For most of my childhood, coffee was this sinful drink that only elders were allowed. Whole milk with a “tea-spoon” of instant coffee and two “table-spoons” of sugar.
And then I moved to Italy to pursue a masters course in Urban Management. I discovered my first real cup of coffee here and there was no looking back from here. The taste just got better and better…and my brewing skill more perfect.
I bought various sizes and types of stove top espresso makers, french press, cups and a few types of coffees that I qualified as the real coffee.
My knowledge was expanded as I tried out all the possible permutations of coffee, milk, water, froth, cream and flavours. From Latte to an Espresso.
When it was time to come back to India, I was almost addicted to a morning cup and wanted it just the way I made. Nothing less, nothing more. A precise 2:1 ratio made in my steel stove top espresso maker; poured from an exact 10 inch height into a cup not too wide, not too tall.
The socializing hot spots had changed in my neighbourhood when I returned to Mumbai. From the 9pm ice cream parlor family gatherings and corner tea stalls in the morning; the conversations had moved to “lets meet over coffee in eve!”. It seemed just perfect to me, untill I had finished meeting every one in my circle and started to really taste the hot beverage served in these coffee shops.
How can they go so wrong ? They have fancy machines and imported names on the menu ! They boasted of American Lattee and Ethopian shots. But nothing that I’d say suited my palate.
A coffee at a time and a coffee shop at a time, I started to first dis-qualify them and soon when most were given labels like “yucky” and “pissy”, I even started to analyse them.
The beans are just plain wrong. Their coffee has a weird, strong backdoor taste (that comes from unroasted green center of the bean). It’s not authentic. They want to look superior like a mix of a coffee and a fruity Sauvignon Blanc, which is covering the coffee’s true flavor. Sometimes it’s even salty! The beans are over roasted, resulting in bitterness. The coffee shops further, doble roast them, just to give a nice aroma in the shop which can be very welcoming but totally ruins the beans. They source the beans and sometimes even powder from South America to South India, but process it so gruesomely that all its finesse is lost forever.
Baristas push too hard on the coffee grounds. This process must be done with a delicate hand; ultimately, the machine will press the coffee. Don’t over press. Let the grounds breathe a bit.
And how do you think these coffee shops in Mumbai select their grinders & machines ? Ones that are transparent, (so that the consumer knows theres coffee inside and not poo !), ones that have a shiny body (so that it looks expensive ans justifies the menu rates), One that is easy to operate and yet looks complicated (so that the cheap college drop out staff can handle it in style), takes the longest time to serve (so that it looks like a bigger task than simply mixing coffee and water) and lastly has an american brand (coz lets be honest, we trust them more than any other firangis )
Trust me NO ONE it italy uses these american machines. They all have ‘Cimbali’. Even the basic coffee at the train stations are from ‘Cimbali’ using ‘Danesi’ beans. ((Oh ! how i wish for a small sip of that just to relieve all my memories !))
And the biggest mistake they make ? treat the coffee like red wine ! they take a minimum of 5 mins to serve each cup. They age it and process it and complicate it like wine. (lets discuss their wine expertise in the next blog !) In Milano, all the coffee shops along the Navigli , at porto Genova, would not take more than 30 seconds to serve a cup and these are super crowded at peak hours. If only the guy behind the coffee machine in India would make less fancy moves with his tall glass, doing mathematics about the change he has to tender and checking his mobile, He would discover how the Italian boys artfully make the coffee, flirt with the customer and even slap the rear of their colleague all at the same time ! (all of it with successful results !)
And while they are not solely at fault, its also the newness of the machine. Sometimes the coffee even tastes and smells like steel (as it swirls and meets the stainless steel interiors of the machine). Older the machine, better the coffee !
The final laughter full of sarcasm I save for the presentation. Tall glass Espresso !? really ? SO that it tastes more like red wine ? A perfect espresso cup is exactly half full. (small size) Lets not even discuss the artificially added flavours and served upto the brim by ‘Costa Coffee’. And the funniest of all is the double shot on menu ! Nobody drinks those in Italy. A single shot espresso should be strong enough. Double espressos ruin the quality and the original taste.
Few things we cant help is the high humidity in our air and most good coffee shops located in the Juhu area with saltiness, ‘gutter-iness’ and humidity in the air. Also, the water is more chlorinated in India than in Italy.
So in the end, when I started getting brick bats from my friends, husband (boy friend back then) and family about how picky and critical I was getting about my coffee, it was time to make my perfect cup using the best possible ingredients in Mumbai. I made do with Lavassa Indian coffee and my old aluminium ‘Bialetti’ coffee maker. Wasnt the best but not bad.
I got married into a kannadiga family. Coffee is supposed to be native here. My mother-in-law would once in a while make the filter coffee. Although it seemed tedious and a bit acidic since it would be left overnight, the taste was definately appealing. I did not get much chance to use my Bialetti machine untill we moved to Kolkata. The air was less humid here and perhaps the water less chlorinated too. For the first few months, I used the coffee that my parents got for me from the US of A….just about OK.
And then in-laws visited us there. Brought along THE PANDURANGA coffee ! and the coffee it made…..almost as good as the Italian !!
The beans, dry roasted, just enough to keep its woodiness. the texture not as creamy and rich as the Illy but not bad at all. (I would froth the milk for that perfect feel in cappuccino). More of the Bialetti machines were called from Italy. I went coffee mugs shopping. There was excitement in life all over again. Ameet and I would look forward to our sunday mornings with the coffee together. And 7 years down, Panduranga remains my brand.
Serve me the right cup of coffee and I will be your fan forever.
Italy celebrates National Espresso Day on April 17.
Foodatoo celebrates this entire month…
and I celebrate it Everyday !
Author : Dhwani Talati-Padiyar
Publisher : Foodatoo.com
(P.S If you would like to buy Panduranga Coffee, write to me at : firstname.lastname@example.org and I can arrange the dealer in Uduppi to courier it to you)