The title of this blog came to me as a result of a repeated conversation I have had with a very dear friend. I am told that I make a reasonably good coffee, and I have aspirations of being a “barista” as well. A little more on this, to lay the foundation and the background to this note.
I started experimenting with coffee in 2006. From being a little particular about coffee, it grew into a hobby, and then into a passion. I frequently play around with different blends, grinds, and methods of making coffee – be it the traditional Indian “drip” filter, or the Italian percolator, or the French press, or the American conical drip filter, or the espresso machine. I have also experimented with various coffee beans and roasts and grinds. I also started experimenting with various ways of mixing the coffee with milk and obtained a variety of results.
I have also been able to hold a decent, reasonable chat with people who are coffee experts and they seem to think that I might know a little bit more than the ordinary coffee drinker. I say this with all humility and with sincerity. I believe that there is a long way to go and I am quite enjoying this journey.
In a nutshell, I am told that the coffee I make is reasonably good, and compares very well even with the best of coffees that one is able to get in Bangalore.
I also believe that there is not ONLY ONE perfect coffee. There are MANY perfect coffees. I say this because, I ask each person how they like their coffee, and then ensure that I make it the way they want it. For example, my mother likes her coffee very light and milky, with just a wee bit of sugar. My wife and I like it without sugar, and quite strong. A friend of mine likes her coffee in a nice large Stainless Steel “tumbler.” My brother in law likes it in a large coffee mug. And so on. So, I check with every person I make coffee for, and strive to give them the coffee that THEY like and appreciate. I do this with complete focus and dedication. Until now, I have almost always got a response that the coffee I prepared is either the best they have had, or definitely amongst the best they have tasted until now. So, the coffee being perfect, depends on the person who drinks it and there is NO single perfect coffee.
With this background, let me come back to my friend. She always insists on having coffee with chicory in it. To those who might not be aware, there is a practice, especially in South India, to mix chicory powder along with the coffee powder. Chicory adds a bitterness to the coffee, and more importantly, it enhances the colour and thickness of the decoction. This helps the coffee look browner than it would with pure coffee. To the coffee connoisseur in me, this was “sacrilege.” And I would cringe at the thought of adding chicory in coffee. And over dinner I mentioned to my friend that I had identified a coffee blend and grind that she would approve of. Her immediate response was, does it have chicory in it? And mine, equally immediate was to tell her to taste it before deciding. And for good measure I added, “Come home, let me make the coffee for you, and then you decide if you really need chicory in the coffee!”
This exchange was one among many in a series of many such exchanges I have had with this friend, and with many others who add chicory in their coffee. And then, as always, it hit me when I was in the shower. I was insisting that “I was right!” (and by a process of deduction, any other view was “wrong”) with regard to how coffee was to be made. To the purist in me, adding chicory was sacrilege. However, I realized that this flew in the face of my considered belief that there was“no one perfect coffee” and that “the perfect coffee depended on the person drinking it!”
This got me to introspect and I asked myself, where else do I have a “Chicory” approach in my life? Simply put, where else was I so totally convinced that this was “the way” and any other was lesser? I am sure that it can be equally debated upon from multiple perspectives – that “an expert” probably knew better, and that those ignorant might need to be convinced to try out something new, and to then check out for themselves whether they liked it or not. In the present context, my friend could, for once, taste the coffee and then decide if she still wanted to continue adding chicory in her coffee. And on my part, I could also say, she likes her coffee that way, who am I to insist that she should try out something different?
However, I looked at this as a learning opportunity for myself. That if someone offered me a different approach to something, I ought to at least check it out before dismissing it. And on my part, if I were to truly want others to try out what I thought was better, then it was up to me to “inspire” them to do so. So, the next time I find that there is a different view from mine, and I feel strongly about it, I will ask myself, “Is this also like chicory in my life?”
PS. The collage of images in this post is of coffees that I have made myself – or as my son calls it “KaapiCheenu” – Kaapi in Thamizh is Coffee, and Srinivasan (My name) normally gets shortened to “Cheenu” 🙂