 years! A game of foosball followed through before we decided to call it a day.
Bylakuppe, one of the several Tibetan settlements in India was our next destination the following day. Here’s a fun fact – Bylakuppe which was set up in 1961, happens to be one of the largest settlements of Tibetans in India, only next to Dharamsala. We visited the Namdroling Monastery or the famous Golden temple with a 60 feet tall gold-plated statue of Buddha inside, as well as a teaching centre for Buddhism, and were left in awe.
Post our visit, we happened to cross a quaint café by the name of Nambling café, and we were being served by some very talented and hardworking Buddhist disciples. I decided to try the ‘butter tea’ or Tibetan tea – a concoction of milk, butter, salt and of course – Chai patti! One sip and it didn’t taste even close to your average roadside masala chai with a sweet kick. It was warm, salty and almost buttery, and felt ideal to sip on if I was suffering from a cold! My videographer’s cold coffee with ice cream suddenly felt more tempting.
Driving back to the Evolve Back Resort for our final stop, it was the planned stop to juice up the Kona’s batteries thanks to an AC charger installed inside their parking premises.
This local hospitality option offers coffee plantation walks and trails that have you immersed in the native experience. In fact, it was nothing short of a treat to all five senses. We stopped by the reading lounge to order a good ole cappuccino while I soaked in the rains trip-trapping on the roof and the 300 acres of coffee plantations surrounding this place. Coffee served was warm, super smooth to sip on despite a freshly ground dark roast of Robusta beans cultivated in-house used to prepare this. It had a strong bitter taste to it with a woodier aftertaste.
And post this tryst with Chai and caffeine in two such diverse places, I was raring to go with my energy peaking, that I simply decided to hit the deep blue waters of the inviting pool in the resort. The Kona electric was left to juice up to a 100 percent overnight for my 300 km journey back, and its boot felt adequate for this trip. The silence while driving seemed to complement so beautifully this natural forest abode leaving me, the chai and coffee lover, a deeply satisfied soul. Be sure to stick around to the Top Gear India YouTube channel for more episodes.