It all started with a New Year resolution, a resolution to complete one hundred dates by the end of the year 2007. That converted roughly into one carefully planned evening every third day. In a place like Hyderabad and especially the Madhapur (Hitec city mind sound a bit more sophisticated) locality, with its designer building and IT parks to house software firms, the options (rather places) to spend that beautiful evening were rather limited. So much so that I would inadvertently find myself in a coffee shop every now and then.
Think of it, before that glorious January of 2007, the coffee mugs that I had sipped in my entire life could be counted on the fingertips. Through all of those years while I was growing up, I was never encouraged to have tea or coffee. Part of it can be attributed to the fact that the part of the country I belonged to, tea/coffee was always thought of an adult thing. Part of it can also be because of my mother’s conscious effort to keep me away from this obnoxious habit that our entire family (extended family which includes uncles, cousins, second cousins, cousins of cousins and extends so far to the extent that if you plan to go to any city, big or small, in India, someone will surely be there on the railway station, with a big smile on their face, to welcome you) had, of drinking one full cup of tea every half an hour or so. The travails of my poor aunties, almost entire day of theirs devoted to ensure smooth operation of this grand tea procession that we used to have.
With this impression of coffee being a strict no-no etched in a portion of my subconscious, I had a stuttering start to this oh-so-ambitious resolution of mine. But coffee dates have rarely been about coffee. I remember the first time I was on a coffee date; it was CCD on Brigade Road, Bangalore (perhaps the first of four hundred odd outlets that have mushroomed all over India). We spent close to four hours, with just two cups of coffee between us, and it was really hard for me to imagine how the storeowners encouraged this business model, which cost young people less than a couple of hundred rupee bills for leisurely spending their time right in the middle of the most happening places.
I always had this unexplained sense of favoritism towards Café Coffee Day, and always had an apprehensive outlook towards the Barista. Maybe because Barista, with its suave and sophisticated decors was custom made for the brats and the snobs (or so I thought), a group I identified least with. Or maybe because Café Coffee Day was the first to reach to small towns, and hence appeared more approachable. So, most of my early coffee dates were an exclusively CCD affair. The by-products of such religious regularity were many; I had almost every item, right from A to Z, on the menu card, did a small improvisation on the way Chocolate Excess was served (made sure that the pastry was micro waved till the chocolate topping started to drip) and could recollect the names of all the CCD coffee attendants working in Madhapur and Jubilee Hills area. Not so long after, I found myself growing weary of the Kappi Nirvanas, the Ethiopian Kahwas, the African Safaris and the Devil’s Owns (the great guru Sachin Rao always labeled it as a typical girlish drink, I always enjoyed sipping it though). It was time to look beyond, and this is where the journey began.
I tried several other coffee joints, Barista, Brio and Cha Bar (a brilliant concept I came across in Calcutta, where you have outlets serving tea and nothing more but tea) to name a few. I started picking up the subtleties, the difference between the taste profiles of various coffee beans and tealeaves, the various styles of preparation and most importantly the difference between an espresso and cappuccino. Most of us Indians think of espresso as a combination of coffee, milk and sugar, with a thick lather of foam and cream whipped on top; which is precisely what an espresso is not. As I developed and refined my taste buds, the coffee dates that followed were hardly about the ambience and the company and more about my rendezvous with this magic potion. It didn’t matter who accompanied me, as long as I had this nice cup of steaming coffee in my hand, I was happy. After a point, I even stopped bothering about getting some company, used to sneak to the nearest coffee shop on the first available opportunity, sitting silently in a corner, sipping a new variety or trying the latest on the menu. These lessons that I learnt are perhaps the most treasured of all the learning of my life.
This New Year, I gifted myself a whole set of Barista coffee set, equipped with a coffee plunger, finest of French press grind coffee powder, a set of coffee mugs and sundry other utilities.
A year and a quarter in the process, I proudly claim myself to be a coffee connoisseur. Just the other day, one of my friends called up and she was like, “Oh, I feel like having a cup of coffee and what better company than you.” Needless to say, it felt real special.
Three to four years down the line, I intend to write a book on my coffee experiences. And some day, I plan to setup a chain of coffee shops across India. I also intend to start this culture of coffee tasting and a trend of professional coffee drinking classes. Foremost of all plans though is to start a coffee club at my workplace.
Thanks to all you beautiful ladies, for hadn’t it be you guys, I would never have been so aware of such a wonderful aspect of life.