Liquid Gold: finding & losing the best coffee in Nepal

cup of coffee in Nepal
Finding a near perfect cup of coffee in Nepal

What’s coffee like in Nepal?

If I’d had the ability 10 years ago, I’d have invested in Nepali coffee.

I still might, if it weren’t for Nepali bureaucracy. The coffee in Nepal is amazingly good but poorly roasted (do see my review on the best coffee beans in Nepal). It’s one of the few things that remains relatively “undiscovered” in the world. Well, you don’t often walk into a coffeehouse and see “Nepali Coffee” listed on the menu board do you?

Two cups of coffee in Nepal
Coffee in Nepal is as good as it gets!

It should be there. Nutty, smooth with a nice kick, the arabica beans grow well in Nepal. Today the industry is having a bit of silent boom. Growers are popping up everywhere and coffeehouses are equally springing up.

I’ve been all over Nepal and indeed many parts of the world. Coffee is my one treat that I enjoy sampling in each place I go.

It was on one particular day a few years ago I discovered what I consider the best cup of coffee I’ve had in the world.

Today, I’m letting everyone know about a little secret place that is no more. The place has been in my guidebooks to Nepal for a while. So here’s the story about a place that no longer makes any craft coffee but perhaps should have. Lessons learned for others maybe …

How the best roast came to Pokhara

In 1991 Vijaya Gurung left the foothills of Pokhara and went to Korea for work. He ended up in a shoe sole repair store. The work was hard but he made more money compared to back home. But Vijaya’s biggest asset were the Korean friends he made.

freshly picked coffee beans before roasting
Vijaya shows off freshly picked coffee beans before roasting them

Vijaya returned to Nepal and suddenly saw an opportunity based on what he’d experienced abroad.

New Pokhara Pizza restaurant
The New Pokhara Pizza restaurant

He went back to Korea with the idea of opening a fried chicken outlet in Nepal (Kyochon) as there was none in Nepal at the time. However the Korean fried chicken company wanted an expensive franchise.

Vijaya went to meet a friend for coffee to discus his options and was amazed at the huge coffeehouse in Korea. He also saw that:

“People were more than coffee addicts, they were coffee lovers”

He started thinking how this could work in Nepal. Before leaving Korea his friend gave him a handmade coffee roasting machine as a gift. Vijaya returned to Pokhara and invested all his savings of US$6,000 to expand his new pizza business. This included a new espresso machine, coffee equipment and a generator. They were the first pizzeria in Nepal to offer pizza delivery. Vijaya gave his wife, Kamala, a section of his new Pizzeria to open the new coffee store.

original electric and gas powered coffee roaster
The original electric and gas powered coffee roaster from Korea that’s used to roast Nepali coffee

He then sent his a waiter (Som) to Kathmandu for Barista training under the condition that he would stay working for him for 2 years. His wife (Kamala) then took the same course.

Pokhara Pizza quickly become renown for excellent quick served low cost pizza. To coffee lovers it also became the secret place to find the best espresso in the world. It had to relocate in early January 2017 due to rising rent and change in along Pokhara’s Lakeside area. They reopened in the main Lakeside strip opposite near Centerpoint and opposite to the Lemon Tree.

How the best espresso is the world was made in Pokhara

There’s something elegantly exquisite about an espresso that is so silky smooth and nutty that it exceeds all expectations of what a good coffee is really like.

Vijaya used to use two types of coffee including his own homegrown beans. The secret was that with his own beans Viajay roasted them using that little hand roasting machine he was given in Korea. He used to roast and sell over 10kg of his own coffee beans a week.

Loading fresh green coffee beans into the inner roaster
Loading fresh green coffee beans into the inner roaster

Vijaya is so attuned with his coffee machine he knows the beans make three different types of noise the longer they are roasted in the machine to the point he knows the sound when they are ready.

It’s my conclusion that it is this small, simple yet highly effective roasting of fresh beans that made this craft coffee so good.

Every coffee connoisseur in the world will tell you that freshly roasted and ground coffee is the best. Vijaya’s coffee really couldn’t get any fresher than straight from the mountain. The result?

Liquid gold!

an espresso from Pokhara Pizza
Pure Liquid Gold – a (former) espresso from Pokhara Pizza

The dark nutty smooth coffee was topped with a golden creamy crema unlike any other I’ve come across in the world. In an update I need to give Som more credit. I visited him recently and he can make amazing cremas from nearly any type of coffee – the fresher the better though.

Why has it taken coffee so long to take off in Nepal?

Inner coffee roaster is then placed in the main roaster
The inner coffee roaster is then placed in the main roaster

Coffee plants take five years to mature which is too long for many Nepali farmers to wait in terms of needing to make a profit. The next problem is that farmers are not that well educated in Nepal and coffee is essentially a new type of crop to them.

Bureaucracy and corruption follows suit with the middle men taking the bulk of the profit. These are commonly known today as the coffee mafia.

Many of the big coffee plantations and producers are well connected and don’t let anyone else in.

Lastly keeping the beans at the correct storage temperature with the right air moisture is very difficult in Nepal. There simply isn’t the right equipment available.

Is all the coffee grown in Nepal the same?

I’m sure the coffee producers will argue this one. However most coffee in Nepal is grown above 11,000 feet so nearly all of the regions are the same in regards to quality and taste of the bean. However there is a rumor that Langtang coffee has a special flavor to it due to the cold mountain winds that brush through the plants. Just try getting Langtang coffee today, it’s virtually impossible.

Again, if you’d like to know more, I’ve written a dedicated post about coffee beans in Nepal.

