People are clearly coffee people or tea people. Just like you find Dog people or Cat people. Just last week, a good friend of mine made a remark about how I had changed in 2 years. Apparently, when he met me 2 years ago, I would drink nothing but black coffee. Agree. About a year ago, I was overworked and I would drink nothing but Red Bull. Partly agree. Recently, he mentioned that my preference has changed to tea. Disagree. All this hype about Coffee, Tea and Red Bull, I decided to think about my life, my travels and really figure out who I am. So, here are plenty of coffee moments, some tea moments and many life lessons.
Nothing inspires me to write more than coffee – Coffee has been the savior. When I blog. When I write in my travel diary. More than anything, when I had to write innumerable mails at work. When I had to especially frame politically correct emails. When I had to apply for a job. When I had to write my resignation. You get the drift. (Infact, right now, that’s what I’m drinking)
Starbucks should not even be your last resort – If you are anywhere near North America, they sell you brown liquid in the name of Starbucks Coffee. I detest Starbucks. I avoid it all costs. Whoever came up with Tall, Grande and whatever? I know Americans like everything ‘supersize’ but it is ridiculous making anyone drink that amount of bad coffee. (I know my sister is probably going to kill me for this, but to save humanity from bad coffee, I had to write this). If they worry so much about the coffee farmers and so on and so forth (as it reads in their promotional material in store), they would stop spending so much money on real estate and give it back to society.
The best coffee can be brewed with socks – Honest to God. In Brazil, they have this coffee maker called a Cuador, which is nothing but a sock like cloth attached to a metal ring and handle. You put the coffee powder in this and Voila, you have a hot cup of awesome coffee. This makes a fabulous travel companion. All you need to do is buy the local coffee from a supermarket and boil water and you can make your own coffee, about 10 times cheaper than drinking coffee outside. If you do not get a cuador, fresh clean ankle socks works.
Meet the people behind the scenes and hear the coffee stories – Whether it is in the Guatemalan coffee farms or the Bali coffee estates, you’ll find coffee farmers to be warm and loving and ready to make the 100th cup of the day just to share with you. I remember sitting and chatting with this lady who was roasting the ‘Luwak’ beans in Bali and telling me the history of coffee. Known as Kopi Luwak, it is among the most expensive coffee in the world. The process of making this coffee will disgust you – they make the little Asian Palm Civet’s eat the berries and excrete the same. Then, the beans having gone through the intestines and out, are separated, cleaned and roasted and so on and so forth, till the most amazing coffee is made.
Sometimes, the only thing that can get you through bad coffee is good company – I love black coffee. Hanging around a bus station in Brazil with a friend, I was deeply disappointed to find only coffee chains with milky coffee and not the usual Cafezinho (small black coffee). Remember cribbing a lot. Then, the adaptable calm friend of mine picked up the coffee and literally thrust it on my face. One coffee slap was good to get me slurping out of the cup. And surprisingly, I enjoyed it as she cracked jokes about bus stations, travel, losing weight and all that. So, it is true. Bad Coffee + Good Company = Great memories.
The one thing on top of my sightseeing list in every city is the oldest café – Whether it is Café Sperl in Vienna or Café Tortoni in Buenos Aires, it was top priority for me to visit these cafes. All the museums and palaces of the world came next. Old world charm, black and white photographs, the history adds to the nostalgia. Imagine sitting in the room where the King of Spain sipped coffee. I’ve landed up spending a bomb across such cafes but you never think money when you think coffee. These are far stronger memories than seeing a hundred paintings in a museum and not remembering one.
When in trouble, find an Illy – For those who take their black coffee seriously, visiting a new country and not finding the perfect blend can be worrisome. I’ve had terrible terrible coffee in Malaysia, North India and Egypt. A wise woman I met in Mexico told me that the easiest way to find good coffee in a country is to find the Italian Embassy or Italian Cultural Centre and hope they have a cafeteria. Illy rocks. (Now, I can’t help but remember the day my Italian neighbour in Chennai taught me how to make an Italian espresso – Read more here)
Never make the mistake of ordering coffee in Tea land – Was in Egypt last year and craving for coffee one day. Made the terrible mistake of ordering a coffee in the old markets of Cairo. With tons of Elachi and a terrible fragrance, one sip made me cry out Allah. I had the impression it would be close to Turkish coffee or Arabic coffee, dark and strong. Had no idea it came with spices. Prompty, I switched to Tea. It is not about the drink at all. It is about lounging around in a Sheesha place with a glass of tea for hours.
When you in the wilderness, coffee or tea, have it hot – After a long day bushwhacking or trekking or hiking or whatever you do in the wild, the only thing I yearn for is a hot cup of whatever. (This is obviously second to a cold beer, but I generally don’t carry a mini fridge when I go hiking). So, for a change, its not about coffee or not about tea but about hot water. As the kettle gently sways over the camp fire, you have this warm feeling within you that doesn’t go away. (Tried and tested in many places around the world – Special moment was in Swansea in Wales and Smoky Mountains in the USA).
While coffee goes with backpacking, tea goes with luxury – Unless you are backpacking in the Middle East or roughing it out in a guesthouse in Varanasi, I would suggest the best companion to backpacking is coffee. Anyway, coming back to tea, why tea and luxury? Recently, I was invited to a Champagne Afternoon Tea at the Dorchester hotel in London. No, I’m not kidding. With scones and jam, champagne and perfect little sandwiches, they served a whole bunch of us tea in fine china. I was so worried I was going to knock down something or break something. It was like being in the Titanic, with all the cutlery. Rated as one of the best Tea experiences in all of Britain, this was something way out of my league. (Ok.. someone else was paying.. Haha) Anyway, I’m not bad at role playing. I promptly held the cup like most of them do, with the little pinkie finger sticking out, pursed my lips and slurped away. And, I felt like the perfect lady when the waiter actually asked me, ‘Would you like some more teaaaaa?’. And, that is the London experience I worry about.
Saving the best for last, nothing beats South Indian Filter coffee – Yes, I’m that South Indian girl who grew up drinking filter coffee from a tumbler. So, now you know why the obsession to find coffee everywhere I go. This was just a few moments before my wedding (early in the morning), drinking a strong cup of filter coffee, freshly brewed at home. (My aunt was hyperventilating that I would spill the coffee on my Sari, but I managed). I absolutely needed to clear my head before taking that big step towards marriage. Like I said, nothing beats South Indian Filter coffee.
So, brought up in coffee land (South India) and obsessed with coffee land (Brazil), moving to tea land (Britain) is a bit of a worry. Especially after I read this quote. “Coffee in England always tastes like a chemistry experiment.” – Agatha Christie
And, such is life. No fear. What lays ahead is a path of discovery. I cannot wait to begin my coffee crawl of London and add to these stories here.