As I was relaxing at Barista in one of the shopping malls and sipping my cup of mocha, I was caught in an idyllic reverie about this extremely popular drink called coffee and how it has now become a part of our metrosexual personality.
In my boyhood, Coffee was not very popular at our home. My parents were avid tea-drinkers and there used to be lengthy discussions on Assam Tea vis-à-vis Darjeeling Tea, “Half dust tea” vis-à-vis “Long leaf tea” and other fineries of tea. Coffee, in those days, was the more exotic drink – kept aside for some special occasions or a few specific guests who preferred coffee to tea. I recollect that on such occasions, when a guest had asked for coffee instead of tea, my grandmother used to grudgingly leave the centre stage of the kitchen and give way to my aunt who would then be given the ominous responsibility of making coffee. My aunt would the add one teaspoon of instant coffee with an equal amount of water and sugar and beat it till to death (i.e till it becomes a light brown caramel-like paste) and then add water and milk (usually more milk than water). This milky fluid with a mild aroma of coffee would then be euphemically described as coffee and would be served to the privileged guest.
I caught-on to coffee rather early in life and somewhat accidentally. Like most kids, I had a severe aversion towards milk and no amount of additives could make me drink it willingly. After trying out all the additions like Horlicks, Bournvita, Drinking Chocolate, Maltova, Protinex etc, my aunt, out of sheer frustration tried adding coffee in my milk. This was the beginning of a long love affair, which peaked in my college days – when I was a hard core coffee addict drinking several cups of black coffee. Though over the years I have shifted to drinking tea, my love for coffee still lingers somewhere in the background and I end up sneaking a cup of coffee during the day.
I was recently informed that Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia and then moved to Egypt / Yemen and eventually entered the muslim world. Finally it entered the “European” world through Italy. In fact this drink was banned in the Ottoman Turkey in the 17th century as it allowed people to remain “sober” and therefore conscious enough to criticise the state and monarchy!! This lead to a large number of coffee traders moving out of Turkey into Italy, Britain, France and other European countries. I was quite surprised at this as I always thought coffee to be a pure European drink.
Coffee, in India was then dominated by Nescafe. Much later two smaller brands “BRU” from Brooke Bonds and “Sunlight” came into the market, the latter eventually was taken over by Nescafe. We also briefly had the Tata Café – an extremely nice brand which, surprisingly, sunk without a trace. There was, ofcourse, the so called parallel line of coffee drinkers, predominantly from the southern part of India, who drank “Filter Coffee”. I believe that it is impossible to make “Filter Coffee” this properly unless your roots are in one of those four southern states. Anybody else trying to do this ends up preparing a curious coffee with a distinct muddy smell!
We got introduced and gradually aclimatised into the world of “international” coffee with the advent of the coffee chain called Barista in the year 2000. This was originally a coffee chain founded by Amit Judge of Turner Morrison and was the pioneer in creating branded coffee shops in India. I think its first two coffee shops were in Delhi, strategically located near the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Indian Institute of Technology to capture the college crowd. Needless to say, both were instant hits and Barista soon expanded into other cities in the country. We fell in love with the “global” coffees - the single shot “Espresso Italiano”, a 30 ml strong black coffee, it’s watered down version called “Americano”, the milky “Latte” , the chocolaty “Mocha” as well as the international favourite “Capuchino”. More than that, we got addicted to the “atmosphere” of a coffee shop.
It was a paradigm shift from the traditional coffee houses across the world where we were served coffees in tiny, slightly stained coffee cups with uninspiring accompaniments like sandwiches and masala dosas. Barista and Café Coffee Day completely changed our perception of a coffee shop. Instead of the old dusty rooms with old dusty furnitures, we now had spotlessly clean air conditioned coffee shops with high stools, comformable chairs as well as extra comfortable sofas. The shops were decorated with color schemes as per the brand, with bright cheerful tongue-in-cheek posters and a wide variety of mouth-watering eatables – grilled sandwiches, muffins, cakes, puffs and patties. And most importantly, the wiff of good coffee which almost hits you in the chest when you swing open the glass door to enter any of the coffee shops.
Suddenly these coffee shops became socialising joints to hang out with friends, to go with your family for a change as well as to spend some time in solitude. I remember walking with my cousin along the marine drive after a late dinner till eleven o’clock in the night and then walking into the Barista near the chowpatty to have an expresso and a game of scrabble. There has also been many moments when I have gone into the coffee shop with a good book and have spent a good two hours completely alone.
Today coffee has become an integral part of the urban Indian culture. It has seamlessly integrated into the other urbal culture of shopping malls. Every mall has atleast one – usually two coffee shops (with Café Coffee Day usually being one of the two). New theme coffee shops have come up (like Mocha, Java Green, Costa et al) with further additions to their menus (Ethiopian Qahwah, Kenyan Safari, Brazilian Coffee , Colombian Coffee et al ). The old Barista has also gone through a make over – a love affair with Lavazza, the Italian Coffee giant which operates in Europe under the name Café de Roma. It is no longer uncommon to have a full featured coffee machine at home and discuss whether to buy the Dark Forest brand or the Café Coffee Day Charge brand. People have also graduated to the level of discussing the exact proportion that should be maintained between coffee and chicory and whether to top it up with a dash of a hazelnut flavour!!
It’s a long journey and from the looks of it, the horizon is nowhere near. Let the journey continue as we savour every sip of all variants of this ecstatic drink.