My coffee adventures started at a very young age, at an age when kids drink milk! My tolerance for milk was too low even at a very young age, I hated it vehemently. Fortunately for me I went to live with my grandparents for a year when I was four and that was the time I discovered coffee. I am also very blessed that I come from a state which is famous for its kaapi as it is affectionately called. So my introduction to coffee the first time ever was to a type of mix of ground coffee + instant variety. I think this was my grandma’s own version, it was sweetened naturally by raw palm sugar. Somehow she made the best coffee that I can ever care to remember. I have over years gone from instant coffee to filter/ brewed/ drip coffee. I now appreciate nearly every form of coffee. In India as I was growing up my milk was flavored with coffee so that the smell would be done away with and ofcourse the most important role of flavoring the milk. In pre 70’s India, coffee was the cheapest way of flavoring milk and the silly bottled variety instant coffee had no caffeine factor of any sort at all. So I got to drink coffee before I went to sleep!
I then traveled north to Delhi and all of that coffee drinking days were over as North Indians do not drink coffee as a choice but only tea, even the bottled variety coffee was hard to find and would be available only in the speciality stores with an unaffordable price tag, hence drinking coffee became beyond the reach of a common man, it suddenly became a luxury. My parents found a way around this coffee shortage, they would just get some coffee beans from the Udipi bhavan then roast the beans on the stove and have it ground in a special shop. The aroma of roasting coffee was so heady that the smell stayed for days making our home a coffee heaven. The first time when the ground coffee came home in a steel box the enticing smell wafted all the way to our bedroom. Mom put some water to boil and set up the coffee filter set (see below ) and then poured hot water over the grounds and then we waited for it to drip, mom quickly made coffee with the dripped brew and it was awesome. I asked my mom the next day for coffee in the evening and she said no , I asked her why not as there was a whole box of coffee right there and that is when she went on to lecture me about the economics of drinking a cuppa daily, so I returned to our room disheartened, coffee now became a novelty only when my parents friends came over and that too if they insisted on south Indian coffee. I would still not get any as mom would make only the amount needed leaving me with a few drops to lick off of the filter set. Obviously my milk drinking also came to total standstill as milk tasted horrible without the coffee. Situation had come to such a head that now I waited for my summer holidays to visit my grandparents, the joy of meeting my grandparents was doubled by the fact that I could drink copious amounts of coffee all day with no one restricting me on how much I had. Which was fun and every time I went to meet my aunts, cousins etc more coffee came out in little tumbler-bowl combination of utensils. In Tamilnadu no home is complete without a set of kaapi tumbler-bowl set, the coffee is served super hot in the tumblers and the bowls underneath them are for people who would like to cool the coffee before you sipped it.
So I grew up traveling between states and state-lines drinking coffee in between. I learnt that there was a super cool way to make even the instant coffee yummy, the process though a little long and taxing is very gratifying if you have the luxury of time and patience . People in North India love serving up this coffee in their homes, as most of them do not have a filter set. The process is to add coffee granules to sugar granules, add just 2 drops of milk and then beat till the sugar has melted completely and cup is nearly half full with the beaten foam. Now you add a mix of hot milk-water to this foam and mix very gently so that the foam does not disappear and you get to have some of this frothy stuff in every sip.
After a few years I traveled to America where the drip coffee is very famous and nearly every home has atleast a small coffee machine. I found out that the coffee was not just as tasty as the one I was used to, when I was younger, I discovered by accident that American coffee had no Chicory added to it making it pure coffee and so a little less flavorful for me who appreciated the coffee bean- chicory mix. Over years I have found bold, neutral, mild, medium, flavored coffee and I have learnt to appreciate nearly all kinds except for the bold ones. The bold ones served in USA are too bitter and coffee in my opinion should not be bitter. The bitterness also masked any other subtle flavor that coffee has acquired naturally while growing. Coffee drinking in US now is at par with wine drinking. I also found to my delight the Vietnamese, Turkish coffee and the delightful French press. The Vietnamese coffee is dripped directly into your cup which has some sweetened condensed milk in it, this combination makes it a strong and sweet coffee.Turkish coffee is not filtered but the ground coffee and water are heated (not boiled), then gently stewed and then ladled into cups , you can add sugar and milk if you want but you drink the coffee after that grounds have settled to the bottom.
Coffee making machine at Bali
I then had the opportunity to visit Bali the land of coffee haven where the ultimate Kopi Luwak the elixir of the coffee world is served. I was very apprehensive about having this coffee as the coffee is prepared from the beans that the Civet cat has excreted, as we were driving to the coffee farm I told my husband that I was not going to drink anything that came out of another living being much less a shitty coffee. I was enthralled by the amount of adulation that this coffee has gained all over the coffee world. So we went into the farm and then we were taken on a tour where we got to meet the civet cat that was fed nothing but the picked coffee berries for food. The poop is then collected, washed, dried, the outer husk is removed and then again let to dry more so that another layer can be removed. After this is done the beans are dried for more days in the sun and then the third layer of cover is removed by hand one by one, there is no machine to do this and is extremely labor intensive thing to do. After this is done small batches of coffee beans are roasted and then ground on a stone mortar little by little. Then the coffee is dripped slowly in a special contraption that looked like it came out of a chemistry lab. We were seated and our hostess gave us a sampler of 6 different types of coffee to drink. We sipped them one by one and then came to world’s best coffee, this was awesome coffee , it was sweet even without a sweetener and it did not need milk. I enjoyed it immensely and that is when the hostess put the Kopi luwak in front of us and then said “now try our Kopi Luwak”. One sip of that coffee and I kid you not there really is no comparison that exists, it truly is the elixir of the coffee world , there was nothing better to experience in terms of coffee if you try Kopi Luwak, it truly is a dream of a coffee lover like me. I have had coffee before (Indian, Javan, Sumatran, Hawaiian, Costa Rican, Belizean, Guatemalan) and after Kopi Luwak, but nothing compares to Kopi Luwak my coffee adventures have nearly come to an end. I do look forward to drinking the Ethiopian and Yemeni variety from where it all began but in my mind I have reached my destination. Coffee from the coffee houses of Damascus has made inroads into nearly kitchen in a few centuries, now that is a travel worth its weight in gold. Coffee in its travels has many, many stories to tell those stories in another blog.
South Indian Coffee filter set – It is a set of steel tubular/ tumbler like thing that is stacked one on top of other the top one has perforated base through which the water can drip into the bottom tumbler. So what one does is puts a few tablespoons of coffee grounds on the top mug then puts a perforated stopper like thing on top of the grounds, then set the tumbler over the bottom one and then pour hot water over the grounds. The coffee brews and drips into the tumbler below. Once all of the water has brewed and dripped to the bottom tumbler, the coffee is ready to be made. People will add hot milk and sugar before they serve