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SUNDAY TIMES - A bagful of soulful coffee to start your day

Pix by Amila Gamage

“When we started we wanted to shake up the coffee industry,” admits Rinosh Nasar, enthusiastically seconded by his university friend and head of marketing-Rameez Abdeen. Rinosh first launched “Soul Coffee” back in 2014 aspiring toward crafting the age-old pick me up beverage into an art, rooted in Sri Lanka’s 200-year coffee drinking history. Earlier this month, Soul Coffee launched their newest addition to their caffeinated menu- coffee bags.

Soul Coffee’s brews begin their journey in the Lankan hills, using environmentally safe methods by smallholder farmers. Since their introduction to the local gastronomic scene, their trendy, creamy coffee coloured tins have found a home on the shelves of Keells Super outlets, ODEL, the Cakery and Café Kumbuk as well as supplying many hotels.

The start-up has since launched an island-wide delivery service and found their coffee enjoyed abroad in countries such as Canada and Sweden. They were attracting a certain kind of clientele, Rinosh notes. “We noticed the people coming were somewhat coffee connoisseurs.” While he was used to his customers’ “We love your coffee” comment, the young entrepreneur found that while coffee is essentially a morning must-have, the time to sit and enjoy a cuppa is a luxury.

The build-up to the coffee bag took a while. Initially he thought of making a simpler coffee machine, “but it would have still required cost, time, etc.”  Then in 2015, he considered trying a different spin on the tea bag. “It’s such an amazing invention” but merely switching the insides wasn’t as easy as it initially seemed. “Unlike with tea, coffee needs to be in an airtight, sealed bag.” They had to consider the taste and texture of the grounds, the packaging, and the sceptical reactions they received. “When we told our supply chains that we wanted to produce coffee bags they thought we were mad,” the two laugh. After much research and seven experiments, the coffee bags were ready for the market. “We gave them to friends, colleagues.”

Its string hanging over the side of the cup, the bigger-than-a-tea bag- coffee bag looks both unorthodox and yet right at home lying at the bottom of the coffee cup.  Blending practicality with the much loved tradition of coffee drinking, the coffee bag is weighed for a perfect cup. “You just need eight ounces of boiling water and let it rest for a minute,” Rinosh explains. Making sure that the coffee is at its freshest Rinosh always looks for the slightly frothy crema that should coat the surface of the drink as its mark of freshness. It’s why the coffee is packeted and sold within 48 hours of roasting.

Rinosh Nasar - CEO

Soul Coffee’s coffee bags are already available at ODEL.  While a few coffee houses abroad use this technique, it seems to be a first for Sri Lanka.  Shaking up a convention as well loved by Sri Lankans as their coffee and tea drinking habits didn’t come easy. “We used to wonder why people hadn’t tried it before. It’s scary, what if people don’t like it this way,” they say confessing “We always say ‘yes’ and think later.” But watching the bag sink to the bottom of the cup in an aromatic cloud of delicious brown arouses the feeling that Soul Coffee’s chic yet down to earth appeal will prevail.

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Author - Purnima Pilapitiya