Under pressure

  • In the last decade, coffee made in a pressure cooker has taken Butwal by storm

Apr 1, 2019-

Ramu Aryal arrives at Traffic Chowk at six every evening with his stall laden with cups, plastic chairs and his specially-modified pressure cooker. The moment he arrives, he is thronged by people. Aryal gets to work. He boils water in the pressure cooker and then, using a specially-attached metal pipe, uses the steam to make frothy espressos and cappuccinos. This new method of making coffee, without the need for an expensive coffee maker, has taken Butwal by storm.

Aryal, now 47, has been working in Butwal’s Traffic Chowk for the last 19 years. At first, he had a small outlet that mostly sold paan, but it didn’t do much good financially. His customers suggested that he start a coffee shop that would operate in the mornings and evenings. Ramu changed his mind accordingly and started his coffee business, making it like so many others do—without a machine, over a flame, in a cup.

That was in 2005 and the Maoist insurgency was at its peak. Aryal’s roadside business depended on passengers from the vehicles plying the East-West Highway. When a state of emergency was declared, passengers became reluctant to get off their buses. Some would order coffee from their seats while others would quickly come to Aryal’s cart for a drink. Even at these times, he used to serve more than 150 people daily.

When the war ended, Aryal had hoped that things would get better for him financially. But along came another problem—loadshedding. It was not possible to serve coffee quickly by using cooking gas. So he turned to an alternative—using a pressure cooker. He would boil water in the pressure cooker and use the steam to prepare coffee, a trick he’d learned while abroad for employment.

Ever since Aryal started the unique coffee maker, 16 other mobile carts have sprup around him in Traffic Chowk. Six of them sell coffee in the winter and lassi in the summer, while two others serve food. Around 700 to 1,000 people visit Traffic Chowk every day for food and drinks. Young couples, teenagers, businesspeople and mediapersons can all be seen at Traffic Chowk, huddled in their own small groups, talking over snacks and hot coffee made with a pressure cooker.

Binita Kunwar and Manisha Bista come to Traffic Chowk every day after work for a cooker coffee. Post Photo: Ghanshyam Gautam

Among these regulars are Binita Kunwar and Manisha Bista. Kunwar works in a bank while Bista is a staff nurse. Both are in their 20s and have a hectic schedule. But they feel like they have not met for months if they don’t sip coffee together at Traffic Chowk every evening.

“I can’t sleep well if I don’t drink coffee with my friend. So we manage time anyhow,” said Kunwar. This has been their daily routine for the past two years.

“Coffee relieves tiredness in the winter and lassi energises during the summer,” said Manisha.

People come from far away as Bhairahawa and Saljhandi for Butwal’s famous ‘cooker coffee’. Ishwor Neupane, a Bhairahawa-based entrepreneur, visits Traffic Chowk almost every day after he closes shop.

“I drive here after closing my business. I feel tired when I come but I am refreshed when I return home,” Ishwor told the Post. He has been driving 24 km just to have coffee or lassi for the past six or seven years, he said.

Similarly, Mahesh Sapkota sampled this cooker coffee when he was working in Butwal. His business later moved to Saljandi, some 27 km from Traffic Chowk, but he was unable to forget the special coffee.

“I come to Traffic Chowk for coffee twice or thrice a week,” said Sapkota, who spends approximately Rs 200 for coffee that costs Rs 50.

The coffee and lassi business requires little capital but can provide great gains. A cart costs about Rs 20,000 and the coffee business requires about Rs 50,000 for the pressure cooker, gas cylinders, cups, and chairs. Milk, sugar and coffee are bought on a daily basis, at a daily expenditure of Rs 1,000 to 1,500 each. Most stalls charge Rs 50 and 30 for a big and small cup of coffee, respectively. And each stall sells between 50 to 150 cups daily.

“We sell up to Rs 4,000 worth of coffee every day,” says Tulsiram Kharel, another businessman selling cooker coffee. “It [the business] is good if we can handle it well. We can have a net profit of around Rs 60,000 a month.”

Kharel, who works with his 35-year-old son Rabindra, is of the opinion that the younger generation is attracted to coffee, both drinking and selling it.

Published: 01-04-2019 10:39

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