The Real Thing - Coffee

After I wrote a post on Tea, a coffee-lover insisted that I must write on coffee too. Actually on all beverages I love. There are times when you must oblige your friends...


I actually started drinking coffee because my mother would add some to my glass of milk, since I never liked the taste of milk. Eventually I succeeded in reducing the amount of milk and increasing the amount of coffee in the glass in spite of the watchful eye of my mother. [I have, later in my life, repeated this exercise successfully in the case of soda and whisky in spite of the watchful eye of my darling wife!].

Having studied in SIES College, which at that time was more popularly known as Sambar Idli Eating Society’s College, and having spent most of my time in college canteen like all youngsters then, I put several cups of coffee under the belt every day. While the college canteen was notorious for the quality of food it served, the coffee was good. It was filter coffee. Nescafe was served by contemptuously throwing a dash of the powder in a cup of milk. They understood the difference between the original and the copy. That style of serving and the demeanour of the serving boy instantly dissuaded you from touching the cup of Nescafe.

The filter coffee was served in Udipi cafes in two containers; one was put upside down in another with coffee inside. Then you were expected to transfer coffee from one to the other a few times before collecting it in one to drink it. It was always ‘strong’ coffee with strong aroma. Taking filter coffee ‘firang’ way in a cup-saucer is like listening to a tamil lady wearing nine yard saree speak English with American accent. A general rule is that one should never order coffee in Delhi. Or in the North India to be precise. A cardinal error. An unforgettable and horrible experience. The Haryanvis and Punjus may be good at many things, but coffee? No sir, no way!

Another place that has memories associated with coffee is Indian Coffee House. Bombay [as it was then] had many outlets of Indian Coffee House. One was at Parel Naka which I visited many a times with my friends. The other was near Sahakar Cinema at Chembur, quite close to where Shoppers Stop today is located. I rarely visited it. These coffee houses were shut down long ago. Coffee was never important there but the company; much the same is happening in Barista and Cafe Coffee Day.

Between closure of Coffee House and opening of Barista and Cafe Coffee Day there was a big vacuum. The coffee aficionados were served only by Shettys in Mumbai; a contribution that has gone unnoticed and unrecognised. All wizards of marketing who research consumer preferences never realised this need of the Indian consumer.

My love for coffee was noticed by my father, a doctor. He warned me that too much coffee was injurious to health, particularly if it also contains sugar. My wife took it away; my coffee was always served sans sugar. Since I disliked milk, I removed it from my cup, so I now take just black coffee. Black Coffee has its own charm. It is like the scotch taken ‘neat.’ You take in the aroma fully. It has a great effect on your mood. Try a black coffee when you get tired of walking [and spending] in a mall; it enlivens you up. The saree shop owners at Chennai and Bengaluru have realised this instinctively; they always offer you hot coffee unlike their counterparts in the malls. Fill up the customers’ cup to fill your coffers! Simple!!

At Matunga where we stayed for a short period, they combined best of the both the worlds. As you walked towards the station from Kings Circle there were numerous shops selling coffee on your left and numerous selling sarees on your right. The aroma of coffee was everywhere. [One Marathi author has said that if you woke up while travelling in a ‘local’ train and found that there was not a single beautiful girl at the station, then you were at Bhandup! And the aroma told you that you were at Matunga.] That scenario has changed. Now you get more the smell of flowers and the shops on both the sides have changed. You don’t see people wearing dhotis buying pea-berry and chicory blends. Matunga which was called Matungam then because of its large south Indian population, has lost its character.

Not many may know this, but among Maharashtrian it was not uncommon to drink coffee. [Just as I later discovered that Keralites prefer tea which they call Chaayaa over coffee.] Coffee was prepared by boiling the powder with water [just as you made tea], sometimes with a mixture of water and milk. Old ladies preferred to add elaichee [cardamom] and a touch of nutmeg! Isn’t that peculiar combination? Coffee keeps you awake and nutmeg puts you to sleep! This is like the Ajit’s joke of drowning somebody in liquid oxygen. ["Dump this man in liquid oxygen. The liquid won't let him survive, the oxygen won't let him die."] You can try coffee made that way, but it never tasted good to me.

Coffee is in the news again, and in vogue. Malls offer it and Karan [Coffee with Karan] pretends to drink it. Coke was never the real thing to me, it is just not real; the real thing is coffee!

Vivek

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