Monday, August 22, 2011

Short notes - The Missus on Coffee

Coffee is something the missus is extremely particular about. She's from Mysore, and in Mysore, coffee is drunk strong.

When I, wuss from Bombay, first had Mysore coffee, I had to close my eyes and hold my hands over them to prevent my eyeballs from popping out. Third parties advised that nothing of the sort would occur but it was a long time before I removed my hands off them.

The third parties were right. Nothing happened. But the main party, the party of the second part, hereinbefore and hereinafter referred to as 'the missus' was, with singular lack of tact, laughing her booty off.

What fascinates me and will eternally continue to do so is the way every Mysorean, when ordering coffee at a restaurant, tells the waiter "Solpa Strong Madiri" ("Make sure it's strong, dude") regardless of how strong the restaurant normally makes it.

Bombay restaurants, on the other hand, have no concept of strong. Indeed, they have little concept of 'coffee' for that matter.

I don't know if I've told you my favorite Udipi restaurant coffee anecdote. Forgive me if I have.

I went through a black coffee phase when I was convinced that if you wanted to show how classy you were, you had to have black coffee without sugar. This wasn't a problem at the Cafe Coffee Days and the Baristas but it mildly  boomeranged at Udipi Vihar Restaurant, Goregaon West where I once asked if I could have a black coffee.

"Can you give me black coffee?" I asked the chap.

"Yes yes".

Bombay is the bastion of capitalism and this is a fine example. The first response of a Bombay business is "Yes" to whatever the customer asks for. I have known shops to tell me they have whatever I asked for, its in the go-down and someone's getting it and actually the shop assistant would have run across the road to another shop and purchased the damn thing. Saying 'no' to a customer is unthinkable.

He came back a couple of minutes later, evidently sent with a flea in his ear, by the chef.

"How do you want it made?" he asked me.

"Just like you make your regular coffee, just don't add milk or sugar" I replied.

"Theek hai" and buzzed off inside only to return again and ask in a sheepish sort of way

"The cook wants to know if you want coffee powder in it"

The missus, who was with me, had a hearty laugh and later observed that no Mysore waiter would, even on the pain of injury, ask a thing like that.

"It's blasphemy, dear. "Do you want coffee in it", it seems. In the old days, people would be flayed for such things. Only in Bombay can this happen"

The missus actually had good reason to feel animosity towards Bombay coffee.

Here she is, on Bombay coffee and why it infuriates her:

"When we were married and the mandatory uncle-aunty visiting was happening, word had gotten around that I drank only kaapi. Naren and his entire clan are resolute tea-drinkers. And the worst kind of tea drinkers, I might add. You guessed right. Masala chai drinkers. Anyway, as I was saying, the clan would faithfully attempt to make coffee, but their technique was severely flawed. You know how we make coffee down south, don't you? A good half a cup of strong decoction, a spoon or two of sugar and a little milk, just enough to get the decoction to a buffalo-after-bath brown colour. 

Well, in Bombay, the procedure is to boil a quart of milk liberally sweetened with sugar and, I shudder to say this, cardamom. If Mysoreans were Japanese Samurai, which they arent, mercifully, they would have committed seppuku in droves upon being told about the practice of adding cardamom to coffee.

And the worst of it is, they don't add physically add coffee to the milk when they make coffee. I'm serious. The Bombay guys' idea of adding coffee to milk is to put some coffee powder on a saucer and use a mirror to direct its reflection into the milk. After a couple of minutes of this, the milk acquires sufficient coffee flavour for the Bombay guys. Five minutes, if they want to make it really strong."

Thank you Sheela. Your views are greatly appreciated.


snickersnee said...

I'm from Mysore, I live in Bombay, and I completely, completely, sympathise with Sheela.

Especially the diverting the reflection of the coffee powder bit. I've always complained that I see a penumbra of the coffee in my sweetened milk.

I can only drink coffee that I make at home, with my little decanter. Not even Mysore cafe in Matunga can make proper mysore kaapi.

Sowmya Srikrishnan said...

Oh, my Tam kaapi drinking in-laws from Kerela loathe the coffee made there. It's always chaai on trips home.

Sowmya Srikrishnan said...


arundati said...

i am not a kaapi Nazi but i do need a good cup or else will settle for chai in a place where am not sure how they make their coffee. I once was served cardamom flavoured over sweetened so called coffee at a friend's place, thank god in my younger more polite days my manners were in place, i could have barfed in this day and age!

Anonymous said...

nice to know.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree. When I was in Mumbai this December, I brought my French press along with me, much to the wonderment of the bai in my sis' apartment.


Vishwas Krishna said...

I'm from Mysore too and right now, after reading this post, I feel like drinking coffee, though not a regular coffee drinker. I haven't risked drinkng it anywhere else.

But being a native of South Canara, it irritates me a bit, every time I see Udupi spelt as Udipi.

rk said...

Ah, I just got back from Mysore (my native place) and enjoyed the good coffee there! Starbucks here in US still doesn't know good coffee if you ask me :) Don't tell them I said that!

vikas mk said...

I'm from mysore and yes , we do say "Svalpa Strong maadi " everytime we order cofee.
Hilarious post!! :D

Hirak said...


Atanu Dey said...

Totally, totally, totally agree with your missus. The Udupi coffee of Mumbai sucks. While on the subject, I had written a blog on coffee - may be you will appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Yes Narendra for gods sake it is Udupi not Udipi...:( didn't your missus correct you?

Tanmaya said...

LOL good post!
And u nailed the mannerisms of an avid south-indian filter coffee drinker. Whether it's the "swalpa strong maadi" dialog to the Chalukya restaurant waiter, or the "double shot" to the starbucks' barista, we're trying to convey the same msg. Which is basically pleading with them not to screw-up that cup of joe that u sooo look forward to.
I'm a junkie when it comes to good home filter coffee, and I married a malnad coffee planter, yes, I did (well, not just for the coffee)! But as it turns out, we're spending our time across the Atlantic very far away from malnad :( But I treasure that home grown, freshly roasted/powder chicory-coffee combo like its a pot of gold.
I get that sometimes we make a big deal about not finding 'good coffee' but that is because we have experienced that crossover moment. Coffee like all other addictions, is an acquired (taste). So when u have that enlightening moment, when the taste buds on your tongue giddy up & start dancing, u too, like your wife, shall request/plead with the cafe staff not to mess with your cuppa kapi! :)

Neelam Nakadi said...

Nice post.. This reminds me of the tea I made for my inlaws. Here is a link to it.