Hyderabad, India, doesn’t have an official city-wide barista competition, but if it did, I’d put my money on Hardik Bali at Spice Junxion, a well-known Indian restaurant in the heart of Banjara Hills, inside the posh Taj Deccan. In Hyderabad, the making of South India–style “filter coffee” has been elevated to the level of performance art (see photos below), and at Spice Junxion, the baristas are bone fide chefs. Bali is one of the best. Maybe even the best. (Note: You can find this style of coffee sold by street vendors throughout the city, but the water at those carts is highly questionable. At Spice Junxion, it’s perfectly safe.)
South Indian filter coffee is a fantastically rich, dark coffee brewed from arabica beans (from Southern India) that have been roasted with chicory. It’s sort of a cross between Vietnamese-style coffee and a Starbucks latte. The coffee is brewed in a slow-drip metal container like the ones used in Vietnam and elsewhere in South and Southeast Asia. But it’s then mixed with steamed, frothed milk like a latte — only without the use of a fancy machine to steam and froth the milk. The milk is scalded on the stovetop, then frothed by scooping the hot milk from the simmering vat and pouring it back into the pot from an arm’s length, over and over and over. The milk is then poured into the coffee and poured back and forth from arm’s length again. Finally, it’s topped off with an extra bit of frothy foam. Best damn latte you’ll ever drink. Guaranteed. Especially after a night of cocktails across town at the Hookah Lounge.