How I journeyed into the world of coffee
“Are you asking for coffee or poison”?
Back in 2011, when I was new to Dubai, a client who’d come to office asked for a black coffee without sugar. At that time, I was a Cappuccino drinker, that too once a month kind. Hardly a coffee person. Hence a person asking me for coffee without milk and sugar seemed a crazy idea. I wouldn’t have imagined that one day, I would become a coffee person having espresso shots, long black without sugar or different kind of coffee preparations.
It had been a long & enriching journey of understanding the coffee culture of the region and embracing it with open arms and curious taste-buds. While I started having my Cappuccinos more frequently in 2012, I started experimenting with Lattes, Flat Whites and other preparations available at commercial cafes (Starbucks, Tim Hortons, Costa). At office, I was still making coffee with Nescafe or Davidoff coffee powder by stirring a bit of coffee powder, sugar and a bit of water to make thick paste, then top it up with hot water (I used to avoid milk). Thus started my black coffee addiction. I bought filter coffee powder to experiment with Drip Coffee machine (the basic one that makes Americano) and French Press as well. This was an important lesson in coffee making since it introduced me to the fresh ground coffee, and I started moving away from Nescafe and other freeze dried supermarket variety.
Reading up more on coffee and traveling to Italy changed my perspective. Italians don’t sit & drink their coffee. It’s a necessity for them like water. They’d come to a café, stand at the counter, Barista would hand them Espresso shot, they drink that in 2-3 minutes while having a quick chat with Barista and leave. While I was sitting holding my small cup of Cappuccino looking at them with amazement as I would take at least 15 minutes to 30 minutes to ‘enjoy’ my coffee in a café. That’s a big cultural difference. Indians love their coffee hot just like their tea, and would sit for long to enjoy their cup of Joe. Coffee is supposed to be warm, not hot, because the optimum flavor comes when it’s at 70-80 degrees. Another difference is the size of the cup. Indians would prefer a big mug or order a large cappuccino so that they can sit longer with coffee, while other parts of serious coffee drinking world (barring USA) prefer smaller cups to short ones for espresso.
As I delved deeper into the coffee cultures, I bought myself a semi-automatic coffee machine, a smaller version of what you see in a café. The process remains the same. I wanted to learn the Barista way, that’s why I chose semi-automatic, else automatic would have been far more convenient and safe option. Now I was introduced to coffee beans and the grinding process. This opened my world to beans from other countries and their flavor profiles. I would love to make cappuccinos for family & friends and show off my limited barista skills. Topping the coffee with a flourish of chocolate powder or cinnamon would get some applause for the ever-waiting public.
Dubai has got so many hipster cafes, roasteries and even a coffee museum that one can easily convert into a coffee person. I would take tours of roasteries and taste different espressos and experience coffee-making processes like Syphon, Chemex, Moka Pot, Aeropress etc. Though my taste-buds are still not too prolific to understand all the notes, yet I enjoy having an espresso, which to me back then was too bitter and not to be had without sugar for sure! The best experiences came along. Like the Ethiopian coffee which is made over gas and is thick black coffee, but the unique factor is the salted popcorn they give along. Somehow they bring a very subtle sweetness to the coffee. In the Middle East, dates are given with coffee, to enhance the flavor and bring about the sweetness. It is a beautiful indulgence.
Another unique coffee I tried was Kopi Luwak in Bali, which is a complex process. The coffee beans are served to Asian Palm Civet (a cat like creature), who ingests and defecates the beans. The fermentation that happens in the stomach increases citric acid in the beans and gives it a unique flavor from the digestive fluids & enzymes. After being washed, cleaned and roasted, the coffee made is smooth & subtle. It’s considered to be one of the most expensive coffees in the world, while in Bali it’s quite economical, while the coffee estate views and the whole experience to see the civet and the roasting process comes complimentary.
I may have become a coffee snob only around people who aren’t much versed with the world of coffee, I am still a curious taste-bud trying to understand the notes and processes. The joy of smelling the coffee while it’s brewing in the morning is unparalleled, the perfect wake-up call. Collecting coffee mugs, variety of beans, posters, heck, even napkins and coasters…all have become an addiction along with my morning long black. 10 years back, I would have never imagined that one day I would look forward to my mornings with such glee.