I’ll refer back to how Viajay roasted his coffee to being the prime reason his coffee was some of the best. There’s also the secondary equation of a good barista. Som is an excellent barista who can create the best crema on an espresso in the country. Som has now moved on to the German Bakery in the city proper where he is a head barista.

coffee roaster from above
Looking down at the coffee roaster from above

The secret place to once get the best espresso in Nepal

Pokhara pizza was the secret place. As I wrote earlier it’s just relocated to the central area of Lakeside where they occupy the upstairs area. They have always put their customers first when it came to their pizzas quality, value, hygiene and taste. The same was true for the coffee. Sadly, they no longer roast coffee.

They’ve prioritized their pizza business during the relocation so they stopped making craft coffee and now only make regular coffee which is a terrible shame. But I’m sure if you read this and ask Vijaya or Kamala for a home roasted coffee instead of the brand they now buy they might well get it running again. In fact they should, because they made a misstep in my estimation in moving up the lakeside road where the competition is fierce for pizza.

It was a risk, moving up to the high-end market and eliminating the budget pizza eater and morning coffee drinker.

Vijara and his wife Kamala at the old Pokhara Pizza
Vijaya Gurung and his wife Kamala at the old Pokhara Pizza coffee roaster – I do hope they can find a new location to open again soon!

So there you go. Sometimes you just need to keep a secret. The home roasted coffee is no more for now, but hopefully they’ll start roasting again soon.

In the meantime, as you walk along Lakeside keep an eye out for the “new” Pokhara Pizza, that secret wood-fired pizza place with good budget pizzas that could also serve up the best espresso in Nepal – if enough people ask to bring it back.

Why write about a coffee that’s no longer being made? Because it once was. There’s little legacy there that could be revived.

I’m also rather happy to let you know I’ve found a new coffee roaster outside of Lakeside who makes super freshly roasted coffee. So stay tuned for an upcoming article about this new find!

In the meantime here’s my free guide on where to get the best cup of coffee in cafes throughout Nepal.

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19 Replies to “Liquid Gold: finding & losing the best coffee in Nepal”

  1. I think once you’ve found the best coffee on the planet, it’s hard to say goodbye ha ha

  2. Just out of interest. Do Nepalese businesses normally thrive long or short term?

  3. Small businesses like this need to be supported around the world. It’s great to see initiatives to out do the big boys!

  4. Can’t help it … Yes! But no… I don’t understand why businesses constantly shoot themselves in the foot like this. Bring the fresh coffee back.

  5. I’ve always wonders if it’s the barista or the bean that makes a good coffee. Thoughts?

    1. The beans are what is important. Beans are in suspended animation until roasted. After roasting, the 100 chemicals (natural) in coffee break down forming more bitter coffee. When you buy your coffee, get beans that have been roasted in the last 1-3 days. You can buy them already ground up. That makes no difference. After roasting, air gets into the whole beans just as easily as if they were already ground.

      Use your coffee grounds within 2 weeks to minimize the time that the chemicals can break down. You can also minimize how fast the chemicals break down.

      1. High temperature increases breakdown – Keep your grounds in the freezer.
      2. Light increases breakdown – I assume your freezer is dark. Also use a dark bag.
      3. Oxygen increases breakdown – Make sure your bag of coffee grounds is sealed well. (I put my dark bag in a big Ziploc bag and keep it in the freezer door, after squeezing out all the air.)

      When you are out, look for coffee shops that roast their own beans and label each batch with the date of roasting. Try to pick a flavor roasted as recently as possible. Some stores and coffee shops that don’t roast their own beans also label the bags with roasting date. Pick a recent date and try to use the beans withing 2 weeks of roasting.

      Btw, the longer the roast (darker coffee), the more the chemicals are already broken down. So, a lighter roast will be more mellow and less bitter. A darker roast will be stronger and more bitter. A darker roast will have more caffeine, since caffeine is the result of a breakdown of a larger molecule.

  6. I like cappuccinos … but sadly it’s had to get a good one without lots of additives!

  7. The problem with Nepali Coffee is Nepali water. I only drink 3-4 beers per year and 3-4 glasses of wine per year. But, I love my coffee! A good coffee that you can slowly sip hot black is a relaxing joy.

    However, no coffee is worth a case of diarrhea.

    I have been here 7 months. If I am out, I only order a hot Americano. I want the water to be steamed through the espresso machine to kill bugs. It should stay hot long enough in the cup to kill any bugs. I have had one regular coffee and got sick.

    At my apartment, I use the 3 in 1 Nescafe packets you mentioned. All I need is a cup, a spoon, the packet (made in Thailand), and boiled water. If I were to make fresh coffee, the hassle would be way too much. Filter holders to wash and other areas where bad water can add bacteria.

    In the USA, I always made my coffee fresh, one cup at a time. I know how to (buy and) make excellent coffee.

    However, Nepal is a failed nation-state. It is Afghanistan/Somalia without the wars. Until Nepal can provide visitors with decent water, visitors should stay away from coffee shops. It is sad that Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos are considered modern countries compared to Nepal.

    If you use tap water to wash your hands, they will probably have more germs on them afterward than before you washed. I always use the clean water from the blue bottles (20 liters) to wash my hands.

    1. Yes, it’s a good point about the “water”. Especially in the Kathmandu Valley. It’s best to spend a little more on properly filtered/sanitized water than the common “blue jugs”.

      Most water from taps are either from wells or delivered by tanker – it is not safe to drink this water at all.

      I’ve not had a problem with reputable cafes. The ones I know, who boil the water well or have espresso machines steaming for an hour before I use. The ones who steam the class or especially good. Most will do this if you ask.

      I wouldn’t consider 3 n 1 Nescafe to be coffee. Personally, I use my own moka pot on a regular basis (available in Bhatbateni – but check the seal is good). No issues at all. Likewise from cafes as mentioned above.

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