29 August 2005

Retrospective Series : Part 2 : Black, no cream, 1 Sugar

The aroma of freshly brewed coffee is unmistakable no matter where you are in the world. Whether you are walking down 5th avenue in New York, museum hopping in downtown DC, or wading through the crowds of Brigades in Bangalore, the aroma emanating from a Star Bucks or a Cafe Coffee Day tingles your brain and drives your taste buds into an ecstatic frenzy. Alright, this may not be for everyone, but any Coffeee junkie will back me up here. The taste of coffee though is an entirely subjective and geographical matter. Coffee has been my morning fix ever since I left home in search of my calling. My first job in Bangalore came with the perks of a hot steaming cup of coffee served at my desk. Talk of small indulgences. Very soon the lady who served coffee knew the exact times when I would go and ask for a second and third cup before lunch. This coffee that I was served was regular indian coffee, probably an instant blend and was very sweet. My taste buds enjoyed them, getting accustomed to the overload of sweetness and extra helping of milk in the steaming cup.

The dawn of a new millenium, found me enroute to the United States. After a gruelling 20 hour flight into NewYork's JFK, my friend and I were ready to drop dead from fatigue and jet lag. Our minds were a twisted knot of synapses. Needing to kill half a day before we could catch our next prop plane to Richmond, Virginia, we loitered around the airport. An aroma familiar to our senses wafted through the aisles. We walked faster as the aroma drew us towards it, like two zombies in a scary movie. We stopped in front of an Au Bon Pain. A coffee paradise and bakery. We walked up to the counter glancing over the menu. Under coffees, there were a million options. After an eternity of non decision, we both finally decided to order a tall french roast, no cream. The barista poured a steaming cup and rang us in.

Cup in hand we both walked over to the condiment bar. I added a couple of sachets of sugar, stirred it up and took a small sip.Hmmm... "Did I add sugar ? I thought I added sugar. Let me add some more." Couple of sachets were dumped and stirred into the coffee. Another sip. Yikes. What is wrong with this thing ? Why is it so bitter ? What is happening to the sugar ?

6 sachets later, my friend and I were exchanging weird glances and wondering what the hell we had ordered. After a few more brave attempts to fix the coffee and failing miserably we threw the concoction into the nearby trash. Must have been the french roast, probably some wierd coffee blend. We also made a mental note to avoid Au Bon Pain during any future coffee adventures. Sure enough, days and then months passed by and we got settled into our new american lives. Every coffee place we went to and every coffee blend we tried from the Columbian Supremo to the Star Bucks Espresso, were all bitter and unfamiliar to the taste buds sweetened by Indian coffee. Soon I realized that what I was drinking in America was one of the true flavors of coffee, unadulterated by chicory, a sweetner used extensively by the indian industry to take away the bitterness inherent in the bean. Aha !

Many winters later, I swear by the Columbian supremo, a dark roast that has become part of a daily routine. I now drink black, 1 sugar, no milk. Goes very well with a dunking croissant or a danish or the occasional bagel. Acquired tastes are just another part of our lives. The cup of Java in my hand as I review this blog, is just one among them.

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