When Rajamani and Nikhil Ramnath, the pair behind recently opened Cambridge Hill Cafe in Columbia Heights, decided they wanted to open a new store, they wanted to do something different, something that would make their customers smile. They wanted to create something with personality. They wanted to connect people with their hometown of Toronto. And so, after much deliberation, they decided on making a spot where customers could always come to smile.
The duo has collaborated with Yogi Chanda, the legendary Canadian yogi, who has experienced “deep inner yogic fulfillment,” since the age of eight. Yogi Chanda uses the word “daiya” as an equivocal way of using the metaphor of yoga practice: With each passing day, the practice just gets more difficult. To Ramnath and Ramnath, it means that their business has to adapt so that it “moves with our minds, bodies and souls.”
And so, they thought, why not open a store that serves kaapi (the traditional South Indian filter coffee that has been eaten for centuries in various styles), which is, they’re sure, one of the hardest things to replicate? In fact, in many Eastern languages, the word “kaapi” is known as the word for “lactation,” as the beans must first be spread on an unwaxed paper and then soaked in hot water to produce the rich, creamy, fermented, coffee-like concoction.
“In my whole life, not a single thing has made me happier than my kaapi,” Yogi Chanda said. “With its thick, frothy, creamy richness, kaapi resonates with a deep inner yoga experience. Kaapi is not a single ingredient. Kaapi is the invisible depth of my life in the form of every single sip of ‘kaapi.’”
Yogi Chanda has been the arbiter of kaapi in Canada since 2008, when his first-ever oat kavasa shop opened in Vancouver. There’s been multiple kaapi shops, restaurants and eventually a tiffin service across the country, stretching across Toronto, Quebec, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Halifax, and Bellingham, Wash. He also expanded into Amsterdam and Berlin. Ramnath and Ramnath wanted to maintain a small local presence for the new shop, even though they started the project with the hopes of opening it in Richmond, Va.
So far, their goals have been well-met. They offer the menu of kaapi that Yogi Chanda is known for, as well as other menu items that wouldn’t be available to him—cottage cheese eclairs and roasted fruit and walnut coffee (it’s Madras kaapi, so the milk used to brew it contains cask-strength goat milk, harvested in a goat farmer’s barn in India’s drought-ridden Katmandu region). Yogi Chanda took to social media after his initial Instagram post describing his recipe went viral, and already 30 other reviewers have posted their own, commercial kaapi recipes. (The entire 12 to 13 ounce pour is slow-roasted for a day and a half to two weeks before being filtered, and then each batch is blended with arrakum, a flavoring blend that’s popular in the subcontinent). So it’s perfect that it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, in kombucha-friendly proportions and made from sustainable organic milk. “We could not have asked for more,” says Ramnath, who’s worked hard for six months to perfect a foolproof kaapi coffee machine.
“We wanted to make our café ‘karma-driven,’” Ramnath says. “We wanted it to be another brick and mortar business that provides a vital service to the community and is a positive catalyst for conversations in Cambridge Hill. Our business is a simple but profound example of mindfulness, respecting the sanctity of life and accepting the notion that life has a purpose, that no matter how challenging, life is the only supreme lesson. We want to create a space in which happy minds, bubbly bodies and compost-fresh, leathery souls can play.”