High Up In The Hills: India’s First Hemp Cafe

Omair Alam and Mayank Gupta, founders of Off Limits café, hope to start an open conversation on India’s cannabis culture

Off Limits is India's first hemp cafe

Kasol may be synonymous with scenic vistas and arduous treks but many head to this quaint hill station with a greener purpose: Cannabis. While the plant may have been a part of our country’s history from the time of the Vedas, India’s relationship with cannabis has been tumultuous and conflicted to say the least. While recreational marijuana consumption is illegal and taboo, Bhang is sold openly. 

India's Hemp market has grown multifold in the last few years Shutterstock

Hemp, however, finds itself in the eye of a growing market that uses the plant in a range of industries. Think textiles, food, paper, edible oil and even shoes. In spite of it, the level of misinformation regarding cannabis continues to fuel an atmosphere of distrust towards the industry. It was the hush-hush culture around cannabis use that inspired two childhood friends to open a cafe that works on disseminating knowledge and creating an open environment for India’s growing cannabis-using community.  

A Tryst With Hemp 

Omair Alam and Mayank Gupta

Omair Alam and Mayank Gupta originally moved to Kasol to start a speciality coffee place.  “Maggi and chai are the two cliches of hill stations. There is a perception that you won’t find anything worth consumption barring these two constants. We have an insatiable love for coffee and wanted to open a great coffee store in Kasol, where we’d also offer a diverse range of food options as well,” Omair describes, as the duo speak to us from Manali. 

Off Limits cafe in Kasol

While the idea slowly took root, they were exposed to a growing community of cannabis users, something that hadn’t been a conversation even in a small circle of friends. “I realised that it wasn’t as big a deal to smoke up today as it may have been a few years ago. Millennials had taken to the idea of cannabis. The problem around this ecosystem was the level of misinformation on the subject, and not to forget, adulteration of products,” Omair adds. This inspired him to start Dankville, an advocacy platform for cannabis legalisation. 

In its initial months, Off Limits was a regular cafe in the hills. While hemp products have been around for long, creating a hemp ecosystem became the central point for the friends after the FSSAI ruling - hemp and its by-products were included as food. The duo pivoted to a hemp-infused menu, making Off Limits India’s first Hemp Cafe. 

Nothing Is Off Limits Here

Except weed. Omair and Mayank did not want to ‘sell stuff’. “That is not the idea we are promoting. People still come in asking for maal but we do not sell marijuana here. Our idea is to educate people about the benefit of hemp,” Mayank elaborates. The name of the cafe was also ideated on the same logic - the conversation around cannabis is often off limits for youngsters; Mayank and Omair hope to unshackle the cliche idea of a ‘stoner’, beyond getting high. 

Off Limits cafe serves hemp-infused food and coffee

At Off Limits, three individuals called Hemp Educators speak to people about the many advantages of using hemp in their daily lives, the quantity required for consumption and clarify any doubts they may have. 

Off Limits’ menu incorporates hemp in two ways: They offer special hemp-roasted coffee seeds, and serve dishes infused with hemp hearts. Salads and sandwiches can also be served with a side of hemp seed oil. 

Does it get you high? “No, you don’t,” Omair laughs, adding, “It’s not marijuana, but some people tend to feel so because of the placebo effect.” Off Limits has been designed not just as a coffee shop but as an experience; they have partnered with four hotels nearby so that guests can stay over and bask in Kasol’s magnificent views. While the cafe was launched in October 2020, the response started picking up this year. Today, the cafe’s patrons include youngsters, families, stoner couples and wellness enthusiasts.

Off Limits also offers accommodation to travellers

To the end of community building, Omair and Mayank also organise events; ‘Wake, Bake and Meditate’ saw 20 strangers convene at Off Limits to discuss cannabis and mental health. But the duo has bigger plans for the future. “We have acquired land in Uttarakhand, where we plan to establish our own Research and Development facility, reducing our dependence on vendors; it’ll also allow us to work on better quality products, ones that can compete in the international market,” adds Mayank. 


Is Hemp the same as Weed/Marijuana?

Cannabis is a type of flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family. Hemp and Marijuana (more commonly called weed) are varieties of the same plant, the key difference being the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content.

Hemp is cannabis that contains 0.3 percent or less THC content by dry weight, which is not enough to get you ‘high’.
Marijuana is cannabis that has more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight, with the potential to get one ‘high’.