A World Without Starbucks

I’ve been writing a lot about work on this blog, so I thought I would change it up some and talk about one of the most different aspects of life for me in India—coffee.

I am a self-proclaimed coffee addict. Back in Philly I have at least 2 if not 3+ cups a day. I know, I know it is a terrible habit, but it is what it is. I have a registered starbucks giftcard, and I’m a gold level member. Starbucks has branches in 34 countries. Unfortunately, India isn’t one of them, so I’ve spent 8 weeks in India trying to feed my habit.  I had been warned by friends and former interns that Indians like their chai, and coffee isn’t nearly as popular here, but my caffeine addicted brain wasn’t fully prepared.

 I learned very quickly that iced coffee, or more accurately, cold coffee is not at all the same concept in India as it is in the states. My traditional summer drink, Venti Hazelnut Iced Coffee, is a far cry from anything an Indian coffee shop imagines when they cool down the caffeinated concoction. As far as I’ve discovered cold coffee has one definition here, what an American would call a frappe. When you order cold coffee, and that’s all you have to say, you are usually served a creamy, desert like drink often with chocolate. Even at home we keep the leftover coffee from breakfast, and when I ask for it the cook breaks out the blender and tons of cream and sugar. I’ve been able to sneak into the kitchen and come out with pure iced coffee only once.  Of course “cold coffee” is tasty, and quite enjoyable in the Delhi heat, but it is not quite the fix I need. So I decided that maybe cold wasn’t the way to go.

My first hot coffee in India was at Café Coffee Day, a large chain coffee shop in India. I ordered the French press, which was surprisingly good. Coffee brewed in a French press is stronger than percolated or drip coffee, and it is one of my favorite brewing methods. I also have coffee at home at breakfast some mornings and in my meetings with Chintan’s director, but all the hot coffee I’ve had here is much stronger and earthier than what I normally drink in the states. Hot coffee is also just not as satisfying in the heat here. So, I had basically given up on finding coffee that pleased my picky American tastes, until we went to Sagar in Defence Colony with Aparna.

After our meal at Sagar, which was really great south Indian food, we ordered filter coffee. The coffee is brewed in a special contraption that I can’t really describe properly (see the wiki here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_filter_coffee) with chicory and boiling water. The resulting strong coffee liquid is mixed with more boiling water and milk. It was served in a small tin tumbler sitting in a wider cup called a dabarah (see pictures). We used the tumbler and the dabarah to cool the coffee and mix in sugar. Aparna had quite the struggle with her coffee cooling, and we laughed as she made quite a mess spilling coffee everywhere. It really is too bad we didn’t get it on film. After the coffee was sweetened and cool enough we got to the best part—drinking it! It was the best cup of coffee I’ve had in India, and it was nothing like what we drink back home. It was strong, but the milk evened out the flavors. Unlike much of the coffee I’ve had here it didn’t taste over roasted or burnt. It was perfect. I am horrible at descriptive writing, so you will have to try it for yourself sometime, but know it was one amazing cup of coffee. The whole experience of the mixing, cooling and drinking deepened my love for coffee, and I’m glad I could expand the horizons of my beloved addiction. 

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About Laura

Wharton Class of 2013 with concentrations in Business and Public Policy and Operations and Information Management. I was a 2011 CASI Intern at Chintan in New Delhi. Now I am an Economic Consultant at Berkeley Research Group in Washington, DC.