Tell us about the good coffee!

We are ignorant. We’ve never known the real coffee. It’s only fair that international coffee chain honchos are trying to teach us the good stuff!

Ever heard of the Monsooned Malabar? Because if you haven’t, then you don’t know your coffee from brown dust.

The hot, milky, sweetened brown drink that you have, perhaps every morning, or perhaps once in a while, isn’t the ‘real’ coffee, experts will tell you. At the very least, it isn’t what the world recognises as coffee. And therefore, you, poor Indians, who might well call chaff coffee, need to be educated. Therefore, don’t you understand, the managing director of international markets at Costa Coffee has to come down to your forsaken country every two months, trying to teach you how you should have your coffee. And how you should learn to recognise the good coffee from the mushy-milky-creamy stuff!

It just so happens that every time this benevolent jet-setter, or any other high-flying star of an international coffee chain, passes by the country, our reporters rush to them and pop the proverbial question: Do Indians Understand (U in caps) Coffee?

And every time these benevolent souls—heads of Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Barista, CCD and what not—go through such great pains in trying to explain to them that they are indeed, painstakingly creating an international coffee culture here. An international coffee culture with the good coffee that will seduce you with its aroma, lure you with its ‘full bodied’ flavour, get you off your bloody couch or freaking bed and send you packing to the nearest outlet, perhaps at the other end of the forsaken city. You will curse the traffic on the way, blame it for keeping the pleasure of the good life from you, while all the time dreaming about the conversations that you will have over that steaming cuppa. Ah, such a relief that cuppa, for without that, where would conversations be? You swear, you dodge, you jump signals and negotiate sharp turns to reach heaven. And then, order the damn, sorry, divine coffee.

Bliss. Conversation flows. Sweet nothings and sultry somethings are uttered. Promises made, vows broken. Bloody bosses and virulent maids are debauched, with your dearest darlings in company. All while you drink the good coffee. Only now do you realise that what you had till the other day thinking it was coffee, wasn’t so. It was crap. Now, you’ve gone international. Now, you can claim your place under the shining sun, call yourself a global citizen.

And identify with the coterie that validates what others eat and drink. Now, you become an authority on coffee. Without realising, you excel at their game. You start looking down upon the humble drink that we the commoners have at the roadside tapri, in the udupi outlets or modest kitchens.

Now, you take your friends out for coffee, the real one. What? They don’t like it. Come on, you tell them, it’s an acquired taste. They see sense, most of them. At least, they realise what a ‘premium coffee experience’ is all about. Expert that you are, you tell them that even if this concoction were to be available at home, it just wouldn’t be ‘coffee’. It’s about the experience, which the proprietors of the stores have so painstaking constructed for you. So what if they demand a small (as small as just Rs 100 for a small cup) for the real thing? It’s worth it!

You rue the fact that India has never had a coffee culture, like our chiefs of Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Barista rue. You forget that our country was the first place where coffee was grown outside the Arabian Peninsula. You discount the story of saint Bababudan smuggling coffee beans out of present-day Yemen in the sixteenth century, bringing them across the seas and planting them in an area called Chikmaglur in the erstwhile Mysore state—that’s legend anyway! You forget the heady aroma that swept you off your feet in the streets of Madras, or Trivandrum twenty years ago, before the Costa Coffees discovered India. You enjoy the experience; the experience that masks the ideology that hinges on selling everything to you. That perches itself on the perfect packaging. That serves you conversations with you loved ones as a package. Your well-being as a package. Fresh air as a package. Open space as a package. Nirvana as a package. Un-belongingness and resistance as a package. An ideology that tells you that without this package, all other experience is false. Invalid. Corrupt. Impotent. An ideology that asks you think, but sets the parameters. Asks you to choose, but defines the choices.

You forget what others have said about taste. What Pierre Bourdieu said about this ideology—this thing of taste being a marker of class; this thing about us subscribing to the ‘good taste’ in order to belong to the better, higher class.

Ignorant, impotent, you subscribe to this ideology. You start pronouncing this ‘premium coffee experience’ laced with ‘conversations’ as the real coffee, the real thing. You pride yourself on having known ‘coffee’ actually is, on being able to tell friends that you know.

You become a cog in the wheel. A blind follower of the ideology that masks the real with the packaging and sells the latter sans the former as the real.

You become me. You become each one of us.

And Monsooned Malabar, for the record, isn’t stuff that your Costa Coffees or CCDs sell. It’s a coffee made from coffee beans ’swollen’ with moisture from the air. Developed by our not-so-flashy Coffee Board.

See to find out more about Monsooned Malabar and other such niceties. Can’t escape the packaging, can we?

Aritra Bhattacharya works as a Programme Executive at Jnanapravaha Mumbai for survival (and surfeit). He is completing a Masters in Sociology at the University of Mumbai. A journalist by inclination who freelances for publications once in a while, Aritra spends most of his time reading or watching films.

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