One of the most fascinating relationships middle class Indians have had in this country is one with coffee. Growing up, I remember my grandmother locking away the three most precious commodities of our house in her steel almirah. The first was her gold, the second a bottle of ketchup that emerged like the Loch Ness monster whenever someone got samosas and the third was a jar of Nescafe (pronounced “Nescoffee”).
In Bollywood terms, tea was the dumb elder brother who worked in the father’s family business while coffee was the smarter, younger one who went abroad to complete an MBA. Everyone always spoke about how hardworking and amazing coffee was while tea slaved away, everyday, without any respect or scope for upward mobility. Even today, most households have the transparent plastic tumbler with a blue cap with which they can make masturbatory hand motions and create their own cold coffee.
While tea remains integral to households, it stands in the kitchen, being mocked by the elders for unsuccessfully having to depend on a tabla player and one of the Seven Wonders of the World in order to stay relevant. Corporations have convinced us that it is impossible to have meetings, become a writer or get to second base with a girl without a strongly-brewed, caffeine-intensive beverage while tea remains busy trying to freshen up exhausted housewives.
The transformation of coffee has been amazing. When Barista first opened its doors, most Indians needed to be told that the espresso is the kali waali, latte is doodh waali and cappuccino is ‘mixed’. Now we’ve reached a stage where you will see a Barista, Café Coffee Day, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Costa, Starbucks and a Gloria Jean’s in the same mall, with people confused about which mediocre Chicken Junglee sandwich to consume.
In one of these cafes, a chicken patty is suitably gentrified and called a chicken puff to validate its obscene pricing while the two people who ordered green tea finally realise that they paid someone 150 bucks to boil water and dunk a tea bag in it. Like blue jeans, regular coffee is almost impossible to find. If you don’t order a brew made of beans shat out by an African baby, everyone looks at you as if you just professed to dreaming of making out with Arundhati Roy.
I want to give a shout out to two coffee chains in particular. The first is Gloria Jean’s which offers a “Babycino”, coffee for kids under 5 years old because like every parent will tell you, the one thing they need is a hyperactive baby on drugs. The second is Barista, which has recently started selling T-shirts. Because if there’s one thing India needs, it is more guys wearing ‘FBI: Female Body Inspector’ t-shirts. Why each chain doesn’t just make a foam middle finger, instead of a heart, on every cup by now is beyond me.
The original coffee kids who formed Barista's original audience have since moved on to filter coffee at their local Udipi restaurants in an effort to preserve their hipster credentials. While not providing a chance to chastise an underpaid employee for misspelling their name on a coffee cup, it does provide a welcome change in one’s cupcake infested Instagram feed.
Sometimes I wonder how my grandmother would react if she ever stepped into one of these coffee shops. Chances are she will mistake macchiato for a Punjabi cuss word and continue to beat the person behind the counter till their ass resembles a blueberry muffin.
Finally, if you’re reading, a note to every coffee chain employee. I do not want to top it off with whipped cream or chocolate sauce. It’s a cup of coffee, not someone I’m having sex with.