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A cup of joe, a lot of joy

Fresh cup of coffee.  

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

So how should I presume?

T.S Eliot

I remember vividly to this day, a chilly, freezing morning when we walked to the ice-skating rink below the Ridge in Shimla almost half a century ago. In those days, we children were not allowed to drink tea, and coffee was absolutely outlawed. My first ever cup of coffee at the rink cost a quarter of a rupee and made me a fervent aficionado of a soul-satisfying beverage. My liaison with the dark brew is rich in sustenance in a world riddled with uncompromising anxious moments. As the saying goes, a bad day with coffee is better than a good day without.

It so happened that early on in life, instead of asking my mother to get me a pair of branded jeans from England, I made an unusual request for a drip filter coffee maker. Eventually, kind friends began to send me the yearly stock of Arabica beans from Nicaragua, Guatemala or Ethiopia.

Slow brewing

Life’s tranquil and quiet moments are often experienced over the slow process of brewing a strong, smooth and rich cup of coffee, a ritual often full of nostalgia for the days gone by. Indeed, I fully endorse Charles Talleyrand’s proclamation that coffee to him is “Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as any angel, sweet as love”. Making black coffee is like a form of prayer with all its allure and romance enthralling me inescapably. Done right, a freshly brewed joe is as subtle as a peaty single malt, or the medium-bodied Petite Sirah white wine with the nuance of the freshly turned soil.

Over the years, my irresistible devotion inspired me to search for the untold story of the origins of the world of coffee. I learnt that consumers of coffee woke up to the bliss of Arabica rather late in the 20th century. Among the wild groves of the Kafa Region between the Great Rift Valley and the Nile in southwestern Ethiopia, coffee has never been simply a material product; in every household, the brewing process is more of a ceremonial act. Kafa, interestingly, is the root word of coffee. It was the colonial scramble for Africa and the Americas that sparked the cultivation and the craze from Latin America to South India in the 1900s.

I have no interest in the various pedestrian concoctions of Latte, Frappe or iced Mochas served at swanky cafes that have slowly submerged the traditional India Coffee House. Similarly, I believe instant coffee lacks the richness and taste of the real brew. A creation for the military forces, instant coffee is a kind of a handy ready-mix with boiling water to keep you warm in the freezing temperatures. The shivering soldiers would agree with Napoleon: “I would rather suffer with coffee than be senseless.”

shelleywalia@gmail.com


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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 12:22:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-cup-of-joe-a-lot-of-joy/article32529690.ece

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